Catherine the Great’s Timeless Wisdom on Educating Children

When it comes to raising kids, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But this groundbreaking expert from the 18th century has some relevant advice for parents today – Catherine the Great, a pioneering thinker who, in many ways, changed the view people had about child-rearing.

Wisdom of Catherine the Great Raising Children Quotes Montessori Nature (2)

Catherine’s approach was all about finding the perfect balance between discipline and freedom. She believed that by setting clear boundaries and encouraging moderation, kids could grow up to be well-adjusted and happy individuals. Her ideas were ahead of her time! While with some of her suggestions we would strongly disagree (like not letting kids cry when they fall – tough love, anyone?), many of her principles remain relevant today.

Catherine the Great was one of the most fascinating and trailblazing women in history. She was the Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. This brilliant leader was a true Renaissance woman, known for her enlightened policies, cultural achievements, and groundbreaking contributions to education.

As an educator and parent, you’ll love Catherine’s passion for education and her vision for a more educated society. She believed that every child deserves access to a quality education, and she took action to make it a reality. One of her most notable achievements was the establishment of the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, one of the first women’s educational institutions in Russia. This progressive school offered a curriculum that included sciences, languages, and arts, giving young women a chance to develop their talents and pursue their dreams.

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But Catherine didn’t stop there! She was also a champion of literacy, publishing books and promoting reading among country workers and nobility alike. Her goal was to create a society where everyone had access to knowledge and culture, regardless of their social status.

And it’s not just education that made Catherine the Great so remarkable. She was also a skilled leader who expanded Russian territories, reformed the government, and founded cultural institutions like museums, theaters, and art galleries. By supporting the arts and sciences, she paved the way for future generations of thinkers, innovators, and leaders.

What also sets Catherine apart is her wisdom on child-rearing. She believed that children should be taught to think critically and develop their own opinions, rather than just memorize facts. And she knew that early exposure to music, art, and literature was essential for their development. As she so eloquently put it, “the arts are the food of the soul” and “education is the key to unlock the doors of the mind.”

In a bold move that would make modern parents nod in approval, Catherine II believed in tempering her grandkids’ appetites and encouraging them to earn their snacks.

In a letter to her official educator, Prince Nikolai Ivanovich Saltykov, Catherine outlined her radical approach to raising her grandsons Alexander and Constantine. She advocated for a no-nonsense approach to food, encouraging their educator to only provide what their bodies needed, with black bread served as a healthy snack between meals. And when it came to playtime? She believed that “child’s play” was actually hard work for young minds! Games were encouraged, but with a purpose – to help them develop mentally and physically.

But why did Catherine take such an unconventional approach? The contrast between her own upbringing and that of her son Paul I is telling. Paul, who would later become Emperor, was raised in a more traditional and indulgent manner. Catherine believed that his excessive luxuries and overindulgence did more harm than good to his physical and moral well-being. And she should know – she was powerless to intervene in his early life until the palace coup in 1762, when she gained full control as Empress.

Wisdom of Catherine the Great Raising Children Quotes Montessori Nature (2)

Catherine wrote a book, compiled a collection of 126 Russian proverbs and created two enchanting fairy tales. These extra resources offer a fascinating glimpse into her philosophy on child development and give us a taste of what life was like in 18th-century Russia.

So, what can we learn from Catherine’s approach? Here are a few key takeaways:

  • The importance of setting boundaries while still giving kids the freedom to make their own choices
  • The value of teaching kids moderation and self-regulation
  • The power of storytelling and tradition in shaping our children’s values and worldview

Here are a few interesting excerpts from Catherine’s book “Guidance”:

  • Don’t forbid them from playing whenever they want.
  • Give children complete freedom in play to learn their nature and inclinations.
  • Children should not be scolded or punished for their childish mistakes or misbehaviors; time and reason will correct them.
  • Child’s play is not play, but diligent exercise for children.
  • Nannies should patiently listen to children’s speeches and conversations, speaking with them in a friendly manner and explaining what is happening so that children learn to reason.
  • Lies and deception should be forbidden both for children themselves and those around them; even in jokes, one should avoid using lies.
  • Remove children from the sight and hearing of bad examples. No one should speak coarse or improper words in front of children, nor should anyone get angry.
  • Discipline children privately and always with dignity; praise them when they deserve it in front of witnesses.
  • If educators refuse children something once, they should not beg by crying.
  • Do not force children to learn; instead, encourage their interest in learning by giving them opportunities to explore.
  • Encourage curiosity in children; patiently listen to their questions and respond accurately.
  • Teach languages only by speaking with them in those languages.
  • It is forbidden to force children to repeat things by rote; this does not strengthen their memory.
  • You cannot teach through fear; for a frightened soul cannot absorb education like writing on trembling paper.

In an era where parenting advice was often strict and authoritarian, Catherine’s approach stood out for its emphasis on finding that delicate balance between structure and autonomy. Her legacy reminds us that even in uncertain times, there’s value in learning from the past and adapting timeless wisdom to our own era.

So there you have it – Catherine the Great: a true trailblazer who left an indelible mark on history. Her legacy is a reminder that with determination, passion, and vision, we can create a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.

Source: Catherine II’s “Guidance on Raising…” dated March 13, 1784. Collected Works of the Russian Imperial Historical Society, Vol. 10, pp. 310-330

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About Anastasia - Anastasia is an early childhood teacher and the founder of Montessori Nature - a blog about Montessori living and learning and nature-based explorations. With many years of experience working in a Montessori environment and homeschooling her children, she directed her passion for all things Montessori and nature into creating educational resources. You can learn more here and browse her printables on Teachers Pay Teachers.