Home Education Volume 1 Pt 3. VIII


          The whole group of habitudes, half physical and half moral, on which the propriety and comfort of
everyday life depend, are received passively by the child; that is, he does very little to form these habits himself, but his brain receives impressions from what he sees about him; and these impressions take form as his own very strongest and most lasting habits.

          Some Branches of Infant Education.—Cleanliness, order, neatness, regularity, punctuality, are all ‘branches’ of infant education. They should be about the child like the air he breathes, and he will take them in as unconsciously. It is hardly necessary to say a word about the necessity for delicate cleanliness in the nursery. The babies get their share of tubbing, and unlimited washing is done on their behalf; but, indeed, scrupulous as mothers of the cultured class are, a great deal rests with the nurses, and it needs much watchfulness to secure that there shall not be the faintest odour about the infant or anything belonging to him, and that the nurseries be kept sweet and thoroughly aired. One great difficulty is, that there are still some nurses who belong to a class to which an open window is an abomination; and another is, they do not all know the meaning of odours: they cannot see ‘a smell,’ and, therefore, it is not easy to persuade them that a smell is matter, microscopic particles which the child takes into him with every breath he draws.

          A Sensitive Nose.—By the way, a very important bit of physical education for a child is to train in him a sensitive nose—nostrils which sniff out the least ‘stuffiness’ in a room, or the faintest odour attached to clothes or furniture. The sense of smell appears to have been given us not only as an avenue of pleasure, but as a sort of danger-signal to
warn us of the presence of noxious matters: yet many people appear to go through the world without a nose at all; and the fact tends to show that a quick sense of smell is a matter of education and habit. The habit is easily formed. Encourage the children to notice whether the room they enter ‘smells’ quite fresh when they come in out of the open air, to observe the difference between the air of the town and the fresher air beyond; and train them to perceive the faintest trace of pleasant or harmless odours.

          The Baby is Ubiquitous.—To return to the nursery. It would be a great thing if the nurse could be impressed with the notion that the baby is ubiquitous, and that he not only sees and knows everything, but will keep, for all his life, the mark of all he sees:—

          “If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
               I pray ye, tent it;
          A chiel’s amang ye takin’ notes,
               And, faith, he’ll prent it”:—

prent it’ on his own active brain, as a type for his future habits. Such a notion on the nurse’s part might do something to secure cleanliness that goes beyond that of clean aprons. One or two little bits of tidiness that nurses affect are not to be commended on the score of cleanliness:—the making up of the nursery beds early in the morning, and the folding up of the children’s garments when they take them off at night. It is well to stretch a line across the day nursery at night, and hang the little garments out for an airing, to get rid of the insensible perspiration with which they have been laden during the day. For the same reason, the beds and bedclothes should be turned down to air for a couple of hours before they are made up.

          Personal Cleanliness as an Early Habit.—The nursery table, if there be one, should be kept as scrupulously nice as that of the dining-room. The child who sits down to a crumpled or spotted tablecloth, or uses a discoloured metal spoon, is degraded—by so much. The children, too, should be encouraged to nice cleanliness in their own persons. We have all seen the dainty baby-hand stretched out to be washed; it has got a smudge, and the child does not like it. May they be as particular when they are big enough to wash their own hands! Not that they should be always clean and presentable; children love to ‘mess about,’ and should have big pinafores for the purpose. They are all like that little French prince who scorned his birthday gifts, and entreated to be allowed to make dear little mud-pies with the boy in the gutter. Let them make their mud-pies freely; but that over, they should be impatient to remove every trace of soil, and should do it themselves. Young children may be taught to take care of their finger-nails, and to cleanse the corners of eyes and ears. As for sitting down to table with unwashed hands and unbrushed hair, that, of course, no decent child is allowed to do. Children should be early provided with their own washing materials, and accustomed to find real pleasure in the bath, and in attending to themselves. There is no reason why a child of five or six should not make himself thoroughly clean without all that torture of soap in the eyes and general pulling about and poking which children hate, and no wonder. Besides, the child is not getting the habit of the daily bath until he can take it for himself, and it is important that this habit should be formed before the reckless era of school-life begins.

          Modesty and Purity.—The operations of the bath afford the mother opportunities to give necessary teaching and training in habits of decency, and a sense of modesty. To let her young child live and grow in Eden-like simplicity is, perhaps, the most tempting and natural course to the mother. But alas! we do not live in the Garden, and it may be well that the child should be trained from the first to the conditions under which he is to live. To the youngest child, as to our first parents, there is that which is forbidden. In the age of unquestioning obedience, let him know that not all of his body does Almighty God allow him to speak of, think of, display, handle, except for purposes of cleanliness. This will be the easier to the mother if she speak of heart, lungs, etc., which, also, we are not allowed to look at or handle, but which have been so enclosed in walls of flesh and bone that we cannot get at them. That which is left open to us is so left, like that tree in the Garden of Eden, as a test of obedience; and in the one case, as in the other, disobedience is attended with certain loss and ruin.

          The Habit of Obedience and the Sense of Honour.—The sense of prohibition, of sin in disobedience, will be a wonderful safeguard against knowledge of evil to the child brought up in habits of obedience; and still more effective will be the sense of honour, of a charge to keep—the motive of the apostolic injunctions on this subject. Let the mother renew this charge with earnestness on the eve, say, of each birthday, giving the child to feel that by obedience in this matter he may glorify God with his body; let her keep watch against every approach of evil; and let her pray daily that each one of her children
may be kept in purity for that day. To ignore the possibilities of evil in this kind is to expose the child to frightful risks. At the same time, be it remembered that words which were meant to hinder may themselves be the cause of evil, and that a life full of healthy interests and activities is amongst the surest preventives of secret vice.

          Order Essential.—What has been said about cleanliness applies as much to order—order in the nursery, and orderly habits in the nurse. One thing under this head: the nursery should not be made the hospital for the disabled or worn-out furniture of the house; cracked cups, chipped plates, jugs and teapots with fractured spouts, should be banished. The children should be brought up to think that when once an article is made unsightly by soil or fracture it is spoiled, and must be replaced; and this rule will prove really economical, for when children and servants find that things no longer ‘do,’ after some careless injury, they learn to be careful. But, in any case, it is a real detriment to the children to grow up using imperfect and unsightly makeshifts.
          The pleasure grown-up people take in waiting on children is really a fruitful source of mischief;—for instance, in this matter of orderly habits. Who does not know the litter the children leave to be cleared up after them a dozen times a day, in the nursery, garden, drawing-room, wherever their restless little feet carry them? We are a bit sentimental about scattered toys and faded nosegays, and all the tokens of the children’s presence; but the fact is, that the lawless habit of scattering should not be allowed to grow upon children. Everybody condemns the mother of a family whose drawers are chaotic, whose
possessions are flung about heedlessly; but at least some of the blame should be carried back to her mother. It is not as a woman that she has picked up a miserable habit which destroys the comfort, if not the happiness, of her home; the habit of disorder was allowed to grow upon her as a child, and her share of the blame is, that she has failed to cure herself.

          The Child of Two should put away his Playthings.—The child of two should be taught to get and to replace his playthings. Begin early. Let it be a pleasure to him, part of his play, to open his cupboard, and put back the doll or the horse each in its own place. Let him always put away his things as a matter of course, and it is surprising how soon a habit of order is formed, which will make it pleasant to the child to put away his toys, and irritating to him to see things in the wrong place. If parents would only see the morality of order, that order in the nursery becomes scrupulousness in after life, and that the training necessary to form the habit is no more, comparatively, than the occasional winding of a clock, which ticks away then of its own accord and without trouble to itself, more pains would be taken to cultivate this important habit.

          Neatness Akin to Order.—Neatness is akin to order, but is not quite the same thing: it implies not only ‘a place for everything, and everything in its place,’ but everything in a suitable place, so as to produce a good effect; in fact, taste comes into play. The little girl must not only put her flowers in water, but arrange them prettily, and must not be put off with some rude kitchen mug or jug for them, or some hideous pink vase, but must have jar or vase graceful
in form and harmonious in hue, though it be but a cheap trifle. In the same way, everything in the nursery should be ‘neat’—that is, pleasing and suitable; and children should be encouraged to make neat and effective arrangements of their own little properties. Nothing vulgar in the way of print, picture-book, or toy should be admitted—nothing to vitiate a child’s taste or introduce a strain of commonness into his nature. On the other hand, it would be hard to estimate the refining, elevating influence of one or two well-chosen works of art, in however cheap a reproduction.

          Regularity.—The importance of Regularity in infant education is beginning to be pretty generally acknowledged. The young mother knows that she must put her baby to bed at a proper time, regardless of his cries, even if she leave him to cry two or three times, in order that, for the rest of his baby life, he may put himself sweetly to sleep in the dark without protest. But a good deal of nonsense is talked about the reason of the child’s cries: he is supposed to want his mother, or his nurse, or his bottle, or the light, and to be ‘a knowing little fellow,’ according to his nurse, quite up to the fact that if he cries for these things he will get them.

          Habits of Time and Place.—The fact is, the child has already formed a habit of wakefulness or of feeding at improper times, and he is as uneasy at his habits being broken in upon as the cat is at a change of habitation; when he submits happily to the new regulation, it is because the new habit is formed, and is, in its turn, the source of satisfaction. According to Dr Carpenter, “Regularity should begin even with infant life, as to times of feeding, repose, etc. The
bodily habit thus formed greatly helps to shape the mental habit at a later period. On the other hand, nothing tends more to generate a habit of self-indulgence than to feed a child, or to allow it to remain out of bed, at unseasonable times, merely because it cries. It is wonderful how soon the actions of a young infant (like those of a young dog or horse) come into harmony with systematic ‘training’ judiciously exercised.” The habit of regularity is as attractive to older children as to the infant. The days when the usual programme falls through are, we know, the days when the children are apt to be naughty.