by Jane MacRae
This book is a manual for wholesome child rearing, which aims to feed the minds and hearts of our children with high quality, unprocessed stimulation. Its author encourages an organic approach to parenthood, giving a wide range of activities which grow out of the natural interest children have in the world around them. It is laid out in four parts, including activities for younger children such as looking round the home and garden for ‘animal homes’ to more complex tasks for groups of older children, such as putting on plays and learning sections by heart. There are many interesting activities which will open the eyes and senses, not only of the children, but the parents too.
But fundamentally, it is based on the FTM premise that, ‘simply by being at home with your toddler, you are already satisfying their most basic need for love, security and stability.’ These are encouraging words for a struggling full time mother, questioning their reasons for staying at home. From the introduction it is clear this book has arisen out of everyday experience, as the author herself was a full time mother to her two children for fourteen years, and felt that there was a need for a practical book, focusing on the inner health of the child.
The other key element in this book, which ties in with the author’s belief in parental care is that almost all the exercises can be centred in or around the home. The home is the centre of our children’s physical and emotional world. A temptation of modern parenthood is to provide entertainment and keep busy. We are all guilty of it – dragging the children off to a play centre when all they want to do is stay at home and play. It gives us time off to chat, but the children gain very little. Instead we could spend an afternoon without spending any money and learning about the world around us through our noses or tongues. What is wonderful is the extreme simplicity of many of the practical exercises laid out in this book, things which are so easy to overlook, such as five separate exercises on simply smelling things, or getting children to really taste water.
Recently, there seems to have been various findings on the importance of those malleable early years when our children are under three. We know that at this tender age our children have the capacity to ‘soak up all impressions indiscriminately’. It is this capacity which prompted the author to take the majority of quotes from archaic translations of Holy Scriptures such as the King James Bible, the Upanishads and the Qur’an. Libby Purves further clarifies the author’s choice of old rather than more up-to-date, simplified translations:
Children need to be exposed to wonderful language, to ceremonial, grand, beautiful words. It is a great shame that we talk down to them so much, in books and prayers and poems for children.
It is perhaps a little vague at times, such as in her warning about ‘Things that are agitating, like raucous music, ugly and disturbing pictures or harmful words’, and it could lead to parents worrying unduly. But it is helpful that she clarifies near the beginning of the book that ‘it is important not to feel bound by the plan’ and ‘activities will need to go on for a much shorter time than adults imagine.’ The disadvantages of having beautiful activities described is that parents will feel inadequate if their children do not manage half of what is described, or perhaps even begin at all.
Another section, which is so simple, yet valuable, is the ‘quiet moment’. In an increasingly technological world where phones, computers and televisions provide constant stimulus the mind is never given a chance to rest. It is very easy to forget how easy it is to stop and become quiet, and this book serves as an important reminder of that.