The Child's Play And Playmates
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AS the old man looks back on his boyhood, what stories does he tell? Not those of his struggles with the Rule of Three, nor of his early work on the farm or in the shop, but of the day he ran away from school and went fishing, or of his first glimpse of the circus; just as the white-haired grandmother tells the children at her knee of the games the girls played at the noon recess rather than of the patch-work she sewed at home. The plays and playmates of our youth leave ineffaceable memories. Our children's first contact with their fellow-beings molds their characters; this makes their associations and amusements of the deepest importance.
Self-amusement the Best.-As the little ones emerge from babyhood, leaving their rubber dolls and blocks on the nursery floor, we are apt to give them, as substitutes, playthings that are valueless. A rich man recently built a magnificent home. One floor was an immense play-room for his five children, fitted up with every elaborate device for their entertainment, from a miniature steam-railway to a doll's house complete in its minutest detail, besides every mechanical toy to be purchased. The
children were first bewildered, then enchanted, then bored. Having seen the engine revolve on its iron track, and rear-ranged the furniture of the doll's house, and wound up the automatic toys, the children turned away and said, "Let's play some-thing!"
There is the key to the question of a child's amusement: let it exercise its imagination and its ingenuity. How satisfactory it is to make a doll's house from a soap box, to cut real windows and drape them with bits of muslin, and to manufacture pasteboard furniture only that child can tell who has spent long, delightful days over it. The joy of whittling out a boat and rigging its sails far exceeds that a boy can feel who merely owns a boat that has been bought. To make dolls' dresses is better fun than to dress a doll in those already made. Laboriously to construct a kaleidoscope is more interesting than to turn round and round one purchased in a shop. Give a boy a tool-box, a scroll-saw, a turning-lathe, and teach him to use them; give a girl a stove which will really cook, and some little kettles and pans, and you have supplied them with endless sources of delight. To construct is the joy of the growing mind. It matters little if the results are crude or meager, the pleasure is as genuine as though one had painted pictures like Raphael's, or composed nocturnes like Chopin's.
As the children grow older a whole vista of intellectual plays opens before them. To own a printing-press in common is an excellent thing. Paper money and cheques can be printed with which, with a little instruction, banks may be managed. A real-estate business may be conducted with hall lots and parlor building-sites advertised on posters; or, if these plays become too engrossing, and too serious an interest be shown in the amassing of fortunes, a story-book may be collaborated first, and then printed. Such a souvenir of childish companionship would be cherished most dearly in later years. The reading of "Little Women" will suggest the delights of a weekly newspaper patterned after the one the March sisters conducted so ably. There are endless uses to which one may put a small font of type; its very possession is inspiring.
By all means let boys and girls share their plays as far as possible. Brothers are too apt to feel that there are only a few pleasures that their sisters may have with them, when, rather, there are only a few which they may not. It is an important part of the education of boys and girls that they play together. Their differences of temperament and training are invaluable by way of exchange.
When other games grow monotonous there is that Twenty Questions, which can be made to turn on any subject from Mother Goose to history or zoology. This is really a most useful guide to knowledge, and interesting even to children of a larger growth.
Contrasted with these plays, which are all for the house, are athletic and out-of-door sports of all sorts, but these need no suggestions. Baseball and hoop-rolling and wheeling and skating are all to be commended for the sake of fresh air and exercise, and a large proportion of a child's time should be spent over them. Nevertheless, the plays which train the mind should not be overlooked. The combination of the two kinds of amusements, physical and mental, is found in the "shows" all children love. The boys' circus, the girls' dramatic performance of "Cinderella," the minstrels-these must not be forgotten. No home should be too nice to be used, especially if there are children in it. Better have your boy give a circus in your attic, or even in your dining-room, than in your neighbor's. Lend them your wardrobe and be their audience. Only see to it that pertness and love of display do not become too flagrant, and that no one child always takes the lead.
The Question of Playmates.-This bringing of other children into the family circle suggests the whole question of playmates. With whom shall our children play? With the children of our social equals only? With those children alone whom we consider good? Or with the children of the neighborhood regardless of character and social conditions? If one is to choose a home, the question of the children's social environment should always be considered. To buy a house and then forbid your child to play with the other children in the vicinity is asking too much of him. Choose carefully. if you have the opportunity of choice. If you have not, but must bring up your children where you happen to live, then a consistent line of conduct should be decided upon with regard to their playmates.
The Neighbors' Children.-The first thing is to know them, and to do this you must see them in your own home. Ask them over on long rainy days and study them; invite them to a meal now and then; listen to what your child quotes from them. It is well to be on good terms with all of them, and let them feel welcome in your home. You will find, undoubtedly, something in each child which you do not like, as other parents see things they dislike in yours. But since you cannot provide your boy or girl with angelic companionship here below, you must accept their little human companions as they are. Possibly, once in a lifetime, you will find a really bad child whom you must forbid the house, but ordinarily you will find other children much like your own. One must expect their little faults and do one's best to counteract them. When necessary, speak of their short-comings frankly, and warn your child against them, but always make out as good a case as possible for the neighbors.
We should be on our guard against the tendency to cultivate friendship for the sake of externals. If your child is inclined to dwell on the fact that its small friend has a beautiful home, or an abundance of pocket-money, or noticeably fine clothes, always throw the emphasis where it belongs by inquiring as to its temper, its generosity, or its standing in school. Let your child see clearly that morals, mind, and manners are the really important things. If your social affiliations do not belie your teachings, you will find his character influenced for a lifetime in this way.
Having done your best to lay down principles of conduct for your boy and girl, let them associate freely with other children. They can learn to live only by living. You cannot always be on the watch. It is a mistake to coddle children too much; they must learn to accept the brunt of things and manage for them-selves. Listen to all they have to say, but train them to arrange their own affairs without unnecessary tale-bearing. Quarrels doubtless will come. The boys will fight sometimes, and the girls take their dolls and come home pouting, and then all the parent can do is to try to be not only fair, but magnanimous.
Point out the other child's position, and show that both are probably in the wrong. Above all, discourage grudges. Inculcate self-control and that spirit of generosity in dealing with others which will avoid disputes.
Children get more moral training from their contact with other children than from almost any other source. This is their real life, their life of intense feeling and action, and for this reason parents should take their children's plays and playmates intelligently and seriously. We must teach our boys and girls alike that there may be evil in the words and ways of other children, and they must be pure; that there may be cowardice, and they must be brave; that there may be cruelty and selfishness and they must be kind and generous; that is our only safety from harm. We must also teach them that there is nobility in their playmates which they must strive to copy; to train them to be broad-minded and good.