Children - Carriage And Exercise
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Carriage of the body is often a symbol of character and self-respect. You will notice that when we are very conscious of our importance we rise to our full height as the heroine in the novel does. When we are dejected the body curls, the shoulder rounds, and the head hangs. The carriage should be erect, because the one thing in which the human animal differs from the rest is in its erect carriage. But because at some time or other the human animal did crawl on all fours, as the baby still does, unless he is helped and held to erect posture, he is always likely to fall back into the old habit out of which civilization has trained him. The back should feel flat and even, the muscles should lie easy and relaxed, and the whole posture be one of ease and strength. You can usually tell a false posture by the fact that it is ungainly and produces some trouble somewhere, meaning by this that it stops some other function. Round shoulders prevent full breathing. So the erect posture should be insisted upon. When sitting, we should sit "long," that is, with the body erect. If the 'child wants to lie down, then let him lie down. But no boy or girl should be permitted the postures of lounging. That does all sorts of damage. No amount of playing, even rhythmic playing or dancing, will overcome difficulties which have their source in habitual false posturing.
Exercise, therefore, should be directed to the purpose of getting the body full of oxygen and thus giving all the powers ability to respond to training. Exercise should be spontaneous, in the sense that it should be natural exercise, not the performonce of "stunts." (In general, however, the necessary exercise will develop in connection with the household habit-drills in little boys and girls.) Where the home is organized with regular sets of duties for the boys and girls, the exercise question is the least troublesome and becomes a question merely of happy and desirable companionship in the open air and the cultivation of a good disposition.
The work with the hands is of primary importance, because most of the work of man has to be done with the hands. Hence tools, simple, of course, and material to work with, with supervision at least a part of the time as the mother sits over the little girl learning to sew or embroider, forms a part of the physical training, but the insistence here should not be great, since it should also develop imagination, invention, and the use of the resources at hand, rather than the importation of a host of new or costly things. Paper-cutting and form-making are useful, but in this matter the imitation of common objects and their measurements comes to about the same thing and at the same time teaches the tables of measurements and the like. The important forms of manual training come a little later than the boy or girl stage, but there can be no harm in trying these things out, only remembering that what is undertaken must be carried to completion. Nothing of the slacking or neglecting order should be permitted so that the habit of beginning a great many things and forgetting all about them or tiring of them and throwing them aside does not form. To begin should mean to work to some sort of a genuine finish, whatever that may prove to be.
Just here a word should be said about left handedness and the treatment of it. Never force a child, especially if it is natural,- to change the use of the hand. If the boy or the girl is naturally left handed, let it alone, for that means his or her effectiveness lies in the free use of that particular hand. The left hand is controlled from the right hemisphere of the brain and the right hand from the left hemisphere. That is physiologically established, so that we have no business meddling with the emphasis of nature. All you need to do is to see to it that the right hand gets suitable training as well; but do not interfere with the left. The important reason for this is that it involves the brain, and serious interference may mean trouble with the brain. There is nothing wrong in being left handed, and it, is just as honorable and of good report to be left handed as to be right handed. So don't meddle with it.
There is a relation between personal power and physical training which should never be lost sight of by any parent. The great teachers of mankind in literature, the arts, and the sciences have surprised the world quite as much by their physical characteristics as by their power in other directions. Indeed, it may be safely laid down as a fixed principle that except in very rare cases you cannot expect a high result which is not based upon physical soundness. Men like Edison astonish their con-temporaries by the number of hours they are able to work. The great scientists, the great explorers, the great singers, the great artists are all generally found to be persons who are physically well developed, not necessarily large in bone and body, but thoroughly coordinated.
If you want to raise in your home a leader of men or women, and a person who shall be able to deal ably and powerfully with the questions of his or her life, you must give a big reserve force of power in the body. Contrast the leader generally with the followers in any boys' or girls' assembly, and you will feel at once that behind the whole there is a reserve power of what we call vitality. That comes only through sound physical training. This training, in the case of boys and girls, comes chiefly at home, but we see the results in the capable men and women who have influenced society and helped along the civilization of the world. Indeed, civilization began that way, by choosing the physical capacity as the first measure of leadership. Keep these things constantly in mind and remember that in the home these things begin. When you see a man or woman in action who combines beauty of appearance with ease and symmetry of carriage and posture, aided by a clear eye and a repose based on conscious reserve of power, depend upon it that somewhere back in the youth of that man somebody has had a plan of development which has brought about that particular result.
In the series of articles which are found later in this volume, you will find numerous suggestions by experts on the various things which have merely been hinted at in this introduction. Study these articles and when in doubt just run your eye along the list of these articles and see where the proper instruction is found.