Character Building - Self Amusement
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE word " amusement " had a childhood and a growth. The childhood of the word will naturally be better suited for the childhood of boys and girls. Full-grown amusements are too old for a child. The mother should therefore familiarize herself with the youth of amusement as well as with the amusement of youth. When amusement was born into the family of language it was named "muse." A "muser" was one who gazed about, pondered, wondered. It is a mental process akin to "day-dreams," sometimes called a "brown study."
"And the young girl mused beside the well, Till the rain on the unraked clover fell."
An infant is a muser and spends happy hours gazing into space, seeming to look at nothing, but seeing something. The child is enjoying an intuition for self-amusement. The infant child and the infant word should be permitted to grow and develop together. The mother has outgrown the muser stage of development and enjoys full-grown amusement. The child should, therefore, not be carried from the nursery into the mother's drawing-room for amusement.
Children know how to enjoy life better than their parents, but their way is not as our way, nor their thoughts as our thoughts. Parents must become as little children in order to get into the child kingdom as truly as they must become as little children in order to get into the kingdom of heaven. It is one thing for the child to amuse the parents, quite another thing for parents to amuse the child. A little child is a creature of one idea, parents are creatures of many ideas. It is therefore very difficult for parents wisely to amuse the child. Too many ideas spoil a child's happiness. Thoughtful parents know that what they call "amusing the child" is very often an effort to get the child to amuse them and their friends. The nursery is not a vaudeville stage. The child is a care, an expense, but should not be asked to pay its way as an amusement. There are other better ways in which a child meets its expenses. A Western paper says: "A baby serves a manifold purpose in the world. It makes men and women more unselfish, and furnishes the amount of trouble necessary to keep them comfortably busy. He sanctifies home, and gives the doctor an excuse to look wise. A well-ordered, well-born baby is a delight, particularly when he belongs to a friend, and doesn't spend nights in your neighborhood."
The child-word clearly reveals the fact that child-amusement is God-ordained self-amusement. It originates and develops in the child's mind. It is not a transfer-thought from mother to child, but an intuition of the infant mind revealed in expression and later in action.
A little child will get more amusement with its ten toes than it can from a ton of toys. Let the mother watch her child holding its little pink feet near to its mouth and learn her first lesson in its self-amusement. The mother should not give the child an artificial foot as a toy, be it ever so pink and cunning. This suggestion is almost an insult to a mother's intelligence. But the absurdity may help to eliminate some other toys equally detrimental to the infant's self-amusement. When the child has outgrown the age of a contortionist it will find other natural means of self-amusement.
Mothers should keep in mind that self-amusement should be directed along the line of self-improvement. When a child amuses itself by grasping its foot and making its toes touch its head, it has entered a gymnasium for physical development. The energies of children are familiar to mothers. Prof. William James once used, in another connection, the phrase, "unlocking of energies by ideas." This is the key to be carried on the end of mother's heart-string. There are certain energies peculiar to each mental development of the child. If the mother at the proper time will unlock these forces and direct them into proper channels the question of self-amusement will be largely solved. The "Chart of Suggestions" found in this book will tell the mother when to use the key suited to the energy of any particular age.
As the child develops self-amusement by destruction, it will be necessary to give it some simple toys with which to play. There is a destructive tendency in the child-life which precedes the development of its constructive faculty. Some one has said: "The child who cuts into the head of his drum to see what makes the noise is guided by intelligent curiosity, which will be useful in later years. But the child who, after knocking a brick to pieces to see what is inside, continues to demolish bricks for the same reason is not likely to become famous unless it be as a polar explorer." A child is not only a necessity in a well-regulated home, but it is a luxury. A good price is demanded for luxuries. Care, anxiety, break-age, and sometimes wreckage, are part of the price. "A baby is a joy forever until he begins to fall out of the second-story window, turn over the water-pitcher, hammer the china to pieces with his fork, and investigate the medicine-bottles on the shelf. Every baby is eternally trying to find out more than parents think he has any business knowing, and later acquires the habit of asking questions most difficult to answer."
Self-amusement by destruction must be carefully guided in its outlet to self-amusement by construction. At this point mothers will learn that guiding the child into self-amusement by construction will require more time, energy, and patience than simply to "amuse the baby." Blocks are the best toys for the destructive and constructive periods of self-amusement. At first the child will build them up for the pleasure of destroying the structure. Later this self-amusement will take the form of construction. The child will then upset the toys for the pleasure of rebuilding them into a structure more beautiful than the one destroyed.
The growing ability for self-amusement will keep the growing child from loneliness and the grown child from a vain search outside of self for something to amuse.
Our old friend "Robinson Crusoe" in Volume III is a classic guide. Some of the animal tales in Volume IV are pertinent, especially those relating to the training of animals. In Volume V "Walks with a Naturalist" and "Nature-study at the Seaside" are equally valuable. The wrong sort of self-amusement is pointed out in "Girls and Their Mothers" in Volume X, while in the same volume there is a section given up to delightful legitimate diversions under "Home Amusements." In Volume XI memorize poems like "To My Infant Son," "Whittling," "Seein' Things," "The One-Hoss Shay," etc. There are dozens of fun-making songs in Volume XII.