Parents and teachers are very often somewhat averse to this, lest, by often confessing their own ignorance, they should lower themselves in the estimation of their pupils or their children. So they feel bound to give some kind of an explanation to every difficulty, in hopes that it may satisfy the inquirer, though it does not satisfy themselves. But this is a great mistake. The sooner that pupils and children understand that the field of knowledge is utterly boundless, and that it is only a very small portion of it that their superiors in age and attainment have yet explored, the better for all concerned. The kind of superiority, in the estimation of children, which it is chiefly desirable to attain, consists in their always finding that the explanation which we give, whenever we attempt any, is clear, fair, and satisfactory, not in our being always ready to offer an explanation, whether satisfactory or not.
Questions on Religious Subjects.
The considerations presented in this chapter relate chiefly to the questions which children ask in respect to what they observe taking place around them in external nature. There is another class of questions and difficulties which they raise—namely, those that relate to religious and moral subjects; and to these I have not intended now to refer. The inquiries which children make on these subjects arise, in a great measure, from the false and puerile conceptions which they are so apt to form in respect to spiritual things, and from which they deduce all sorts of absurdities. The false conceptions in which their difficulties originate are due partly to errors and imperfections in our modes of teaching them on these subjects, and partly to the immaturity of their powers, which incapacitates them from clearly comprehending any elements of thought that lie beyond the direct cognizance of the senses. We shall, however, have occasion to refer to this subject in another chapter.
In respect, however, to all that class of questions which children ask in relation to the visible world around them, the principles here explained may render the mother some aid in her intercourse with the little learners under her charge, if she clearly understands and intelligently applies them. And she will find the practice of holding frequent conversations with them, in these ways, a source of great pleasure to her, as well as of unspeakable advantage to them. Indeed, the conversation of a kind and intelligent mother is far the most valuable and important means of education for a child during many years of its early life. A boy whose mother is pleased to have him near her, who likes to hear and answer his questions, to watch the gradual development of his thinking and reasoning powers, and to enlarge and extend his knowledge of language—thus necessarily and of course expanding the range and scope of his ideas—will find that though his studies, strictly so called—that is, his learning to read, and the committing to memory lessons from books—may be deferred, yet, when he finally commences them he will go at once to the head of his classes at school, through the superior strength and ampler development which his mental powers will have attained.