…We mention these things that parents may not be disappointed, or expect more from the occupation of a garden than it can at a very early age afford. A garden is an excellent resource for children, but they should have a variety of other occupations: rainy days, and frost and snow will come, and then children must be occupied within doors.
We immediately think of a little set of carpenter’s tools, to supply them with active amusement. Boys will probably be more inclined to attempt making models than drawings of the furniture which appears to be the most easy to imitate; they will imagine, that if they had but tools, they could make boxes, and desks, and beds, and chests of drawers, and tables, and chairs innumerable. But, alas! these fond hopes are too soon dissipated.
Suppose a boy of seven years old to be provided with a small set of carpenter’s tools, his father thinks, perhaps, that he has made him completely happy; but a week afterwards the father finds dreadful marks of the file and saw upon his mahogany tables; the use of these tools is immediately interdicted until a bench shall be procured. Week after week passes away, till at length the frequently reiterated speech of, “Papa, you bid me put you in mind about my bench, “Papa” has its effect, and the bench appears.
Now the young carpenter thinks he is quite set up in the world, and projects carts and boxes, and reading-desks and writing-desks for himself and for his sisters, if he have any; but when he comes to the execution of his plans, what new difficulties, what new wants arise! The wood is too thick or too thin; it splits, or it cannot be cut with a knife; wire, nails, glue, and, above all, the means of heating the glue, are wanting. At last some frail machine, stuck together with pegs or pins, is produced, and the workman is usually either too much ridiculed, or too much admired.
The step from pegging to morticing is a very difficult step, and the want of a morticing chisel is insuperable: one tool is called upon to do the duty of another, and the pricker comes to an untimely end, in doing the hard duty of the punch; the saw wants setting; the plane will plane no longer; and the mallet must be used instead of the hammer, because the hammer makes so much noise, that the ladies of the family have voted for its being locked up.
To all these various evils the child submits in despair, and finding, after many fruitless exertions, that he cannot make any of the fine things he had projected, he throws aside his tools, and is deterred by these disappointments from future industry and ingenuity. Such are the consequences of putting excellent tools into the hands of children before they can possibly use them: but the tools which are useless at seven years old, will be a most valuable present at eleven or twelve, and for this age it will be prudent to reserve them.
A rational toy-shop should be provided with all manner of carpenter’s tools, with wood properly prepared for the young workman, and with screws, nails, glue, emery-paper, and a variety of articles which it would be tedious to enumerate; but which, if parents could readily meet with a convenient assemblage, they would willingly purchase for their children. The trouble of hunting through a number of different shops prevents them at present from purchasing such things; besides, perhaps they may not be sufficiently good carpenters to know distinctly every thing that is necessary for a young workman.
Card, pasteboard, substantial but not sharp pointed scissors, wire, gum, and wax, may in some degree supply the want of carpenter’s tools at that early age, when we have observed that the saw and plane are useless. Models of common furniture should be made as toys, which may be taken to pieces, so that all their parts, and the manner in which they are put together, might be seen distinctly; the names of the different parts should be written or stamped upon them: by these means the names will be associated with realities, children will retain them in their memory, and they will neither learn by rote technical terms, nor will they be retarded in their progress in mechanical invention by the want of language.
Before young people can use tools, these models will amuse and exercise their attention. From models of furniture we may go on to models of architecture; pillars of different orders, the roofs of houses, the manner of slating and tiling; &c. Then we may proceed to models of simple machines, choosing at first, such as can be immediately useful to children in their own amusements, such as wheelbarrows, carts, cranes, scales, steelyards, jacks, and pumps, which children ever view with eager eyes.
From simple it will be easy to proceed gradually to models of more complicated machinery; it would be tiresome to give a list of these; models of instruments used by manufacturers and artists should be seen; many of these are extremely ingenious; spinning-wheels, looms, paper-mills, wind-mills, water-mills, might with great advantage be shewn in miniature to children. We have found that two or three hundred bricks formed in plaister of Paris, on a scale of a quarter of an inch to an inch, with a few lintels, &c. in proportion, have been a lasting and useful fund of amusement…
Whilst our pupils occupy and amuse themselves with observation, experiment, and invention, we must take care that they have a sufficient variety of manual and bodily exercises. We have, after long experience, found, that sawing and splitting wood for firing is an amusement and a species of labour to which children recur with pleasure: large blocks are not fit for this purpose; but branches of five or six inches diameter are easily sawed and split by children of six years old.
A turning-lathe, and a work-bench, will afford them constant active employment; and when young people can invent, they feel great pleasure in the execution of their own plans. We do not speak from vague theory; we have seen the daily pleasures of the work-bench, and the persevering eagerness with which young people work in wood, and brass, and iron, when tools are put into their hands at a proper age, and when their understanding has been previously taught the simple principles of mechanics.
It is not to be expected that any exhortations we could use could prevail upon a father, who has no taste for mechanics, or for chemistry, to spend any of his time in his children’s laboratory, or at their work-bench; but in his choice of a tutor he may perhaps supply his own defects, and he will consider that even by interesting himself in the daily occupations of his children, he will do more in the advancement of their education than can be done by paying money to a hundred masters.
Practical Education – 1811