Editors’ note: These counsels, from more than 100 years ago, continue to hold striking relevance today, despite multiple and dramatic changes in educational theory.
Small children should be left as free as lambs to run out of doors, to be free and happy, and should be allowed the most favorable opportunities to lay the foundation for sound constitutions. Parents should be the only teachers of their children until they have reached eight or ten years of age.”
“The first lessons are of great importance. It is customary to send very young children to school. They are required to study from books things that tax their young minds, and often they are taught music. . . . This course is not wise. A nervous child should not be overtaxed in any direction, and should not learn music until he is physically well-developed.
“The mother should be the teacher, and home the school where every child receives his first lessons; and these lessons should include habits of industry.”
“It has been the custom to encourage children to attend school when they are mere babies, needing a mother’s care. Children of a delicate age are frequently crowded into ill-ventilated school rooms, to sit upon poorly constructed benches; and the young and tender frames have, through sitting in wrong positions, become deformed.”
“In our institutions of learning there is to be exerted an influence that will counteract the influence of the world, and give no encouragement to indulgence in appetite, in selfish gratification of the senses, in pride, ambition, love of dress and display, love of praise and flattery, and strife for high rewards and honors as a recompense for good scholarship. All this is to be discouraged in our schools.”
“Children are in great need of proper education, in order that their lives should be of use in the world. But any effort that exalts intellectual culture above moral training is misdirected. Instructing, cultivating, polishing, and refining youth and children should be the main burden with both parents and teachers. Close reasoners and logical thinkers are few, for the reason that false influences have checked the development of the intellect. The supposition of parents and teachers that continual study would strengthen the intellect has proved erroneous; for it has had in many cases the opposite effect.”
“In order for children and youth to have health, happiness, vivacity, and well-developed muscle and brain, they should be much in the open air, and have well-regulated employment and amusement. Children and youth who are kept at school, and confined to books, cannot have sound physical constitutions. The exercise of the brain in study without corresponding physical exercise has a tendency to attract the blood to the brain, and the circulation of the blood through the system becomes unbalanced. The brain has too much blood and the extremities too little. There should be rules regulating their studies to certain hours, and then a portion of their time should be spent in physical labor.”
“Mothers, let the little ones play in the open air; let them listen to the songs of the birds, and learn the love of God as expressed in His beautiful works.”
“Let the evenings be spent as happily as possible. Let home be a place where cheerfulness, courtesy, and love exist. This will make it attractive to the children. . . . Let parents devote the evenings to their families. Lay off care and perplexity with the labors of the day. . . . As a rule, the labor of the day should not be prolonged into the evening. If all the hours of the day are well improved, the work extended into the evenings is so much extra, and the overtaxed system will suffer from the burden imposed upon it. I have been shown that those who do this often lose much more than they gain, for their energies are exhausted, and they labor on nervous excitement.”
“All unnecessary matters need to be weeded from the course of study, and only such studies placed before the student as will be of real value to him. With these alone he needs to become familiarized that he may secure for himself that life which measures with the life of God. And as he learns of these, his mind will strengthen and expand as did the mind of Christ and John the Baptist. . . . But a mind crowded with a mass of matter it will never be able to use is a mind dwarfed and enfeebled.”
1. Bible and Nature. “Parents can associate God with all His created works. The only school room for children from eight to ten years of age should be in the open air amid the opening flowers and nature’s beautiful scenery. And their only textbook should be the treasures of nature. These lessons, imprinted upon the minds of young children amid the pleasant, attractive scenes of nature, will not soon be forgotten.”
“The Holy Scriptures were the essential study in the schools of the prophets, and they should hold the first place in every educational system. . . . Used as a textbook in our schools, the Bible will do for mind and morals what cannot be done by books of science or philosophy.” “While the Bible should hold the first place in the education of children and youth, the book of nature is next in importance.” “It is well that physiology is introduced into the common schools as a branch of education. All children should study it. It should be regarded as the basis of all educational effort.”
2. Common Branches. “Children should be educated to read, write, to understand figures, to keep their own accounts when very young.”
3. Physical Education. “Physical labor will not prevent the cultivation of the intellect. Far from this. The advantages gained by physical labor will so balance the mind that it shall not be overworked.” “In connection with the schools should be agricultural and manufacturing establishments. There should be teachers of household labor.” “Young girls should have been instructed to manufacture wearing apparel, to cut, make, and mend garments, and thus become educated for the practical duties of life.”
This article was first published in the Advocate, February 1, 1900. Ellen G. White, its author, was one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Her life and work testified to the special guidance of the Holy Spirit.