[Note: The following was sent to me by Prof. Martha Eggers, a colleague at McKendree College in Lebanon, Illinois. I am sending this on with her permission.] ******************************************************
Attached is a copy of notes I found in my great-grandfather's "things" recently. He taught first and second grades in Marion County, Illinois (near Salem) and I have his teaching certificate from March, 1869. I found these notes pretty amazing in light of discussions we have today and thought you might enjoy them, too. Unfortunately, I don't know the date they were written nor the circumstances, but I am sure they are in his handwriting (in pencil!).
The teaching of number begins in measurement. Our primary teachers have found this to be true and base their practice upon it. A child's home environment is usually such that he has learned to make many measurements before he has attained school age. He has counted ears of corn, sticks of wood, fruits, nuts, marbles, eggs, toys, and many other things with which he has to associate every day. Then why should we not just add to the knowledge which he already has in arithmetic, since knowledge and skill are acquired for purposes of measurement. It is the abstract character of so much of the number work that makes it uninteresting and unprofitable. Mere figure processes in the early stages of schoolwork are not advisable yet we may seem to be securing excellent results by forcing the figure process upon the pupil at a very early age. In the rural districts our time is usually so taken up with the numerous classes and the very necessary work of the other grades that we are apt to teach the symbols when really they have very little meaning to the pupil. Whatever number work is given to pupils of the first and second years should be taught that it would not do harm rather than good. When 2 + 2 are placed on the board a child should be taught to think of the numbers as representing definite objects as 2 marbles and 2 marbles and not abstractly which becomes to them meaningless. We need not want for the many devices in teaching magnitude for they are all around us suggesting themselves on almost all occasions. If we are not supplied with the various devices especially prepared for number work we may have children bring colored grains of corn, seeds of different kinds, nuts, sticks or strips of paper of different lengths and many other things which will assist in teaching measurements and by his helping to furnish the material he will work with increased interest.
While we may teach number work to children at a very early age and seem to be getting good results, it is a question whether it is a waste of time and energy on the part of both teacher and pupil to have regular daily work in numbers in the first and second school years. It is advised that in the early years the arithmetical foundation be laid in connection with the work in drawing, in nature study, in games, and in construction work of all kinds. A child will incidentally acquire many number facts. By association a child will know the measure of a pint, a quart, a foot, an hour, a half hour, a dozen, and a __ dozen. He will know what __ of anything is, as __ of a pie, __ of an a apple, etc., then we might give the first two years to the branches of study as reading, spelling, language, drawing, etc. together with the incidental work in numbers which will make the child better prepared for the formal work in Arithmetic.