THE METHOD AND THE MATERIAL 303
with our method begin to write at four years, and at five know how to read and write, at least as well as children who have finished the first elementary. They could enter the second elementary a year in advance of the time when they are admitted to first.
Games for the Reading of Phrases. As soon as my friends saw that the children could read print, they made me gifts of beautifully illustrated books. Looking through these books of simple fairy lore, I felt sure that the children would not be able to understand them. The teachers, feeling entirely satisfied as to the ability of their pupils, tried to show me I was wrong, having different children read to me, and saying that they read much more perfectly than the children who had finished the second elementary.
I did not, however, allow myself to be deceived, and made two trials. I first had the teacher tell one of the stories to the children while I observed to what extent they were spontaneously interested in it. The attention of the children wandered after a few words. I had forbidden the teacher to recall to order those who did not listen, and thus, little by little, a hum arose in the schoolroom, due to the fact that each child, not caring to listen had returned to his usual occupation.
It was evident that the children, who seemed to read these books with such pleasure, did not take pleasure in the sense, but enjoyed the mechanical ability they had acquired, which consisted in translating the graphic signs into the sounds of a word they recognised. And, indeed, the children did not display the same constancy in the reading of books which they showed toward the written slips, since in the books they met with so many unfamiliar words.