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On Early Childhood

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. IV no. 4

April 1975

First published in 1975. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1975-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-281-7 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

We hope this issue of our Newsletter will be a favorite with our readers since it is concerned with delightful matters and includes harmoniously blended expressions of science and love. It is clear that progress in the psychology of early childhood could surpass that in any field if for a few years a sufficient number of mothers (and fathers) collated, classified and analyzed all the facts which deal with learning at an early age. Rather than the viewpoint of one investigator, even of the reputation of Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Arnold Gesell, Jean Piaget, Henri Wallon, we would have an immense source of important data which by itself would produce very soon an impressive sorting out of what young children do with themselves for so many hours a day for a few years. How they do it would also be part of the study. We wish to consider this issue as proof that this can be done, and that with the help of mothers and a systematic approach to involving them, a very worthwhile project will result from which all will benefit. An article on the consequences of such a study for education in the large is also part of this issue, which ends as usual with news items.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 .............................................................................. 1 Chapter 2 .............................................................................. 5 Chapter 3 .............................................................................. 9 Chapter 4............................................................................ 13 Chapter 5 ............................................................................ 19 News Items ......................................................................... 27

Chapter 1

I greeted Motherhood joyfully and with wonderment when our first child, Kara, was born on January 9, 1971. I had taught first and second grades for a few years utilizing Words in Color and the Algebricks so I was eager to have the opportunity of teaching our own child. I knew it was possible to teach children to read and to do numbers at an earlier age than most thought, so I wanted to be ready whenever Kara would show that the time was “right.” As I readied the nursery, I decorated the walls with the colorful, eye-catching Words in Color charts. And then as she grew from infancy to toddlerhood, I watched and waited for any sign from her. I listened to her coo and jabber, mindful that this was vital, meaningful work on her part, a beginning towards speaking. I was jolted one morning when, as Kara sat in our bed, not a year old yet, she repeated a word she’d said before, “Heidi” (our dog’s name) and then she said “di Hei.” Bruce and I looked at each other to confirm what we’d just heard. She obliged by saying again the pair of words, “Heidi,” “di-Hei.” We realized what we’d come to know about how babies learn their native tongue was real for us and for Kara. And I knew, too, that one day Kara would be ready to learn to read by utilizing this very skill of reversing sounds that she had just exhibited with her playful “Heidi - diHei.” Kara seemed to ignore the colored charts much the same way in which she ignored the lovely stitchery I had made for her walls. So one day, after she was two years old and talking quite well, I passed the first chart and touched the white short a and gave its sound. She became immediately interested and was soon saying that sound and touching the chart all over — the a and the u, the space in between, just saying a. 1

On Early Childhood

I then went to her chalkboard and drew an a on the board and touched it and began playing games with that. She took to it and both of us were caught up in the games. We then went back to the colored chart and touched the little white a.’s. All this took only a couple of minutes and seeing she was still interested and that it was so simple, I continued with u on the chart and then the chalkboard and then i. Perhaps we spent five minutes in all with these games and I was just amazed at the ease with which she learned these three vowels. During the same day we had other encounters to the chart, just in passing by it. She would touch one sign and give its appropriate sound, and then run off to some other activity. During the next session of about 2 minutes Kara learned o. e was a bit more troublesome but we moved onward. She read Words in Color Wall Chart #1 and just loved picking out the one she would read next. We have had infrequent and sporadic sessions together, interrupted by the birth of her brother. But, still, Kara has learned to read in less time than I would have believed possible. While the materials (Words in Color) were the same I’d used with first and second graders, the approach by which Kara learned was somewhat different. It was much less structured, a sort of catch as catch can. When I was a bore, she didn’t politely bear with me but immediately lost interest. This put greater demands upon me. I had to be more creative and more interesting. An example of how we adapted the approach to Kara was the way in which she learned to read consonant-vowel-consonant words. She learned easily ap-up-ip-ep-op and their reversals but couldn’t get pap by putting pa and ap together. She lost interest if she couldn’t make sense of it quickly and I noticed she’d be discouraged and reluctant to play the games again. So I just left the colored chalk altogether and moved to Word Chart #2. She read up and we made big sentences with up — eg., Up up. Up up up. Up up up up up up UP. She loved it. Then we worked on at, it, and is and sentences with them. It was easy and quick, kept her interested and yet provided challenges with such sentences as — it is up up up! From up she learned pup (I covered the first p and she read up — then I uncovered the p and I said pup). We worked through the chart this way:


Chapter 1

at at it it

sat pat sit pit

and so on. We have continued to work together with the wall charts, chalkboards, worksheets, and charts I’ve made with sentences and stories on them. Kara can now read independently words using the 5 short vowels, the schwa a, e, u, long i, long e and long o and these consonants: p, t, s (is), s (us), m, n, f (fat), f (of), l, th (the), th (thin), y, r, h, k. One of the most thrilling experiences for me is to hear her read a story without assistance whose words use sounds she knows but whose particular order of sounds produces new words for her. It has sometimes been a real struggle for me as a mother to work with my daughter in reading; not because she was difficult but because I had a vision of how it should be which kept me from seeing how it really was. At times I wanted her to learn to read with such intensity that I had trouble being patient with her when she didn’t do what I wanted her to do. It has been a good lesson that Kara has taught me and one I must live with through a growing awareness that this child is not my child — she came through me, but she is her own. Janice Hinson


Chapter 2

My son is seven months old at the time of writing and I can hardly keep him from grabbing at everything — food, toys, hanging objects, or anything that is near at hand. Even things that are not close, as long as he knows that his hands can get to them, he reaches out for them. He moves his body so fast. Even when I am putting on his clothes he turns and his arms are so strong, I have to pull hard in order to get him in the right position. But I cannot say that this was the case a few weeks ago. When he was months old he turned over for the first time from his stomach to his back. Since I would turn him over in order to feed, change or pick him up, he tried to do it too. It took about a week of hard work on his part to make a complete turn. The first two or three days he would lean on his side for five minutes or so. Then the next few days he would turn and lie on his stomach but with his arm under him. He would cry as if afraid to go any further, afraid to lose his balance, in such an uncomfortable position. He would not go forward or backward. When I pulled his arm from under him, he knew that it was the last step because he now could move freely. The next step was to turn over the other way round — from his back to his stomach. This was more difficult for him since he had to force his body to move upward. It took him almost two weeks to do it. Again he would lean on his side. But when he made a complete turn he automatically moved his arm from under him having already learned to do so the first time.


On Early Childhood

At the age of four months, he got familiar with the telephone. He would look at me very attentively. He would hear me talk and see me silent with the phone to my ear. When I did put the telephone to his ear he listened without saying anything. He looked directly at me because he heard voices, but he could not see my lips change since they were not moving. Then he would make sounds as if trying to imitate me. I know that he is listening because I see frowns appear on his brow. When he starts to pull at the phone I take it away from him. Two weeks ago, he started to crawl. At first, it was difficult for him. He would lie on his stomach and push the lower part of his body upward with his knees off the floor. After that he would raise his whole body upward with only his hands and feet touching the floor. Then he started to push forward, move his hands forward and his feet simultaneously. Right now I have to keep everything away from him otherwise the whole house would be turned upside down. It has been several weeks since we moved to a new home. My son was aware of the newness from the time we moved in. He was observing everything around him everyday — the different colors of the walls, the position of his crib, etc. Each time we worked at putting some new wallpaper on the walls he would stare all around. Each morning as I am leaving for work he turns around on hearing the jingle of keys. He seems intent when I turn the key in the lock. On the way to the babysitter’s, he moves his head in the direction of an oncoming car or bus. When I go to pick him up in the evening, he is so happy to see me. He laughs, gurgles and kicks his feet. Sometimes if the babysitter is holding him as she opens the door and his back is towards me, he turns around as soon as he hears my voice and throws himself on me. It makes me feel so good that he knows me. When I am talking to the babysitter’s children, he makes all kinds of noises in order to draw my attention. As soon as I go to him, he cries to signal that he wants me to lift him up. He stretches out his hands to touch me. Sometimes while drinking his bottle he stops drinking as he feels that I am there.


Chapter 2

A few days ago I started to wear spectacles. When I went to get him and he had only heard my voice at the door, he started to laugh. When he saw the spectacles, he stopped laughing and stared at me. He put his hands forward to touch them. When I removed them he looked at them and then at me. He knew there was something different. On the way home he started touching them. He saw and heard a dog barking at us. He was so mad, he started to grumble and make sounds that imitated those of the dog. Whenever we reach home, and walk into the hallway, he knows we are nearly there because he can feel the warmth and I can see his eyes lighting up. He turns around when he hears the familiar sound of the keys and he always watches me open the door. Marie A. Auguste


Chapter 3

Soon after having uttered her first word, which was “hand,” around the age of nine months, Uma could say “give me.” With this facility at her disposal, any time she needed to have something that was not within her reach, she would say “give me” rather than mobilize herself to get it. Even though I would put her toys and other favorite things at a distance from her in order to encourage her to move to them, I would end up giving them to her as she would sit and point at what she wanted saying, “mama, give me.” This facility delayed her learning to crawl and to walk. At least, so it seemed. Uma was about fourteen months old and a good talker by then when one late evening she stood up without holding on to anything, and took a few decisive steps to reach me. She walked. Before that she had been standing up supporting herself with anything that she felt could support her. She would shift her weight from one leg to the other, lifting one foot after the other as she stood holding on to something. Uma never crawled, but she had found a way of transporting herself. She would be sitting, and when she wanted to move from one place to another she would transfer some of her weight on to her right palm and right heel, both of which she would be pressing against the ground, and thus with a push would move herself forward. Also, she would delight in taking fast light steps holding firmly in each of her hands my two index fingers, with me walking backwards and she facing me. These almost gliding steps of Uma could not be called walking steps, because she was barely bending her knees and therefore not using them to break the weight of her body and thus allow her feet to be firmly on the


On Early Childhood

ground and let her be mobile in a vertical position without any external support. Yet all these activities seem related to her learning to walk. That evening at the age of fourteen months she did walk. She walked on her own and with the intent to walk. I was about two yards away from her when it happened. She showed me that she walked up to me rather than that she walked up to me. It was through her activity of walking that she was involved in discovering herself being so. That the activity could be used as a means of transporting herself from one place to another was in those moments only incidentally true for her. She looked totally involved in actualizing herself through her act of walking. Also, there was the presence of a choice in her act of walking. Since she could move forward in a sitting position, she could have come to me that way. Since she could talk, she could have asked me to come to her or to take her to where I was. But she chose to stand up and take those few steps on her own. The term “choice” in the sense of a preference from among the alternatives, however, is applicable only from an onlooker’s point of view. On Uma’s part the choice was an existential one. Her act of walking, as if, was in unison with her being an existential one. Her act of walking, as if, was in unison with her being in awareness of what there was for her to do with herself in those moments, and therefore in a way, she had no choice but be this. Uma did not walk again in this way for the next two to three months. The one activity that she engaged in day after day for weeks seems to me to be directly related to her awareness of herself having walked a few steps on her own. Having found out what it was to walk, she decided to give herself intensive practice in walking. She would walk fast and faster up and down alongside the length of the sofa in our living room. She would not be holding on to the sofa necessarily, or leaning against it for support. But she had it there to practice her walking along side it. It was an amusing sight to watch her so fully taken by this frantic activity. Also, she would stand up holding on to things and take steps backwards, forwards and sideways. She would climb on the sofa or an 10

Chapter 3

armchair, and climb down. She would go up the stairs on her hands and knee — for it was always the right knee that went up, and the left one followed with the rest of the body. For coming down she would often ask to be picked up by stretching her arms up to me and saying “carry-you” as one word. Uma was now about sixteen months old. One day she sat near the door of the room while I worked on reading with Mary, a four year old child, in one corner which was diagonally across from where Uma was. I did not see her stand up. But, not quite looking at her, I saw her walk across the room to come to where Mary and I were working. She came and stood near us and looked at the charts we were working on. From then on Uma gave up altogether transporting herself in the sitting position. The frantic activity of walking up and down alongside the sofa suddenly was dropped. Now walking for Uma became a skill that she owned and could use. Having mastered walking as an activity of the self, now Uma willingly and consciously integrated it in her awareness as a means of transporting herself. Now Uma and I would go out for walks. I would say: “Uma, shall we go for a walk?” She would say: “Shall we.” The word “yes” as an expression of herself was not a part of her vocabulary till she was two. She could understand it being used by others. She could read it on Words in Color charts since she had learned to read words and sentences on up to 12 charts by the time she was 22 months old. But then, this is another story! Shakti Datta


Chapter 4

I know that the work had begun even before James was born; that even inside me, he was beginning to explore the ways in which his will could act upon his muscle tone. I knew this in the ways a mother-to-be can know it. I felt the kickings and movements and I sensed their purposefulness. This presence of himself in all his actions was with him from the beginning. So even in the act of crying at birth, having begun to know himself as an expeller of air through vocal cords, he had moved a little closer to being a speaker. As I look at the “verbatim� transcriptions I made of his noisemaking, the way he would use different vowel sounds, different intensities of these sounds, varying rhythmical and melodic patterns in his utterances, I notice how much is left out in any description of what was happening. The tape recordings are somewhat richer; in them the will is present choosing the sound, the intensity, the pitch. Only the tape recorder (no verbatim transcript) can show the transition James made from exploration of sound production to sounds as expression of himself; and the delicate line between expression (chortles of glee, angry yells) and communication (imperious orders, greetings). From the time we could be certain that James could hear, we knew he was working at the level of his hearing, responding to impacts from the world around him. At a certain time he became absorbed in hearing his own speech, recognizing that in his listening ability he had a constant


On Early Childhood

feedback on the work he was doing with the powers that produced the sounds. I noticed his sensitivity to certain sounds or noises. He could hear a dog barking at a great distance and would observe it by his momentary stillness and concentration, while a moment earlier he had seemed completely absorbed in some activity. He is still, at four, very alert to those sounds that interest him. If I pronounce a word in an unusual way or make a slight mistake, he notices it immediately. The error or variation momentarily becomes of greater interest than the meaning of whatever I’m saying. Language surrounded James in the speech and thought of the people he lived with and met. He first recognized that he, as well as the others, had the power to utter sounds with a force which attracted attention to himself and somehow expanded his personal power. This characteristic of soundmaking, that it extends the field of the individual, seems common to all languages as well as to the cries and sounds of the rest of the animal kingdom. The first quality of English that he found within and without himself was its melody, and the tape recordings show an astonishing change between 12 and 13 months, when it becomes clear that James had found his ability to use melody to relate to people around him. There are no English words in his speech, but the melody conveys clear meanings. There is a question phrase, exactly English in melody. Its content seems to be, “I want to hear you say something about this.” The intensity of his voice has become modulated so that in a dialogue with me on the tape over pictures we’re looking at in a book, there is no longer the extraordinary contrast in volume and intensity between our two voices. There is a flow back and forth and a fairly consistent level of rhythm and pitch. James asks a question; I answer some question that by intuition I suppose was his. He exclaims over some picture; I respond. He comments on something; I ask a question; he answers. Occasionally there will be an interruption in this melodic mode and he’ll return to a broader spectrum of intensity. The effect is that he seems to have switched from speaking English to uttering sounds the way a deaf child 14

Chapter 4

does; the melodiousness of English there is a flow of energy in time; in the other kind of sound making the energy is broader and grosser. It is at this point that I feel interested in the question, “Just exactly what is my place in his learning English?” There is no question but that he did not have the power to invent the melody of English. He needed the inspiration of hearing it. If at the time that he chose to explore his access to it, I had noticed only that he wasn’t uttering words, I would certainly have missed a chance to enjoy his ability to converse with me on the level of melody. I can’t say that I taught him anything about the melody of English. I can say that by conversing with him, I gave him the feedback that his approximations of statements were correct enough to get responses, and offered him some opportunity to practice. At 23 months James entered a dramatic phase in his study of English. As has been true of his learning-spurts in other areas, it proceeded in a geometric, rather than arithmetical, progression. He had (between 13 and 23 months) been developing his ability at labeling; his words for objects and people became more and more English in their phonetic structure. He could combine labeling with questioning: “Where dadone?” (telephone) “Where Mommy?” “Wazzat? A boy?” He could combine labeling with possession: “My bodoo” (my bottle), “Nick’s ball.” Occasionally he would combine the newly developed object words with his old melodious nonsense English, but rarely. He concentrated on making his labeling sounds more and more precise. By this time he would ask, “Wazzat?” Someone would label the thing, and he would repeat the name. He would attempt to approximate almost any word we said. Then he began to weave a solid fabric of his mastered labels and constructs and his mastered melody. February 4th:“Ha doeen?” (What’re you doing?) “Eh Goeen?” (Where is he/she/it going?) February 12th: “Eateen?” (Do people eat this?) February 15th: “Ha doeen, Mommy?” “Eh goeen, Mommy?” “Eh Daddy go?” 15

On Early Childhood

“Eh top go?” These few examples illustrate the way James exploited the labels and structures he had by combining them in all the arrangements he could find that would still make sense. After a day or two of practicing doing and going, he began to string them into longer phrases. February 17th:

“Man wide twuck” (The man is riding in the truck.)

This was the first time I had heard him make a statement in the third person that wasn’t a question. I was very much startled and moved by the newness of this sort of statement. March 13th:

James: I: James:

“Why?” “Ah sit down” (I want to sit down.) “Ah baff night peas.” (I want a bath tonight, please.) “Ah bye bye zycoo,” (I want to go away on my motor cycle.) “Mommy, sit down peas.” “Ah keys ah back.” (?) “What were you doing with the keys, James?” “Ah I wy wy woom. . . ah key yud. . . bye” ( I was in my room. . I was scared there. . I’m going back) “Mom, mom! gum!”

April 10th:

“Weah da butter go?” “I found my butter.” “Who dood dat, Mommy?” “Daddy comeen too, Mommy too, Nick too, Kafrin to. .” “This ducky, this kitty, that horsie.”

April 28th:

“Know what, Mom? This Nick’s heffy ball!”

May 14th:

“This pin is sharp” “This a hook” “This my yiddu ball.” 16

Chapter 4

“Know what? Dida have hommy gits and James have hommy gits too.” These excerpts show his inspiration towards longer and more complex statements. He is now forming melodious phrases, made up mainly of real words. It is clear how delighted he is to have too and and to add to his power to make long statements. The same period contained some of his most original grammatical constructions. Here he showed me that he was in possession of the criteria which produced the grammars of the various languages of the earth. April 10th:

“Roing can.” (The can is rolling) “Cookie me.” (Give me a cookie) “Mommy awgone aymeeoss.” (Mommy’s oatmeal is all eaten)

May 1st:

“My shut uh door.” “My pwon uh shoes.’ “Look what my got here, Daddy!” “My Jameses juice.”

May 4th:

“Ook my did!” (Look what I did)

His experimentation with my was extensive. He often greeted me “Hello, my Mommy!” May 15th:

“Be not!” (I won’t)

Now at four he is still actively at work. He is aware of dialects and never mixes them. He listens to Spanish programs on television so intently that I am sure he is making some sense of Spanish, though he speaks little. I can only hope that those of us who have the responsibility of educating him, can be aware at all times of how much he has done on his own, and how well he knows his own instruments.


On Early Childhood

Caroline Chinlund


Chapter 5

Two years ago, my brother and his wife moved from Alabama to Cape May, New Jersey. In August of that year (1973) their first child, Meredith, was born. My visits with Meredith have been different from most of my previous contact with young children. First, they have been intensive. Three months would pass without my seeing her, for instance; but when I was with her, we may have 48 to 96 hours together. Often her parents would not be present, and I would have the joy of relating with her in so many contexts. Secondly, Dr. Gattegno’s book, The Universe of Babies had been published, and I had participated in a 90-hour Early Childhood workshop series where we studied some aspects of its content. I knew that Meredith was an opportunity for my education, and I wanted to know what our time together had to teach me. Every occasion I have spent with Meredith has been overwhelmingly rich. As soon as I had insight into some of her activity, she was involved in another project which had as much to teach me as her previous endeavors. It was surely impossible to take it all in, and I was not as disciplined a student as I was a delighted observer. I was always lifted by my contact with Meredith, but not necessarily more articulate about how she went about learning a particular thing. I can think of three occasions, though, when my visit corresponded with her working in a concentrated manner on some new learning. (At least, her investigation was more visible and the results of her work more obvious.) In August, 1974, when Meredith was 12 months old, I


On Early Childhood

arrived in Cape May just as she was learning to crawl up two steps which connected the den to the kitchen. What was most striking was the number of maneuvers and coordinated actions required in order to mount the steps. First, Meredith would crawl to the bottom step, put both of her hands on the step and pull herself to her feet. Second, she would lift one leg until her knee rested on the first step. This action, however, had to be coordinated with her reaching for the second step with her hand. If she had not grasped the second step, Meredith could not proceed; and in the beginning of this new learning, she often abandoned her climbing just at this moment, when her knee had found the first step, but her hand had not grasped the second step. Third, in order to put herself on the first step, Meredith had to pull herself with the hand that held the step until her second knee was on the first step. While this pulling was going on, her other hand needed to find the second step, or Meredith would lose her balance, with too much weight being shifted to one side. Going from the first step to the kitchen was a different maneuver. There was no third step to grasp, so Meredith had to lean over the approximate 8” obstacle, place her self against the kitchen floor, find a way to grasp its flat surface and once again lift her knees one at a time from the step to the kitchen floor. It was interesting to me to observe how Meredith moved toward mastery of this task over time. On Friday evening, she appeared to know what was required of her to climb the steps. She made mistakes, she got stuck from time to time, but she often practiced four or five times before becoming interested in another project. On Saturday morning, however, she did not go toward the steps until after noon. Then, she appeared to practice deliberately, on and off, until she went to bed. On Sunday morning, she climbed the steps early. That day, she “used” them to get from the den where she might be playing to the kitchen where something else may have attracted her. We did not see her “practicing” as she had been the two days before. Two months later, when Meredith was 14 months old, I was present the weekend that she started to walk. Her mother and father could perhaps write about the events that led to her taking a few steps on her own; but when I arrived at their house, Meredith could lift herself from a sitting or crawling position to a standing position. She did this in the middle


Chapter 5

of the room, needing no chair or sofa to hold on to. She would often participate when we initiated games by standing several feet away from her and asked her to come to us. She would play with us three or four times but usually would return to whichever activity we had taken her from. Or, for no obvious reason to us, she would interrupt an activity she was engaged in, stand up and walk 6, 8, or 10 steps before she dropped to the floor. But on Friday and much of Saturday, whenever she wanted to take herself from one place to another, she crawled. By the third day, she had mastered many of the components of this activity. She could stand so much more quickly. She walked for longer and longer distances at a time. She seemed to anticipate much more accurately when she was going to lose her balance, and her descent to the floor was so much more graceful. I noticed before I left that Meredith was crawling less and less. The main lesson I remember from this weekend, however, was that Meredith knew so much better than I did what kind of “help” was really helpful. On several occasions that weekend, I had tried to “help” her by letting her take my fingers and offering her some support while she stood up. I was puzzled, at first that she never walked after I had helped lift her to her feet. Then it occurred to me that what I thought would be helpful was not at all. It seemed that whatever she did when she lifted herself was essential to establish the balance that she needed for walking. Recently I spent two more days with Meredith. She is 19 months old now, and I was looking forward to seeing the beginnings of her speaking. I was more taken, however, with the way that she was learning to put together a puzzle. On two or three occasions during my visit, Meredith had asked for a puzzle which her mother had stored on a shelf out of her reach. It seemed a complicated task as there were 26 pieces to the puzzle. (Each piece was a picture of an object whose label began with each of the 26 letters of the alphabet — apple, ball, cat, etc.) The pieces were small and had many edges. The holes where they fit were shallow so that they could be easily knocked from their position. I assumed that this puzzle 21

On Early Childhood

was too difficult for Meredith and did not watch what she did with it the first two or three times that she asked for it. Then, on one occasion after I had handed it to her, Meredith dumped the contents onto the floor. Before I became interested in something else, I saw her choose one of the pieces and put it immediately into its proper place. “Interesting,” I said to myself. “I wonder if she knows where another piece fits.” She put the next piece into place and the next. I was startled. “Anne,” I said, “Did you know that Meredith could work this puzzle?” “yes,” her mother replied. And I sat down by her side and observed for one of the most fascinating 15 minutes ever. I can’t say I watched her learning to put it together. But the way that she attacked it, the mistakes that she made, gave me some understanding of what learning to do the puzzle had entailed. I can mention a few: 1 She had retained the location of each of the pieces in relation to the whole array of the 26 pieces. If she made a mistake, it was usually because she was trying to place the piece into a position in the general area where its proper place was. In fact, if her attempt was erroneous, it was always adjacent to where the piece actually fitted. 2 Although she seemed guided first of all by the overall positioning on the grid, she also used the shape of the piece to help her find its corresponding hole. This first became evident to me as I saw her trying to make the umbrella fit into a place made for a net. (The overall shape of these two pieces was, of course, very close.) After trying unsuccessfully for a few seconds, she saw that the place for the umbrella was just below the position for the net. She put the umbrella into place. Then, she searched for the net, picked it up and put it into its hole. 3 In fact, she was using her sight to inform her as to whether or not the piece that she picked up would fit into its place in the position in which she was holding it. Frequently she picked up a piece from the floor, held it against her stomach as she rotated it into its upright position that would then fit into place.


Chapter 5

4 For the most part, she did not seem to be concerned with the names of the objects she put into place. For instance, she didn’t say their names as she put them into position (although she had uttered their names in other contexts). Her mother, however, often named them as Meredith put them into position; and on one occasion, anyway, she seemed to be guided by the label given to the piece. Some of these objects (pieces) resembled each other and looked very little like the actual objects they were supposed to represent. Once Meredith was struggling to make the orange fit into a place that was meant for the Jell-O. Her mother said: “Meredith, that’s an orange, not jell.” Meredith immediately took the piece to another area of the puzzle and put it quickly into its place. 5 Fitting the pieces into place was definitely a challenge to Meredith’s coordination. The holes for the pieces were shallow, and Meredith had to be watchful while putting one into place that she did not knock its neighbor out of position. Her sight did not yet seem adequate for judging whether or not she had a piece securely into position. On each occasion after she thought she had made a fit, she put her index finger on top of the piece and wiggled it slightly to see if it was jarred from its position. If it did not slide out of its place, Meredith appeared to have a criterion for moving on to the next part of the puzzle. I know that I have taken some steps so that the competencies of young children can reach me. Still, I know from the “surprises” I experience in each visit with Meredith that the preconception that because she is so small she could not possibly be so completely in charge of her learning, remains with me in hundreds of little ways. I am grateful to her for giving me opportunities to dissolve some of these ideas and to replace them with a more accurate perception of the person I am meeting. Katherine Mitchell All the notes produced by parents who are sensitive to their children’s learning in early childhood force us to look at ourselves as extremely competent learning systems who know what is needed to be done and do it diligently and consciously. 23

On Early Childhood

There is no doubt that we could learn one important lesson from this — namely, that if we kept doing the right things we would achieve a great deal more in our lives than we do at present, much faster. They would last for the rest of our lives as all our learnings as babies do. That there are right ways of doing things can by itself be a tremendous inspiration. Imagine the fact that every baby in every culture manages to learn the language of his environment, without knowing what a language is or is for. By studying how we all do it may be the essential clue to the improvement of second and third language teaching, knowing that the concept of “there is a right way of doing things” is easily formed and furnished. In the techniques and materials of The Silent Way such findings are incorporated precisely. Imagine that every baby submitted to the impacts of the environment manages to know what is real and what is true and decides by itself that truth exists and is accessible and that reality is not a philosophical notion but a dynamic interaction between one’s self and the non-self. Guided by this “sense of truth” we can understand much better how to present mankind’s progress to educators in terms that can never fail to make sense to the learners at the stage they are in, forging their own instruments for knowing. Common Sense is the name for a use of one’s perception and the feedbacks from one’s actions. With the use of such Common Sense it is possible to revamp altogether the approaches to everyone who has to acquire skills in the numerous fields of life; it is possible to maintain education in a state of constant renewal. From that alone we have learned enough in one generation to ensure a proper education for everybody who has to acquire the use of the basic skills for which schools were created. This is not a claim, it is a fact; and most of the insights which have been incorporated in the approaches lumped under the label of “the


Chapter 5

subordination of teaching to learning,” tested by many people in very varied circumstances and environments, have made explicit use of pinpointed solutions to specific problems. While my book “The Universe of Babies” mainly tries to give the basic foundations of how young children learn, the rest of my pedagogical work aims at spelling out how we can teach in a manner that resembles spontaneous learning. There is no other explanation for the distinctive success of my solutions. If readers want to go beyond the delight expressed in the previous series of articles, a study of the work available under the names Words in Color, The Silent Way, Gattegno Mathematics, Absolute Visual Reading, Folklore of Mathematics, etc. will give the needed substance to the above labels. Of course there is much more to look for in the concrete learning of individual students and some of the findings will open new horizons to the increasing number of investigators of early childhood. Still, to be able to find what has escaped scrutiny will demand the ability to make oneself vulnerable to both the familiar and the casual. That all children learn to stand does not make it a lesser remarkable object of study, capable of illuminating the mind. Caleb Gattegno


News Items

1 A very small edition of a new book by Dr. Caleb Gattegno, whose provisional title is “Of Boys and Girls� is now available, signed by the author, for those who do not want to wait an indefinite time to read it as a published text. It is the text which serves as a bridge between the book on the baby and that on the adolescent. It is the epistemological part of a longer work which will also concern itself with basic education at the elementary school level. Its purpose is to inform those who work with children of age 6 - 11 about studies on awareness made over a long period and not found anywhere else. This small edition of two hundred copies will in due time be printed as a library book with other chapters added. The chapters that form this edition have the following titles: Preface, Introduction, Perception at the service of action, Action at the service of perception, Imagery, virtuality, symbolism, Finesse, balance, Filling the world with dynamics, Games, Drawings, Partnerships, Equity, morality, Interest and lack of interest, Before adolescence, and tell of the approach to the subject matter. The subsequent parts, which may be issued as fascicules of the same kind, are: first, the teaching of the basic subjects (reading and math) in terms of the findings of part 1; second, the teaching of the other academic subjects such as the sciences; third, the teaching of marginal subjects like foreign languages and social studies; and fourth, the teaching of physical education, music and art to this age group.


On Early Childhood

2 On a visit to Cuernavaca, Mexico, during the Easter recess, Dr. Gattegno gave an intensive five-day workshop on teaching Spanish by The Silent Way. The reason for reporting this in the Newsletter is that a group of people of goodwill, teachers, who had tried two approaches to teaching Spanish as a second language, had decided to spend badly needed funds to get acquainted with another approach. All they knew about The Silent Way was that colored rods were used to generate situations about which people spoke. This idea was so vague that the group experienced a shock to find that The Silent Way in fact is a very systematic approach to each of the pinpointed challenges met by students of a new language. Because the course was for training purposes, it was necessary to proceed by remaining in contact all the time with technical matters. Lessons to foreign students were made part of the course although none had been planned. They served to allay fears which remained, for some, for up to three of the five days. Indeed it was a tall order to ask for totally open minds from teachers who were instructors in a certain method which could be developed as a course from several books recognized and recommended by the Mexican Department of Education. Only the actual events decided them to shift from a guarded interest in something they had agreed to become acquainted with, to the profound enthusiasm, demonstrated at the end of the course. These events included lessons which demonstrated the enormous power of the techniques and materials of The Silent Way. For example an American woman from California who came as a tourist to Cuernavaca with no intention of learning Spanish, and knew nothing of it and who in addition had spent the previous night in a park because there was no other place to stay, agreed to be a student to be taught alone and introduced from scratch to Spanish. Using the Fidel and a pointer, she was made to produce long statements in Spanish that no one in the room could have believed to be produced by anybody not already well-versed in the language. She of course understood nothing of what she said at this time. A little later she was called again and given, again alone, a lesson with the rods. This time she only had to say things she understood and said


News Items

them as clearly as when she had been taught with the Fidel, again astonishing the instructors with her progress in two hours. They could not imagine that such a lesson could succeed had she not been given all the attention she received. They asked to see a lesson with 4 students at different levels with different needs and this was arranged for after lunch. The woman was at that time more tired. The other three students included a woman who had taken Spanish at school for five years and two men who were there to start their study the following week and slightly acquainted with Spanish. The lesson lasted one hour, was carried out with the Spanish Word Charts #1 and 2 and covered ground not suggested through manipulation of the rods. The instructors found most of their objections met and saw happening what they could not believe possible: a silent teacher making students say what they wanted to say, spontaneously, with good Spanish melody avoiding most of the pitfalls of phonetics which were related to the same script as their own native language, and understanding all that went on. The structures used were at the level covered in two books used at the school and were considered “difficult.� The instructors whose English pronunciations ranged from awful to tolerable, got a lesson with the English Fidel and managed to learn from a silent teacher how to produce the sounds of English, taking full responsibility for what they produced. An accurate summary of an intensive 45 hour five day workshop is impossible, but what can be said very briefly is that the seminar only appealed to what the participants brought with them and that it worked with the instructors, who knew Spanish but not The Silent Way, in the same way in which the students learned Spanish that they did not know. Immediately after the training a number of the participants decided to use the insufficient amount of material left behind to teach their own classes the following day. 3 The third one week long workshop for teachers of the deaf took place from the 14th to the 18th of this month. There were twenty participants who came from the vicinity of New York and from as far as 29

On Early Childhood

Los Angeles, seven coming from one school in Montreal. Three of these had been here a year ago. The title of the workshop was again Absolute Visual Reading, but it was a very different course from the two previous ones. One main difference resulted from the presence of three teachers of the deaf who were themselves deaf and with very different needs and education. Two were sign-language people, one was a “lip reader” whose speech is fluent to a remarkable degree. Hence an opportunity was taken, and a great deal of convincing followed from the fact that Absolute Visual Reading techniques could put right in hours what had been left untouched for many years. What had been barely broached on the last day a year ago became the center of the work from the Wednesday afternoon until the end. In fact it was a clear demonstration that the oral problem had now been reduced to the introduction of five or six vowels and the main consonants, and that speech does not need to be isolated from the rest of the learning of language. Because we at Educational Solutions know that only awareness is educable in man, we can develop techniques and material which are capable of serving most students. Indeed our students dictate what we do with each of them. This served us well during the workshop and we all lived at a high level of excitement because of the quality of every moment. Learning at that rate had an affective component felt by all, and with the whole self. Indeed it became obvious, even to our own staff used to intensive study, that when we are with a problem, more than half the battle for the solution is immediately won. This week we never lost the problem, were never distracted from working on it, and finally all knew we had made definite progress towards a working solution, transportable at once to the classrooms where some of the participants taught. We looked at the films again after our deeper insight — of what language is and how we can best teach it to the deaf — and their message was better understood and their value better assessed. 30

News Items

Through them a great deal of time will be saved by learners and teachers alike, and the task of teaching oral English while teaching the written language appeared so much more manageable. For us this workshop was a turning point in the job of teaching language and reading to the deaf. P.S. We would like to thank Ms. June Newkirk of Northridge California, Ms. Marcia Bordman of Gallaudet and Katherine Mitchell of our staff, for being so helpful in using sign language to make our seminar sessions accessible to our deaf participants.


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

On Early Childhood  
On Early Childhood  

Newsletter, Vol. IV No. 4, April 1975