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Children - Work And Play As The Measure Of Time

( Originally Published 1916 )

"LOSING time " means nothing to the child until he has learned to appreciate time for himself. In this the watch as a marker of time units is of great value. We appreciate time as the substance of life. To the child it means the enjoyment of activities and sensations that are marked not only by intensity but also by duration. To enjoy the games and the reading and the dreaming of dreams is to live. To be able to measure the duration of these things, by noting from time to time the passing of an hour or two, is to learn the value of minutes in terms of how much life the minutes can yield.

As I was leaving the house to meet a dinner engagement, a neighbor with her little boy came along, the mother greatly agitated, and the child only slightly perturbed.

The mother was speaking, " Now you'll have to go to bed without supper, as you did last night. I will not have you coming home so late!'

And the boy protested, " I didn't know it was so late. I meant to come early."

The next day, when I met my neighbor in a calmer mood, she felt that she had to explain the scene of the previous evening. She always lets her children go out unattended ; she expects them thus to learn how to take care of themselves and to acquire " self reliance."

And she punishes them if they come home late; she expects them thus to learn to know time, and the value of time.

There is no doubt that in the course of months, or of years, these children will learn to come home betimes, and to keep engagements, through the method pursued by their mother. But I wonder whether the same results could not be attained without the irritations and ill feeling that this method seemed to bring forth. The method of rewards and punishments is the most ancient method, and has produced valuable results. But it is in many ways crude as well as ancient, and it. is certainly not universally the best.

I asked the mother whether her child had a watch, or any other means of knowing the time. " No," she said, " he is too careless to have a watch. If he had one, I'm sure he would forget to wind it, or he would get it out of order in a week."

" Is it fair," I asked her, " to expect the child to know what time it is, when he has no means for finding out? I wonder how many adults, with all their experience, would know that. it was time to stop, when in the midst of some interesting pastime, if they had no out-ward sign or warning? "

It would seem that the burden of responsibility for supplying the information or the means for getting it, in a matter of this kind, should be assumed altogether by the parent. Where there is no public clock in the vicinity of the children's play, arrangements should be made for informing them of the passage of time. We should see to it that at least one of the children in the group has a watch, for children that are old enough to play without supervision are old enough to learn how to care for a watch, as well as how to read the time. They can also be taught, to look at the watch from time to time, until they have learned to feel about how much play they can accomplish in an hour or in half an hour. Watches that are sufficiently reliable for all ordinary purposes are cheap enough nowadays, so that every child should have the advantages of owning one.

For the watch can be made a useful instrument in the education of the child. As soon as he is able to read time, he can become his own timekeeper, although some children learn this much more easily than others. Providing some positive means for keeping track of the passing minutes is a much more satisfactory way of teaching the child, than letting him flounder about and then punishing him for his blunders. It is hard to imagine the child having any feeling except that of galling injustice, on being deprived of his supper for doing the most natural thing in the world—that is, continuing to play so long as there is anyone to play with. It is very likely that with most children the imposition of a penalty in a case of this kind will have practically no value toward the acquisition of a "time sense " since children generally look upon penalties in the light of retribution for disobedience, or for infraction of laws, but seldom connect them specifically with their shortcomings leading to the misconduct. To the analytical adult mind, the purpose suggests the connection ; but in the child's mind the connection is absent.

We are not all equally endowed with the " time sense," and in some people it is conspicuously lacking. But a great deal can be done to cultivate it in the home. The most important element in this training is a regular daily programme, in which as much as possible of the routine finds a fixed point. Through this all the members of the household should come to a realization of the responsibility of each to observe the programme so far as it has to do with the common activities of the family. Being late should come to mean an infringement upon the time of others. We will make allowances for delays, but we should not be made to wait unnecessarily. This is the lesson that the child should learn first of all in the matter of time and appointments.

Penalties and reproofs may direct the child's attention to the fact that adults attach some significance to time. But they will not teach him to evaluate time for himself. For this he must have guidance and assistance of a positive kind.

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