Children And Appreciation Of Effort
( Originally Published 1916 )
THE child works in the spirit of the artist. He is not seeking material rewards ; he wants the satisfaction of doing something that has meaning, and he wants appreciation. Without these he will become either a shirker, shunning all effort, or a perfunctory grind, laboring under compulsion of one kind or another. It is therefore necessary not only that opportunities be furnished for doing various kinds of work, but that the first awkward attempts be appreciated in a way that will lead to further effort. And this is just as true of attempts at singing or invention—invention of a song or story, for example—as it is of attempts at making some object or drawing that others may handle or exhibit.
In a kindergarten, one day, each child stepped for-ward as his name was called, and received from the kindergartner the result of his efforts at " making something " for some member of the home. The children were gay, and they were anticipating the joy of giving. It was a pleasure to watch them. But when Genevieve's name was called, a new note was struck. " Please, Miss White," she said, " my mother does not want me to bother her any more with the things I make." And Miss White laid Genevieve's calendar aside.
It is not difficult to see the point of view expressed in Genevieve's plaintive abnegation. There is really no room for all these things at home—we have all the calendars and blotters and picture frames and shaving pads that we really need. And as for ornaments, these things are not particularly beautiful; and if they are, as may sometimes happen, they do not harmonize with the scheme of things already installed. Besides, they gather dust, and there are few homes that have not already too many dust catchers. We can well under-stand that Genevieve's mother was weary of calendars and book-marks.
But Miss White is also weary of calendars and book-marks. Where one mother has had half a dozen, she has had hundreds. She manages to smile, however, in spite of the clutter and in spite of the obvious monotony, through a curious trick of the mind which it would be well for Genevieve's mother and other mothers to learn. The trick is this: Instead of dealing with calendars and book-marks, she fixes her mind upon the efforts of the tots, she sees trial and tribulation, she sees wonder and experiment, where the rest of us see only crude imitations of tulips or apple-blossoms.
Notwithstanding the high rentals we have to pay nowadays, it ought to be possible for every mother to keep each child's tokens of struggle and conquest, for some time at least. For nothing is more important to the child than that his meager and unsuccessful at-tempts at mastering his material surroundings should receive generous encouragement. And while much is gained by having someone stand by to spur him on when he falters, that is not enough. The product, poor though it be, is the symbol of his struggle, it is the embodiment of an idea, an inspiration, and deserves the courtesy of serious and dignified attention from parents and other elders. The calendar is as worthy of a place on the wall as anything you can buy at the store, for by honoring it you teach the child that his efforts are not wasted. As for taste in calendars, leave that to the years.
Of course it is not necessary to display all of the child's creations, or to convert the home into an industrial museum. It is, in fact, the latest trophy that carries the greatest interest, and the latest may be made to displace its predecessor, each effort thus receiving its due share of attention and appreciation. Where there are several children, it should be possible to pro-vide large paper envelopes, and boxes in which these early treasures may be kept.
Every mother knows that young children can be a nuisance, and in the way, just when they are trying to help with some " work." The number of peas that the baby can shell, or the area that the child can sweep, will contribute little to lightening the day's work. But the value of the contribution is not to be measured thus. It is to be measured in good will, in application, and in the satisfaction that comes—or should come—from having made a worthy effort at doing something useful. We should therefore not belittle the achievement, or make the child feel that his assistance is worthless.
While this doctrine of appreciation does not permit us to belittle the child's efforts, it still leaves us free to help him with criticisms calculated to enable him to improve his work. We should, however, call attention to such defects only as he is in a position to remedy himself, and without too much effort. If the doll's dress is too long, it's a simple matter to cut it down. But if it's too short, we note that it's a very nice dress, and think we'll make the next one a little longer. The repeated emphasis on the defects of design or execution may have the effect of improving the child's taste or judgment; but they are more likely to discourage all effort.
A child that sees too clearly the shortcomings of his efforts will refuse to do anything at all. This was the case with four-year-old Herbert, whose sense of form was so far ahead of his muscular control, that he could get no satisfaction out of the paper stars he cut out himself, and so refused, after one or two attempts, to try again.
When little Allan's mother failed to recognize the child's drawing as that of a " lamp " she was wise enough to take to herself the blame. " How stupid of me ! " For, after all, you can recognize even the lamp if you are told what it is supposed to be. And so the burden of keeping keen the edge of effort rests upon us. But don't let the child become conceited.