Friday, December 14, 2018

Cause and Effect, 1934 - Ursula Wise warns never to underestimate the emotional effect of significant life events on the child - children come up with their own theories of what is going in their immediate environment and these will present in their behaviour.

April 18, 1934 in The Nursery World

Cause and Effect 

Penelope” writes: - “Your answers in The Nursery World have interested me so much that I now wonder of you can help me to understand my little girls’ behaviour. She is now 2 years and 7 months, and until a few weeks ago has been the happiest baby I ever knew – good tempered, always singing and with the most charming manners. As she is highly-strung and easily tired out with any nervous strain (such as visitors or going out to tea) she has been kept to a very regular and quiet nursery life, with walks every morning and afternoon. She is an only child, and as we live in the country she has no playmates her own age, but about once a week she plays with a little girl of 18 months whom she dearly loves. However, I feel that she hardy misses other children so far, as she has a young nurse who not only understands and loves her, but is able to play as a child herself. (The two of them have such joyous romps). Recently, however, D.’s easy-going manner has changed, and instead of placidly doing what we ask her, she looks positively antagonistic and refuses. We have tried changing the subject, but when she is in one of these moods, nothing we suggest seems to please her. I would so like to know what the poor mite is feeling. Obviously, she has left babyhood behind and now wants to exert her own will, but why she wants to fight over it I cannot see, as she has not been treated as too much of a baby. She is always spoken to as a reasonable being, and is always ‘asked’ to do a thing, never ‘commanded’. Lately, we have had to resort to several ‘spankings’ on her little hand (although she was well warned beforehand that this would be the result of her naughtiness) because we seemed to be unable to get her to ‘pull herself together’ otherwise. (She has almost seemed to find them a help – the spankings, I mean.) When she does really impish things in a determined way, what is the correct response on our part? For instance, she will follow me into the bathroom and turn on the bath taps as hard as they will go (I am so afraid she will get scalded), and she seems deaf to any plea of mine. When asked to come and get dressed (even though she knows we are going to go somewhere especially nice) she puts on this antagonistic expression and simply refuses to come, although she is not busy with ‘work’ of her own. I really cannot see any reason for this wilfulness. No doubt it will wear off, but I would like to know how I can help her in the meantime. I may just add that she has plenty to do, although she has no modern educational toys. She loves to draw and ‘paint’ and does needlework (with a bodkin and webbed dish cloth) and does ‘housework’ with her sweeper and mop. Also, she is never parted from her dolls and dolls’ pram and seems to get enormous satisfaction from them. Perhaps you will tell me of a book which will help me to understand her. My nurse begs me to tell you that D.’s ‘naughtiness’ seems to date from a month ago, when I was forced to be away from home for two nights owing to the death of D.’s grandfather. Nurse says D. was really upset at my absence and showed it by her silence and unwillingness to laugh. Could the general atmosphere of sadness have got through to the child, and would that account for it? I answered D.’s questions afterwards as well as I could.” 

Second letter

“Since writing to you, I have discovered a most interesting clue to my small girl’s odd behaviour. (You remember, I told you that she suddenly began to be ‘antagonistic’ and contrary for apparently no reason.) I told you in a postscript that her grandfather died a month ago, and in writing this I think I brought home to myself that it was disturbing D. Until he died (suddenly) grandfather visited us every Saturday and always brought D. some sort of toy. Then suddenly he stopped coming and so did the toys. I do not think D. was at all hurt by the loss of her grandfather, as he was not one of her intimate circle, but I do think she has been quite shocked at the fact that snice then she has had no new playthings. Could it be possible for such a mite to wonder if she would never have any more toys? Anyhow, working on that supposition, I went up to Town and bought her a new ball and a most fascinating ‘fitting’ toy, and believe it or not, we have had no more bother and she is her own little contented self again. I do not think she specially wanted the toys themselves, but juts needed to know that they would still come. Do you think I am right? Or is it just coincidence, and she may get ‘antagonistic’ in her manner again?”

You have really answered your problem yourself in your second letter. There can be no doubt that the cause of your little girl’s sudden antagonism was the loss of her grandfather’s visits and of the delights of the regular gift of toys, as well as the anxiety aroused in her mind by the mysteriousness of the sudden cessation of these events, of your own absence and doubtless of your own feeling of sadness as well. All these things would be bound to affect an intelligent child very profoundly. Moreover, these events would have a logic of their own to the child. We have to remember that a child of this age cannot understand the real connection or lack of connection between things which do occur together in her experience. What your little daughter actually experienced was that, first, you were unaccountably absent for two nights, and then that grandfather and his toys did not appear again – all in the midst of an atmosphere of sadness and strain. She could not know about the death as such, but there must have been some logical connection in her mi mind between your unusual absence, in itself a loss and this further loss of the grandfather and the toys. I have no doubt that you are right that the child thought that she would never have any more toys, and I am not in the least surprised to hear that she is now her happy self once again. I am sure you are right, too, that it was not the toys

Friday, December 7, 2018

The imaginative Child, 1932 - Ursula Wise clarifies the difference between a free and mobile imagination and one that is concerning.

November 16, 1932 in The Nursery World

The Imaginative Child 

A little girl whose imaginative stories often deceive her mother is discussed this week.

"B.S." writes: - “Your letters are always the first thing I turn to when I get The Nursery World, so I am writing to you about two problems concerning my daughter who will be four next month. I know that you tell people to encourage imagination. But is it possible, in your opinion, to have too much of it? V. is an only child. She goes to dancing class, which she adores, once a week. A nursery school is out of the question, as we live in the depths of the country and the nearest is thirteen miles away. The nearest children live three miles away, and she sees them about twice a week. V. has various constructional toys, mosaics, jig-saw puzzles, etc. She is quick at them all, and plays with them fairly often, but she would just as soon have no toys, at all. She loves books and knows “Alice in Wonderland”, “Stories of King Arthur’s Knights,” and several other books almost by heart, but immediately we have read a story we have to act it. She gives me a part and has a part herself, the dolls are pressed into service, and if there are not enough of them anything from a chair to a bit of paper may become a living character – really living to her.
            “The whole day, even eating, bathing, etc, she is pretending to be someone else and I am told who I am to be. When I am busy she runs about in the garden for hours talking to herself the whole time. She has no idea of the truth, but can this be expected at three years old? She tells me thrilling stories of what she has just been doing, and we both enjoy a ‘good story,’ but it is difficult to show how that is different to giving me a circumstantial account of some incident which sounds so true in every detail that I am quite deceived, only to find, often days later, that it was an entire fabrication. She sleeps badly at night, and seems to dream a lot, but when she wakes with a dream she drops off to sleep again at once. 
“She is very fond of other children, and always thrusts her toys upon them, but she never talks to them much, though afterwards it is clear that she has listened to them and observed them, as she pretends to be one of them and imitates their words and gestures. I have tried to explain that her fanciful world is almost more real than her own home to her, and would like to know if you think this can matter and whether it may be responsible for her disturbed sleep at night. She never sleeps in the day, but rests for an hour and a half with books. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Learning to read and write, December, 1934 - Ursula Wise offers her opinion on this matter whilst recognising that there are many approaches

 December 24, 1930 in The Nursery World

Learning to read and write : some modern methods

I have had a letter form a correspondent who is an advocate of the `Montessori method of teaching and reading and writing, and who appears to feel that I have not done justice to the merits of this method in my recent remarks about it. As the subject is undoubtedly one of general interest, I am quoting extracts from her letter (too long to print as a whole). I am naturally anxious that many readers should feel that in these columns they do get a representative view of such modern methods as have any serious claims to respect. 

But in the end, of course, one judges between rival methods on the evidence as one sees it, and when correspondents ask me to advise them about methods of teaching and reading and writing, I can but offer them the fruit of my own experience with children and my knowledge of the general consensus of opinion among practical teachers and psychologists. 
Here is the letter.

“X” writes: -
            “I noticed in your answers on November 5ththat you did not seem aware of the value of the sandpaper letters originated by Dr. Montessori. I enclose a short account of the Montessori way of teaching two of the three R’s, as I am sure your correspondents will be interested in it, and will succeed in it, if they will only concentrate on hearing the sounds in words themselves. Adults lose the sensitivity of children. The Montessori way of teaching writing and subsequently reading is very simple, but it does not require to be understood by the adult before she initiates a child into it. Her most delicate work comes at the start. People who embark on it ought to do so because they recognise its superiority and are determined to make a success of it. The Montessori child comes to ‘letters’ accustomed to recognising shapes both through sight and with muscular experience in his play with the geometrical insets and form-cards. His little hand has gained strength and control in using coloured pencils in filling-in the shapes he has himself outlined. He knows something about sound, because in mastering vocal language he has had to listen carefully, and has often been corrected when he has substituted one sound for another in some word he has had to listen. ‘Not “chimley,” “chimney,”’ his mother may, perhaps, have said. The moment having arrived when he wants to learn ‘letters’ his mother takes two of the sandpaper letters, two vowels. She sits down beside him, and she shows him how to touch or trace over the sandpaper of the first one, ‘a’ (pronounced as in ‘at’), and at the same time she makes this sound. The child imitates her in tracing and sanding. Then she does the same for the second letter, ‘e’ (pronounced as in ‘egg’). Again, the child imitates her in the tracing and the sounding. Then the two sandpaper letters lie on the table. ‘Give me the “e.”’ Again the child joyfully offers the right card. Now comes the third stage of this little lesson. The mother takes up one of the cards. “What is this?” she asks, showing one of the letters to the little one. ‘A’ or ‘e’, as the case may be, he answers, and so also with the second one. This whole lesson, given on the plan devised by the Frenchman Seguin, occupies three minutes at most. The child is free to take the sandpaper letters with him and trace and sound at his will. As the lesson comes to an end long before he has begun to tire, at a time when his interest is fresh, there is an impulse to repeat on his own. If the lesson is prolonged, this impulse does not manifest itself. If ‘b’ and ‘d’ are taken next, and are immediately combined with the ‘a’ and ‘e, the transition to whole words comes at once. Some children themselves suggest the consonant sound necessary to convert these beginnings of words into known words, as when a little girl turned ‘be’ into ’bed’, or ‘da’ into ‘dad’. The mother or teacher follows, within the limitations imposed by the child’s incomplete knowledge of the symbols, the child’s lead, always suggesting words which as names of actions and objects are of interest to the child. the effect of hitting upon words which are emotionally interesting to a child is very great. Anyone who has never tried this way can have no idea of the facility of a child of four in analysing words he can say and is interested in into their component sounds, and representing these by movable letters. He will occupy himself thus for long periods with contentment and without strain, because of the exercise involved in fetching and replacing the letters and arranging them in words on his mat.”

This gives a clear account of the initial steps in the Montessori method of teaching reading and writing.
            At various times in these columns I have suggested quite other ways of beginning reading and writing – those that are known as “word-whole” or “look-and-say” methods. In these methods one does not begin with sounds and letters, but with actual names of things and people and actions in which the child is interested. The most natural unit of speech in the young child is the word. There are some psychologists who suggest that the real unit of speech is in fact the sentence, and some very interesting experimental work is now being carried on by one psychologist with a “sentence-whole” method in which the child is taught from the beginning the written forms of short, simple, sentences that are of vital interest to him. Most of us, however, think that the word is a more practicable unit for the young child, although we are awaiting the result of this experiment with great interest. For the young child, of course, a word very often does the duty of the sentence. “Down’ may mean “I want to go down “; “Out” “I want to go out.” Even “Daddy,” when said with an expressive gesture, may mean “Lift me up” or “Come along and play with me.” In any case, all through his early years the child has a great passion for naming all the things around him, and clearly gets a delightful sense of power from knowing the names of things.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Concentration (undated) - Ursula Wise speaks of violating ‘the normal laws’ of a child’s growth


Is it a habit that can be acquired?

“Concentrate” writes: “I have no particular trouble I’m pleased to say but would like advice on the following points:

(1)    Concentration. A small girl friend of ours has just commenced school at our local High School. The teacher says she is a very bright child, but will not concentrate. Now, I’m wondering if this state of affairs is ‘quite the usual’ and with careful training the child will learn to concentrate when she is older. To me it seems such an important point in a child’s training. I have a small girl of three, who, like all healthy kiddies, is very busy and active. What I would like to know is ‘can I’ or ‘how can I’ train her to concentrate? Daddy says, leave her ‘quite free’, but is it best to leave matters to take their own course?

(2)        Toys. Can a child have too many of the simple variety? We seem to have collected such a lot – a doll’s pram, dolls, tea set, iron, rolling-pin, etc., a really nice counting frame, balls, bricks, a lovely piece of old blanket, which is a work of art with its bright wool stitches, and so I seem to be able to go on and on. If I turn out the toy box I hardly know which to dispose of, as they are all loved. Usually the toys are brought out a few at a time, then the ‘stale’ ones go back and a few fresh ones come out. I’m quite certain I this particular case the apparently large number of toys is not destroying the creative impulse; rather than the reverse. Several of my friends allow their children ‘half a dozen toys and no more,’ but I think one can err in this direction. I think my question of concentration will be of general interest, and if you could answer through ‘The Nursery World’ columns I should be grateful.”

As you suggest, a great many people worry themselves about this question of teaching children to concentrate, but as a rule the whole problem tends to be wrongly conceived. We can’t teach concentration in the way we can teach reading and writing. Concentration means one of two things: either being so interested in what one is doing that one has no thought for anything else, or being able to go on doing something that is not in itself enthrallingly interesting, but is done for some further end which has a real value of its own. Now, the first form of concentration is undoubtedly the most valuable. All the great creative achievements of men and women in art and music and literature and science and sport are achieved because they are of absorbing and spontaneous delight. They have not sprung from a will or act of concentration, but from their inherent attraction. Now, the child, at any rate over five or six years, shows plenty of concentration of this kind. He can be completely absorbed in his building or modelling or games or make-believe, or in listening to story or to music. The other kind of situation in which one has to do dull or irksome or routine work that has no appeal of its own, but is part of a larger whole which has an intrinsic value, plays a very large part in the world too, of course. Every mother, every nurse, every business man, and even the artist and scientist, have plenty of drudgery as well as creative delight. But the drudgery and the ability to go on with the dull routine are only really possible for us when we have some further attractive purpose to serve. The mother slaves for her children’s welfare. The business man, the engineer, the scientist, know well that they cannot gain their greater ends without the dull routine. And yet none even of us grown-ups, unless we were stupid, or machine-like in our own natures, or except when driven by economic considerations, could carry out continuous drudgery that did not serve some greater end that we valued. 
Of course, the child has to learn to be able to carry on routine activities that have no intrinsic appeal if he is to be able to achieve the greater ends and if he is to hold his place in the world. But it is useless to expect him to “concentrate” in a vacuum.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Questions of Education, June 1930 - a father asks Ursula Wise for advice on the best time to teach his child French.

January 22, 1930 in The Nursery World

Questions of Education

A Father” inquires: - “I should very much like to hear what you think of how early one can begin teaching French to little children. Do you think it would be a good thing to do so right from the time when they are learning to talk? We were told the other day of someone who did that, and my wife and I have been talking it over, and wondering if it would be wise. Do you think there could be any objections? One HAS to begin quite early if one wants a decent accent.”

You have raised a most interesting problem, and one that is being investigated by psychologists at this moment. There are, of course, many children who have to be bi-lingual from the start, as, e.g., children in Wales, or those of English families abroad. And it is certainly an advantage from the point of view of accent and fluency in a foreign tongue to begin speaking it quite early. But there is some evidence to suggest that “early” should not be tooearly, and that a child should have a chance to find his way about one language successfully before he begins any others, unless circumstances make it unavoidable. If he has the double problem right from the start, it is quite possible that this extra burden may hold back his general mental development. The evidence for this is not yet quite final and certain, but enough so to justify one in avoiding the risk of such an ill effect if one can. 
As it happens, a case came under my own notice recently which does seem to bear out the view that it is unwise to introduce a second language right from the beginning of speech. This was a boy of four, a large and clumsy child, who was very much behind his age in balance and skill and all forms of control, and particularly in ability to express himself in words. He could not build a tower of bricks without it falling over, and he used to cry pathetically, “Oh, whydoes it fall over?” Everything he touched seemed to go wrong, and he vented his exasperation and sense of helplessness in a piercing squeal. He would just sit and open his mouth wide and let the squeal come out! Any sort of excitement, whether anger of joy, made him do this. It came much easier to him than speech. And he was very aggressive to other children. He could not pass another child without hitting him, and was, as you will imagine, an acute problem in the group of little children he was among. This was the boy as I knew him at just four years of age. And he hadbeen made to speak French as well as English right from the very beginning! His parents were both English and they lived in England; but his father never spoke anything but French to him. Now I don’t suggest that the whole of this backwardness in development can be blamed on the double language burden that had been put upon the child; but it was clear that this had not made things any easier for him. He was not equal to the double demand, and his only way out was to fall back on the squealing cries of his babyhood. It was pleasant to see that as his skill and poise developed under good conditions, and he thus felt more sure of himself, he grew both more friendly and happy, and more able to express his feelings and his views in words. The squeals happened less and less often, and then not at all. But his case does seem to help to confirm the view that it is better to postpone a second language until the child is at home in his own first. Six or seven years of age is probably quite early enough. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

The teaching of number, January 1934 - Ursula Wise says it is all about approach and context - so many children are put off in their early years.

January 17, 1934 in The Nursery World

The teaching of Number 

“X. Y. Z.” writes: - “How soon do you think I ought to begin to teach my little boy of three, who seems to be quite ordinarily intelligent, to count? I heard of a boy not much older who was doing little sums with his governess. Do you think this is a good thing, and if so, how should I teach him?” 

The question of the age at which we should begin to introduce arithmetical ideas to young children is really bound up with the question of howwe should do it. Everything does depend upon how we go about it. 
            In the first place, all those who have been studying little children to see how they do learn to use arithmetical notions are agreed that formal lessons are quite useless in the early years. Indeed, they are worse than useless because they teach the child that arithmetic is dull and dreary; and once that emotional attitude towards the subject has been set up it is extremely difficult to change. It has been found that more children get held up in their understanding if number from emotional reasons than happens with any other subject of the school curriculum. Fear and boredom are the two biggest factors in backwardness in arithmetic among school children. It is easy to make minor mistakes of presentation in showing the chid how to add or subtract or divide, but these do not matter in comparison with the fundamental mistake of associating arithmetic with a notion of duty or boredom or anxiety. It is very difficult for even the best teaching later on to break down such an attitude once it has been built up. The very first essential is, therefore, to make sure that from the very beginning our methods are such as to let the child feel the natural interest of number relations between things, and to discover their practical value in his own active interest and pursuits. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

The need for exercise, 1930 - Ursula Wise reminds us that “some form of destructive action must be provided for vigorous children."

January 8, 1930 in The Nursery World 

The need for exercise

“D.L.” (Anerley) asks: “My little boy is four years old next March, and for some months he has been very difficult to manage, and as he gets still more difficult as the weeks go by, I feel that probably I am not treating him the best way. So, would you please tell me the names of one or two inexpensive books on general training? Why is he so destructive? I’m sure he hasn’t a breakable toy left or a picture -book whole. I have followed various suggestions. I give him newspapers to do as he likes with and he has his own scissors, for one thing.”

            Many children, especially boys, do tend to become very destructive about this age. There are several things to remember in trying to deal with it. First of all, it is an undoubted fact that a certain amount of destructiveness is quite normal and healthy in these years. The quick, explosive action of knocking things down or breaking them is so much easier to the untrained muscles of the young child. It is a definite relief to him, faced as he is with all the complicated business of learning control of his body and of his social behaviour. Some form of destructive action must be provided for vigorous children. it is an error to imagine that they can all the time be making the effort of handling things in just the right way or of building things up. The problem thus becomes one of finding useful ways of letting them enjoy the pleasures of destruction. The scissors and newspapers which you have already given to your boy are certainly excellent, but not enough for him. They would not be enough in themselves for any healthy growing young child, for the simple reason that they use only the smaller muscles of the fingers and wrists. And what children need so much in these years is plenty of the larger swinging movements of arm and shoulder and hip. If they don’t have enough of these, children will always show signs of nervous tension and be restless and difficult.