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Activities Of Children In The Home

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

To make things with the hands, to sing, to tell stories, and to dramatize are four activities of the child which possess impelling interest. Many homes, however, are poverty-smitten in the materials for handwork, in music, and in story books. Other homes have abundance of material but no care has been evidenced in its selection. Again where material is abundant and well selected the children lack stimulating ideas and wise guidance in its use. In the chapters on child development through the periods of infancy, early, middle, and later childhood we have endeavored to point out the manifestation of these interests and to some extent the types of material adapted to each age. There is still need, however, for a consideration of the value in general of these activities, of the standards for the selection of material, and of the ways in which the parent may stimulate and guide experience with them. The home will profit immeasurably in the joy of the children, in the charm it possesses for young and old through the wise use of these arts. It may become a place not merely for the safe housing and feeding of the family but where every member is recreated, where life is lifted to higher levels of thinking, feeling and hence of living. The child may forget the physical comforts which the body has enjoyed but never will he forget the story which has left an indelible record through the drama or the picture, never will he forget the song or the verse which sings on in his soul. The religious atmosphere of the home which means much in the developing religious experience is more largely created by music and the Bible story and picture than by any other medium, except the prayer life of the parents. As in the countries of Europe families and communities are knit together by the ties of the folk song, the folk story and the folk game uniting them in a common experience of beauty, in a reverent joy for the goods of life, so will it be in America when every home is a center for these arts.


If the story had no other value than the pleasure it gives the child, it would justify itself. "Tell me a story" has been the petition of children since stories were first told, and then "Tell it again" or "Tell me another" as the evidence of a thirst that is unquenchable. The story, however, has the added value of imparting information in such a delectable form that it is "swallowed whole." It widens the child's experience to include other children first of his own land and then of many lands ; isles of the sea, curious customs of strange peoples, the dim past with its trains of kings and pageants, with its knights and courtly ladies, all of these he knows vicariously but intimately through the virtue of the story. His imagination is stirred as he dreams of magic rites, of fairy folk, of weird caves and lonely castles, of hidden treasure and princely valor in the wake of the story. His sense of humor, how it bubbles over, when little Black Sambo eats the one hundred and some odd pancakes or when the elephant's child "with his 'satiable curiosity" proceeds to spank all his dear families for a long time with his new-found trunk. Deeper still the story penetrates into the hidden reaches of the nature of the child, stimulating the emotions of love, reverence, faith, conveying truth, giving standards and ideals and suggesting expression in an end-less number of ways. Then there is the Bible story full of the wonder, the elemental emotions, the rudimentary morals, all so characteristic of the child, while it possesses "a simplicity, a tenderness, a faith unmatched in history." It fills the child with the consciousness of God as naturally and as inevitably as the waters fill the sea.

Many are the sources from which the stories to be told to the child, to be read to him later may be gleaned, and before the period of childhood is past he will read these stories for himself. Fairy tales, folk tales, myths, legends, the Bible, the modern realistic or fanciful story, nature and history, all yield their quota to this treasure-trove. Under six years of age myths, legends and historical stories are not told and very few Bible and fairy tales are used. The characteristics of the story for each period have been stressed in the chapters that have gone before, but there are some points in the general standard to which attention may be called. Artistically the story must possess "certain elements that contrast, consecutive events, balance and climax." It should have an interesting be-ginning; for instance, the phrase "Once upon a time" or "A long time ago" grips the imagination immediately. It should have an ending that satisfies primarily because the good triumphs but also because any other ending would have seemed impossible. Language appropriate to the character of the story, adapted to the age of the child, with enough new words to stimulate thought and enrich vocabulary, with rhythmic beauty, should furnish the form for the story content. The story should be selected with the interests of each period of childhood in mind so that it may possess the special appeal that will hold the attention. For the child under eight much repetition is desirable and the cumulative tale is especially attractive. Only enough description to carry the action should be employed in these early years, and plot should never be sacrificed even in the simplest story. For the very young child of two or three Mother Goose and pictures are the first story books. Pictures continue to supplement the story during all the years of childhood. Such pictures attract through light and color, by familiar objects, animals and people, because they suggest activity that cells a story, and by enough of the novel to stimulate curiosity.

The art of story-telling is one of the greatest of all the arts. It involves first of all a sympathetic understanding of your audience and an ability to be en rapport with them. Therefore an understanding of the child to whom the story is told is one of the essentials. The love of the story itself and a clear understanding of its meaning are of equal importance. To miss the point of the story is very likely to insure its loss for the child. Before telling the story to any one else it is well to tell it to yourself or to an imaginary group more than once. The language need not be the language of the book except with certain stories like those of Kipling or Uncle Remus where the charm lies in the form, but it should be simple, appropriate, direct and colorful. There should be swift movement, especially for the younger children, and direct discourse is always more effective than indirect. The teller must live in the story until every picture is made vivid through the imagination. Those who listen must be able to see the figure of the good shepherd, the form of the lamb, the pasture and the road leading back to the fold; must hear the bleating of the sheep, the sough of the wind; must feel the darkness of the night and the splash of the rain. There should be enough of the dramatic in facial expression, tone of voice and manner, to vitalize the story, but there should not be a hint of the artificial, the over-dramatic, the effusive. The great story-tellers have always been recognized by their simplicity, their naturalness, their directness. The atmosphere of reverence must in-vest the sacred story and neither to it nor to any other story should a moral be appended. Such a performance would serve "to put an end to the interest of the hearer rather than to the action of the tale." The child will often add his own moral, sometimes aloud. When I had finished telling the story of the Lost Lamb, with the words of the Good Shepherd, "Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep that was lost," little Elsa heaved a great sigh of relief. "And then he had his hundred," she said.


Why should we bring music to the child in the home? Because, we may answer, it meets many needs. There is first of all the rhythmic appeal to which the very young baby instinctively responds. Little children get much joy from skipping in time to music or from tapping the feet or shaking the hands rhythmically. Such expression through music may be used freely to reveal the happy moods of the child and to gain harmonious action which reacts, producing harmony in feeling. Then there is the social appeal in singing with others. No other activity will bring the family so close together in feeling as the song circle around the piano. Equally as much as the child needs the rhythmic and social expression through music he needs the emotional stimulus and expression furnished by music. Here is where music has its deepest function. The little child is finding a world of wonders all about him in the wind and the waves, the flowers and the shells, the bees and the birds, the little gray squirrel and the white woolly lamb. The song aids him in expressing the emotions continually aroused; without it he would be mute. Because the child is so sensitive to music on the emotional side, it is more potent than any other medium in creating atmosphere. Under its spell little children are changed from hilarity to quietness, from laughter to tears, from exultation to devotion. Now they are butterflies light of wing, again they are ponies galloping madly ; a moment ago they were firemen dragging for-ward the hose, then they were mothers rocking their babies to sleep. Through music in the home an appreciation may be developed that will provide a source of pleasure always, while the ability to sing and to create song is fostered.

In selecting music the best is none too good for the children. Jazz, with its lewd suggestion, ragtime with is over-excitement, the sentimental love song are not oily far from suitable but positively pernicious in their immoral influence. They create a perverted taste for heap, coarse music and lessen the possibility of an appreciation for the classics later. Some selections of instrumental music may be made from the great masters which are simple and rhythmic and will appeal to the child. Complex harmonies, no matter how beautiful, are not desirable. The folk music is the great treasure-trove for the children; it yields a pure fountain of melody which in its naive simplicity and beauty never fails to stir the child heart and inspire to song. Some modern music may be found which approximates its standard. The words of the song must be satisfactory as well as the music. There must be the child-like appeal and the expression of thought in clear language with enough familiar words and phrases to be comprehensible. The form should be poetic and beautiful, and there must be harmony of feeling and rhythm in matching the music. Luther's Cradle Hymn, the dear favorite of many generations, is a charming ex-ample of this perfect union. For the little child the song should be short ; there should be few stanzas and short lines. For the older child the song may be lengthened. The pitch of a child's song should be relatively high, as is the pitch of his voice. Difficult intervals should be avoided, and the piano accompaniment should include the full melody until it is perfectly known.

The pianist who plays for children should use a soft touch in order that their little voices may not be strained as they try to soar above the piano. She should emphasize the rhythmic element in both instrumental and vocal music. It is well to sing frequently without the piano as the children work and play about the house or grounds in order that there may not be undue dependence upon it and in order also that song may become a natural expression of life interests. The song should grow out of the experience of the child, as when he is thrilled by his new bunny and mother sings to him a song about the pretty bunny. A new song may be prepared for by a picture, a story, a talk, anything that will give the child a point of contact so that the song will have meaning for him. Since the words and the music are one, they should never be separated for a first presentation, but the song, like the story, should come to the child as an artistic whole. It may be sung again and again as long as the interest of the child continues until through repetition it becomes his. He will enjoy singing it for father and the other members of the family, provided nothing is said or done to render him self-conscious. In singing, the harsh, loud tone should be avoided, which not only spoils the beauty of the song but injures the voice. No device will secure from little children the real beauty of tone that a genuine feeling for the meaning of the song secures. The mother or father must love the song, and through the body and the voice express the ministry of music; then the child will unconsciously imitate.


The rhythmic and dramatic expression of the child is one of the manifestations of his play activity. Naturally and spontaneously he reveals his own feeling and interprets the life about him in bodily movement, his first language. When he is happy he skips, when he is exultantly glad he dances and claps his hands, when he is hurt or grieved he drags his feet, he falls to the floor and weeps aloud. Again when his contacts with living things have given him certain clear images he takes flight and is a bird or a butterfly, joyously interpreting the life of that blithe spirit that never was confined to earth; or he shuffles and growls like the bear or he runs and barks like the dog. As he grows older he puts these images together and tells a story in his dramatic expression. The bird builds its nest and shelters its young; the dog goes to market with his master and carries back the food. Then his power of interpreting increases and he freely expresses his ideas through the dramatic plot of a ready-made story or play. Two boys of seven and ten saw the Plymouth Pageant. The next morning the elder one of the two ate his breakfast very rapidly and asked to be excused. In a surprisingly short time a voice was heard at the door, "Good-morning, everybody." And there stood Robert as perfect a Miles Standish as one could make of a small boy—khaki suit, musket over shoulder, hat bent into proper shape, charcoal mustache, perfect pose. Such expression gives joy as all creativity does; it enables the child to reveal his emotions and his ideas about the life that he is constantly observing—"he is translating facts into value" ; it enables him to feel in unity with that life through sympathetic understanding; and it socializes him through play with the other members of the family in the carrying out of the plot of the story. Cooperation, consideration, fair play are all demanded of him who successfully engages in dramatic play with others. The story chosen is Billy Goats Gruff ; every one wishes to be the old troll or the big billy goat and no little self-control is required cheerfully to make a decision and stick to it; then it is hard to wait until your turn comes, very hard at five or at six; and having had your turn it is equally difficult to permit the play to continue without your intervention to a satisfactory end.

What form the dramatization of the children takes will depend entirely upon what in the world about them challenges attention and produces clear imagery, and upon the desire to reproduce or express through this medium. Therefore the form will vary for the different periods of childhood both in type and in complexity of organization. Before a story, as a rule, arouses the desire to play it, it must be told to the child not once but several times. Dramatization should never be forced upon any child nor should he be made to take part in a play after he has participated in it once ; but the parent or teacher may sometimes stimulate this expression by providing the rhythmic suggestion with the piano or by asking when she thinks that the children have clear imagery in connection with a story if they would like to play it. If the response is a joyous one and ideas as to how it may be played are forthcoming, then she will know that she has chosen the right time for her suggestion. If, on the other hand, there is silence, the hesitant frown, and a dearth of ideas, she will quickly withdraw.

With the child under six the organization is extremely simple, sometimes only one character is portrayed as when all the children want to be "bear" in the story of Goldylocks; few words if any are used, while the action carries the tale. With the older children the organization is more complex; there are more characters in the play; and much more dialogue. However, the child is always more laconic in spoken expression than the adult is likely to be. The mother or the teacher will let the children make the suggestions about the setting, where different acts shall take place and what costume is needed. The words to be spoken and the accompanying movement should also be spontaneous. Very little in the way of stage setting or costume will satisfy the young child, in fact he is overwhelmed and rendered self-conscious by the elaborate or artificial. There is, however, as has been pointed out, a growing desire for the real in play setting on the part of older children.

The part of the adult in a child's play is to participate when invited, to give suggestions when deferred to, and to ask such questions from time to time as will stimulate the child to think out his own problems and to correct his own mistakes. The piano, if the children play where it can be used, will often help to round out the form and to guide the action, as when the fairies are followed with light, tripping music or the giants with heavy, strident chords. The music serves too to make the imagery more vivid. In a pageant or long play the music, if not used continuously, may be woven in from time, to time to accentuate the emotional element and to help in building the climax. A group of six-year-olds wanted to play "life-savers"; so two or three of them went out on the briny deep in an improvised chair boat. The piano suggested by a delicate running movement the gentle lap-ping of the waves, but presently a heavier bass gave indication of a rising storm, while crashing chords as well as excited voices and waving arms heralded the tempest. Midst great excitement the passengers were rescued by the life-savers, and a happy theme with a note of gratitude in it harmonized well with the mood of the children. Nothing will so stimulate the right kind of dramatic expression as a sympathetic spirit on the part of the parents in the home. A friend relates this incident of her visit where there are two boys over six in the family. One evening their mother came into the living room saying, "Do you object to being left in the dark a moment ?" The lights were turned out and two small ghosts appeared making weird and terrible noises. Both parents entered into the children's play world as if it were great sport, as indeed it is.


In considering the child at different ages we find that it is continuously characteristic of him to be busy with his hands and that he is keenly interested from his baby days in doing things. First and foremost the manual arts are valuable as a mode of expression, and some one has said that self-expression is at once the means and motive of all culture. Through self-expression the child realizes himself; he puts forth his ideas and ideals. When Mary Alice cut out her rabbits, when Lois made the old woman, and Daniel, the fire-engine, each one was expressing an image of something she had seen. Such utterance gives a satisfaction and a pleasure that eight-year-old Lanston revealed in his voice when he said as he held up his picture of a tulip, "I love to paint ! I love to paint !" In thus expressing himself the child is exercising his creative powers. The flowers of the field and the birds of the air do not create in this sense; it is man only who shares with God the divine prerogative. How often do we hear the child exclaim with jubilant pride as he views his work, "I made it all by myself." On these occasions the child expands with all the joy of a Michael Angelo or a Raphael. Again the child learns through doing. The direct route to the brain is by way of the hand. If we wish the child to understand weaving let him make a small loom and weave ; carpentry, let him construct a chair. Through life, from the first day he handles a piece of paper, a block or a crayon until he lays down the brush or the pen at the end, he learns through the hand and tells what he has learned by the hand. Handwork produces skillful use of hands, rapidity of execution, swift correlation of brain and hand, and so is an especially valuable preparation for any form of industrial work later.

There are two large classes of materials from which selection should be made for the manual arts and crafts : the play materials and the handwork materials. Play materials include building blocks large and small, such as the Patty Hill and the Hennessey; nature materials, as, for instance, shells, sticks, seeds, stones ; and educative toys, such as dolls and doll furniture, housekeeping toys, wagons, animals, balls, books, games, and tools. The handwork materials include the plastic group—clay, sand and plasticene ; the industrial group—wood, paper and textiles; and the graphic group—crayon, paint, charcoal,and chalk. (1) In selecting materials for any age we must be sure that they are adapted to the capacities of the child. The child of five cannot solve puzzle games or work with metal or leather. (2) These materials must appeal to the interest of the child. Abstract design and the intricate weaving of patterns do not attract the average kindergarten child, although both may appeal to the tenyear-old. (3) There must be possibilities for expression in the materials that are chosen. An endless succession of things may be built with the blocks or made with clay, while the resources of a peg board are limited, valuable as play with it may prove for the three-year-old. (4) Again the materials must be large enough to avoid nerve strain. Contrast the fine sewing and pricking which little children used to do in kindergarten with the present play with the large floor blocks, for instance, where the child can build a house big enough to live in or an automobile to ride in. Of course as the child grows older he can do constantly finer work with less danger of injury to eyes. (5) Finally there should be a representation of material from the various groups mentioned so that all the principal processes in the work of the world will appear and the child thus secure a better-rounded development. He needs to model, to construct and to depict. -

In the handling of any new material, manipulation or experimental play is always evident at first. The child is discovering the possibilities of the material, the process best adapted to secure results in self-expression, the varied characteristics such as texture, form or color. The small child sometimes spends weeks in merely manipulating material before really making or accomplishing anything according to our adult point of view. He is happy to pat clay, to dig in sand, to tear paper for an indefinite time., He is gaining muscular skill and enjoys the sense of power over the material. He should not be hurried out of this stage, but one day as he plays he will see a house or a bird in the lines on his paper, a rabbit in the clay lump, a slide in the sand hill. The mother is there to rejoice with him ; perhaps she is the one to point out his achievements, thus hastening a little his slow development. From such purposeless play motivated only by the joy in activity to purposeful play with an end in view is a gradual transition.

Sometimes the purpose is suggested by another child who has painted an apple which this child admires, some-times it is given through the question of the teacher, who asks if John would like to make a bath for the bird, again the material suggests, as a kit of tools may inspire the making of some furniture, or the child himself may wake up some morning with his heart set upon making an aeroplane and may hunt until he finds the right means for the accomplishment of his dream. To-day, with his brush, he illustrates song or story, yesterday he built a sled for his reindeer dramatization, to-morrow he may elect to make a picture book for cousin Mary, who is in the hospital. Whatever he purposes to do should be his problem to solve unaided if he can; the obstacles that he has to meet will provide excellent development of his ability to think. He is making a boat; he must find the right kind of wood, he must saw, he must plane, he must fit the pieces together and nail them securely ; he must polish and paint and hoist the sails. Then when all is done will she float ? That is the final test of his work.

The child should be privileged to seek and secure help when he needs it, and a sympathetic parent will see when the little chap is getting discouraged and volunteer the help if it is not solicited before the tears come. Some-times our children need all the aid that we can furnish; again they are competent to work out their own salvation, whether it be a dandelion or a railroad train that is the passport. A question may be sufficient to stimulate the necessary thought or if a bit of technique is needed the best way may be to show how to hold the brush or manipulate the scissors; perhaps a discussion, particularly where more than one child is working on a project, may clear up the difficulty. In any event never impose your adult standards on the child, and be careful to appreciate his honest effort, no matter how crude the result. It will be many years before his handicraft is a "finished beauty" according to your ideas of perfection. In the meantime your warm appreciation when he has labored hard and overcome another limitation will be like a match to the tinder of his ambition. After he has completed his project he will want to enjoy it; to play with it if he is small, to use it if he is older. The mother or father should participate in such play or use as the case may be, and thus stimulate added zest for the activity of making things. Among the child's most treasured possessions are his play toys and materials. He should have places to keep them, a table on which to work, and a room or the out-of-doors in which to play. He should be taught responsibility in their care and neatness, according to a child's ability to order and to organize. He should be given the opportunity to work with other children, particularly as he grows older, and to share.

In discussing these activities of story, song, dramatization, and manual arts, we have treated them as if each existed apart from the others in the child's play life. In reality they so blend often in the expression of one experience that it is diffucult to tell which has had the most prominent part or where story began and music ended.

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