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17th Century Roots of 21st Century Care and Education
January 12, 2023
If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday.
-Pearl S. Buck, American novelist, 1892-1973
David Elkind, a long-time contributor to Exchange, opens his insightful book Giants in the Nursery with the story of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670). An early education reformer, Comenius “believed that his educational precepts were grounded in the way nature operates and that education would be easy and enjoyable if…”

  1. it is begun before the mind is corrupted.
  2. the mind is prepared to receive it.
  3. we proceed from the general to the particular, from what is easy to what is more complex.
  4. the pupils are not overburdened with too many different studies.
  5. the instruction is graded to the stages of the mental development of the learners.
  6. the interests of the children are consulted and their intellects are not forced along lines for which they have no natural bent.
  7. everything is taught through the medium of the senses.
  8. the utility of instruction is emphasized.
  9. everything is taught by one and the same method. (Monroe 1900, 91)

Many of these ideas were unheard of in an era when school meant laborious Latin grammar lessons and recitations.

Comenius is also credited with creating the first illustrated children’s book Orbis sensualium pictus (The Visible World), which includes illustrations of common things alongside simple sentences in Latin and English, some emphasizing initial word sounds:

Illustration courtesy of the intriguing—and soon to be updated—website picturingbooks.com, permission granted.

We’d love to hear which of Comenius’ ideas you find most striking and why. Please share in the comments.


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