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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/403

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CHILDREN LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE.

well-known fact that a child's powers, whether physical or mental, ripen in a certain rather definite order. There is, for instance, a certain time in the life of the infant when the motor mechanism of the legs ripens, before which the child can not be taught to walk, while after that time he can not be kept from walking. Again, at the age of seven, for instance, there is a mental readiness for some things and an unreadiness for others. The brain is then very impressionable and retentive, and a store of useful material, both motor and sensory, may be permanently acquired with great economy of effort. The imagination is active, and the child loves to listen to narration, whether historical or mythical, which plays without effort of his will upon his relatively small store of memory images. The powers of analysis, comparison, and abstraction are little developed, and the child has only a limited ability to detect mathematical or logical relations. The power of voluntary attention is slight, and can be exerted for only a short time. All this may be stated physiologically by saying that the brain activity is sensory and motor, but not central. The sensory and motor mechanism has ripened, but not the associative. The brain is hardly more than a receiving, recording, and reacting apparatus. It would be inaccurate, however, to express this psychologically by saying that perception, memory, and will are the mental powers that have ripened at the age of seven. This would be true only if by perception we mean not apperception, which involves a considerable development of associative readiness, but mere passive apprehension through the senses, and if by memory we mean not recollection, but mere retentiveness for that which interests, and if by will we mean not volition, but only spontaneous movement and readiness to form habits of action, including a large number of instinctive movement psychoses, such as imitation, play, and language in its spoken form.

Following out, then, somewhat as above, the psychology of the child, what kind of education would be particularly adapted to his stage of development? We ask not what can the child be taught, but what studies are for him most natural and therefore most economical. In the first place, from the development of the senses and the perceptive power above described, we infer that the child is ready to acquire a knowledge of the world of objects around him through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, temperature, taste, and smell. His education will have to do with real things and their qualities, rather than with symbols which stand for things. If we wish a general term for this branch of instruction, we may call it natural science, or, to distinguish it from science in its more mature form as the study of laws and causes, we may call it natural history, or, more briefly, Nature study. Although the appropriateness and economy of this