Enid Blyton, Educator Extraordinary

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Enid Blyton, Educator Extraordinary

Enid Blyton was a trained educator and wrote books for use in the classroom and advice for teachers long before she turned to writing children’s bestsellers

Enid Blyton, popular children’s author, was born on August 11th 1897 and lived until 1968. Her fiction and poetry for children has long been popular, but has often caused controversy. In the 1950s and 1960s it sat at the centre of debate about whether it constitutes literature, and whether it is suitably educative or not. Yet Blyton’s fiction still sells eight million books a year.

What is often forgotten is that Blyton was a trained educator, who understood the theories of education and childhood very well, and who for decades wrote columns and textbooks for the use of both practising and trainee educators.

Enid Blyton, Trained Educator

In 1916, after helping her friend at a Sunday School, Blyton decided to become a teacher. She enrolled on a National Froebel Union course at Ipswich and went to Ipswich High School to train as a Kindergarten teacher. In December 1918 she completed her Froebel course and so qualified. In January 1919 Enid Blyton started teaching at Bickley Park School, Bickley. It was in March that she received her Teaching Certificate; she had gained Distinctions in Zoology and Principals of Education, 1st Class in Botany, Geography, Practice of Education, History of Education, Child Hygiene, Class Teaching, and 2nd class in Literature and Elementary Mathematics. Clearly she had a high intellectual grasp of the theory of the practice of the profession, then commenced a five-year practical career.

While Enid got essays, poems and articles accepted by various magazines and newspapers, and won writing competitions, it was not until 1922 that she was first published in the professional magazine Teacher’s World. To begin with she mainly published stories and poems for the use of teachers, while contributing to other journals and to children’s annuals published by both Cassell and Newnes.

Blyton Writes Educational Materials

Blyton’s classroom experience revealed a paucity of texts that children could engage with, so she used their reactions and suggestions to create child-centred stories and poems. That same year she had her first stories for children published in a book, and published her own first book, Child Whispers, a collection of poems for children. Within a year her next book, Responsive Singing Games, was published. Soon after, she got her own column in Teacher’s World, ‘From My Window’ which she wrote regularly until 1945, republishing selections of the articles as books for teachers.

By 1924 she was earning a good living from her writing and had met her first husband, an editor at George Newnes publishers, and the career of Blyton as a consummate storyteller took off. Enid Blyton did not desert her colleagues in the teaching profession, however, going on to write or edit 223 education and/or educational books up until 1965, containing 1289 short stories, 62 plays, and 628 poems for use in the classroom.

Textbooks on Teaching Method

David Rudd, a modern academic, says that in the 1920s, Blyton was seen as a significant writer, her name appearing in the company of works by people such as A. A. Milne, Kipling, de la Mare and Chesterton. Rudd suggests that she was then seen predominantly in educational terms: “A regular contributor to Teachers World for 23 years, her texts on teaching were quite influential, the most substantial being a three-volume The Teacher’s Treasury (1926), a six-volume Modern Teaching (1928), a ten-volume Pictorial Knowledge (1930), and a four-volume Modern Teaching in the Infant School (1932). Her range is quite extraordinary, writing the equivalent of National Curricula almost single-handedly, besides works on ancient history, religious studies, nature, drama, and a number of class readers.”

Blyton was the editor rather than the writer of the twenty-three educational volumes Rudd lists above, although that may have meant that she actively approached educators and experts to commission their contributions. The six volumes of Modern Teaching were clearly intended to cater to UK Elementary Schools that contained pupils up to the school leaving age of fourteen:

  • History
  • Geography
  • English
  • Nature Study and Science
  • Art and Handwork
  • Housecraft and Needlework

The series was republished in four volumes in 1940 as Modern Teaching in the Junior School, when some subjects were omitted and the one notable previous omission, of Arithmetic, was rectified.

Teaching Nature Study ‘Hands On’

Nature Study and Science is the longest book, reflecting that Blyton excelled at both zoology and botany in her studies. In Chapter One, `The Aim of Nature Study’, teachers are exhorted, in a voice inexorably Blyton’s, not to be “afraid to learn with, and sometimes from, their pupils . . . Nature Study, therefore, can be considered as Nature, studied in its relations by the child, from the child’s point of view, and by the teacher with the child . . . In Nature Study or Science, the aim of the work is to teach the children to see things for themselves. This power is not one highly developed in the majority of adults, and hence the innate curiosity of scholars should not be curbed except within the limits of class discipline.”

This placing of the natural world at the centre of child education probably stemmed from Blyton’s Froebel training. Nineteenth-century educator, Friedrich Froebel, having devised the word `Kindergarten’ meaning `child-garden’ and a philosophy of early years education that brought children into physical and intellectual contact with the world.

Enid Blyton understood that teachers needed to be led out of the strictures of the nineteenth century classroom into creating a more child-centred and more active learning environment. In her many publications for classroom use she gave teachers the tools they needed, and through her articles and books on method she gave them the confidence to use them.

Sources:

  1. David Rudd (2004) Chapter 11 in Thomas Van der Walt et al Change and Renewal in Children’s Literature Praeger Publishers
  2. Enid Blyton (1940) Modern Teaching in the Junior School George Newnes Ltd. (out of print)