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Country Playgrounds

Vacations are valuable to give variety to life, to throw off worry, to relieve the strain of overwork, and to bring in new points of view. Although the farmer and his wife need a vacation as much as any other single class, it is difficult for them to get one on account of the stock and duties that never cease. Nearly all pleasure resorts are located outside the cities, where the charm of natural scenery and the touch with natural things are the chief attraction. Through countless ages the ancestors of man have lived in an environment of nature. t has been for only a brief period of human history that he has inhabited cities. He goes back to nature, the woods, the waters, and the mountains as to his original home and there finds peace. The voice of the ocean, of the winds, of the rushing river, of the bird in the tree tops, speak cheer and calm to the spirit, where the whir of wheels, the rumble of cars, the infinite noises of the city, are a constant source of irritation and nervous exhaustion. Although the farmer is placed where the city man would go for rest and recreation, the country is far from being a pleasure resort to him.

t does not seem likely that the farmer will ever make a practice of going away on vacations. The form of vacation that is really the most available is camping, but he has not thus far camped much, though the Boy Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls, the County Y.M.C.A., and the County Y.W.C.A. are doing much to make camping more popular than it has ever been before.

THE LAKESIDE RESORT

The pleasure resort that is best suited to the farmer is the one where he can go to picnic or to spend a day or two when he has the time. Lakeside resorts are now becoming common throughout the northern section of this country. At some of these there are whole colonies of summer people from the farms and country villages. As these resorts develop in the more thickly settled sections they acquire hotels, summer theaters, bath houses, and the ubiquitous pop-corn and lemonade counter. There are boats for rowing and fishing, a picnic grove (generally provided with tables), a water toboggan slide, and ofttimes a place for baseball and sometimes croquet. An increasing number of people are corning out from the small towns and villages to spend their summers, or a part of them, at these resorts. On Saturday afternoons and Sundays large numbers often congregate, and there are farmers' picnics and other festive occasions which bring out nearly every one. These lakeside places have grown up in response to a popular demand and are filling a real need, but it would not be difficult to point out their many limitations. The fishing has become unsatisfactory in most, the mosquitoes are often a pest, the facilities for games and play are inadequate, and the temptations are many. Country people are independent ; they are unwilling to be regulated and do not believe much in regulation. Such resorts cannot be trusted to run themselves. They offer the opportunity for unrestricted drinking or dancing under the worst conditions, and for general immorality, as they are apt to attract dissolute women from the cities during the summer. If there were some one at these resorts to start water sports and tournaments in baseball, volley ball, and tennis, and if the county might issue licenses, making definite requirements in regard to hotels, dances, and drinking, it would be a great help.

THE PICNIC GROVE, OR TOWNSHIP PARK

The picnic is almost the only form of community recreation in most sections of the country. The grove is nearly always private property and is usually without improvements except tables. t should be a public institution and its resources developed. In order for it to reach the people there should be one in each township, and often it should be around the consolidated rural school. However, the rural school will probably not have water or trees, and if the picnic grove is to be there, it will often have to do without water and wait for the trees to grow. It would be more practical, in general, to purchase a picnic grove, or township park, outright, lay out athletic fields, and equip it as it should be. This grove might well be used for the summer meetings of the Chautauqua, the grange, and the social center. If the country people would develop the custom of resorting there on Saturday afternoons during the warmer months, such a grove would be an admirable playground for the county. President Bailey says, " The half holiday is coming for the farmer and coming fast." With the half holiday and the social center in winter and the picnic grove in summer, and some capable person to organize the recreation and social life, the country should be able to hold its own against the attractions of the city.

After the ground has been secured, it should be equipped permanently with all that could promote the recreation of a rural community. t should have a pavilion for shelter and speaking, there should be boating and swimming if there is water, and there should be fields for every sort of game and athletic event. Such facilities are expensive in the city on account of the cost of land, but are furnished nevertheless. The cost would be scarcely one per cent as much for the town-ship, and nearly every township could well afford it. t would be to the advantage of rural villages to provide such an equipment and so call in the people of the countryside, but thus far they have not done so. Perhaps they would if there were anything available and they saw that the voters were contemplating purchasing land elsewhere. At this township park there should be swings, sand bins, and slides for the little children, courts for tennis, croquet, volley ball, basket ball, and indoor-baseball diamonds for the girls and older people. There should be quoits and a rifle range for the older men and indoor and regular baseball for the young men. Here should be held on Saturday afternoons the township tournaments in volley ball and indoor and regular baseball. Such a picnic grove, or township park, is the natural playground of the country. t is no less needed than is the playground in the most congested city, though it is needed for exactly the opposite reason. The playground is needed in the city on account of congestion. The playground is needed in the country on account of isolation.

DIRECTED PLAY IN SMALL VILLAGES

It must not be taken for granted, however, that a play-ground of the city type is impossible in rural communities. I have recently spent a day in the small village of North Stonington, Connecticut. It is a place of some one hundred fifty inhabitants and has maintained for the last three years a playground with two regular playground directors. The children are coming in from two miles in the country to attend. This has been organized through the enterprise of the pastor of the Congregational church, the Reverend Frederick Hollister. The ground is located in an orchard just back of the parsonage. There are swings, sand bins, seesaws, and a place for quoits and croquet. A small building, erected for the purpose, gives an opportunity for sewing and cooking lessons for the girls. Besides the regular directors the pastor and his wife give much of their time to the playground also. On Wednesdays the parents are invited to bring their suppers for a picnic in the orchard beside the playground. The average attendance at these evening occasions has been about forty ; the average attendance of children during the day, about thirty-five.

The playground is supported by a Japanese tea garden which the ladies hold in the early summer. This calls in many motorists and is in itself a valuable social occasion for the neighborhood, as it brings the city and society to the country.

Far Hills, New Jersey, which is also a very small village, has had a community playground for a decade or more, and there are a vast number of small villages where a similar work might well be undertaken. Probably the ideal place for the location of a playground is not in a great city but in a place of from three to five thousand inhabitants.

THE COUNTY FAIR

The exhibition is one of the best methods of imparting knowledge. The World's Fair in Chicago was one of the greatest educational inspirations that has come to this country. Every great fair is the chief event in the lives of many of those who travel little, and is talked about for the rest of their lives. The county fair appears like a pocket edition of such a fair, but it is not so in fact, for it has no plan or serious purpose and is largely an expedient of the merchants to draw trade.

It should be conducted by the farmers and in the interest of the farmers, not by the merchants in the interest of the merchants. t should hold in view some ideal of rural life, and aim to give exhibits along the road to and in the interest of progress. The apple institutes of the Northwest are admirable examples of what such a fair might be. These apple fairs are expositions of all the latest methods and appliances of the trade, and an institute is held at the same time, at which many of the vital problems of the industry are discussed. I see no reason why there should not be such an educational organization of every fair. The college of agriculture and domestic science would gladly cooperate and furnish lecturers and demonstrators for institute work, as they are already doing in a number of cases. Such a fair, which would conceive largely of its task, and aim to represent not merely pigs and sheep but country life and its fundamental problems, would be a great force for rural improvement, but the mere exhibition of the largest apple or pumpkin means nothing to anybody. President Butterfield of the Amherst Agricultural College says also that we must develop a conscience in the farmers that will prompt them to have something to exhibit each year for the benefit of the others.

The county fair as a fair is not much of a success, but it is a great social occasion to the countryside, one of the greatest of the year to the children. The fact that the people attend so largely shows how much a social center is needed. t is probably not as successful socially as a township meeting would be, because most of the people are strangers to you and the ones you want to see are so mixed up with the others that they are hard to find. The side shows and the candy are the chief attractions to the children, and the horse races to the men. One of the best things that might be done would be to exhibit with a good deal of fullness the work and play of the school children. These contests of school children would be apt to add much to the interest and the attendance. The Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A. should hold exhibitions of their work. There should be drills and exhibitions by the Boy Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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Recreation For The Farm Wife

Recreation For The Farmer

Country Playgrounds

The Organizers Of Rural Recreation

The Ideals And Methods Of Organizing Social Centers

The Rural Church As A Social Center

Educational Extension Through The Rural Social Center

The Social Center, The Cure Of Rural Isolation

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