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Play In The Home

It has been said that the child learns more in the first six years of his life than he does in all the years that come after-wards. During these first years play constitutes his curriculum, the house or yard his schoolroom, and the mother his principal teacher. The home must furnish the place, the materials, and the companionship for this play, else these years will largely lack the training that they should have.

The home is disappearing from the city, because there has been little to draw the family together and much to force the members apart. The business of most city men is absolutely apart from their families. The various forms of evening recreation disrupt the family at night, so that the members very likely have few topics of conversation in common. On the other hand, the country family work and live together ; the father, mother, and children all understand what is going on and take a common interest in what is undertaken. Their social life, at its best, is nearly the ideal life of the family. But in general this is only possible when the evening finds the members still unexhausted. Families should regard this evening of sociability as one of the most important parts of the day, no more to be eliminated by early retiring and early rising and the lassitude of exhaustion than the working day.

The Mother the Organizer of the Social Life of the Home. The mother must be the organizer of the family social center in most cases. It is her highest duty as home maker. It must not be neglected even if the dishes are unwiped and the floor unswept. It seems like a sad criticism on our social life that it is not generally so regarded. If we hire a young woman to have charge of a social center in the city, she takes it as a matter of course that she must have some plan for what is to be done each evening so that every one may have a good time. It would seem that the duty was far more pressing for the mother. If she succeeds in organizing the sociability and sympathy of her home circle, she will make her house into a home where every one will be at ease, where all the fair virtues of a noble life and the charms of personal relations will develop. The boys and girls will not care to go out evenings, and they will be kept away from countless temptations. Surely, to produce such a home must be the highest ambition of every worthy wife and mother. Yet in how many homes is there any conscious attempt to make the home life attractive ? Does this mean that the twenty-five or thirty dollars a month that is paid to the girl at the social center is a greater inducement to her than the thought of having a happy, contented, and virtuous family is to the farm mother ? Undoubtedly this is not so. There are two serious difficulties. The farm wife has so much work to do that she has no time or energy left, and it does not seem to have occurred to her that this is her duty. She has not had the sort of training that would make her skillful in doing it.

In saying that the mother should have some plan for the evenings, I do not mean, of course, that she is to post on a blackboard a program for the evening any more than she will post the menu of the evening meal ; but nevertheless she has to determine what she will have for supper, and why should she not take some thought as to how the family is to spend the evening ? If there is not something attractive to do, the family will surely not care to spend its evenings at home ; and if what the home has to offer is really attractive, the family will not care to spend its evenings elsewhere. This plan should, so far as possible, provide for a period of general sociability each evening the sharing of the experiences of the day that is necessary for mutual understanding and sympathy. Very likely there should be a period in which some one should read aloud from some book or magazine, and very likely there should be some singing or music and the playing of games. Perhaps the neighbors or their children should be invited in, or the family should go out to visit or to hear a lecture or attend a play. There must be great variation from day to day, but each evening should be worth while. This will not always be easy of course, but there are few things that are worth while that are always easy. The father should bring home his bit of news and share in the games and the sociability. The home life has gone pretty well in many cases without any plan at all, and it is only reasonable to think that a definite effort to improve conditions would have some effect even if the performers were not very skillful.

THE VALUE OF PLAY

Although play is the one activity in life in which the whole child takes part, parents who have not thought much about it often confuse it with idleness and regard it as far less important for the child's welfare than the tasks and duties that they assign. But nature is far wiser than parents and pursues her wonted way quite oblivious of their opinions, and in her secret heart she has determined that the child shall live in a world of play and make-believe, and through its occupations and experiences shall be mainly fitted for the experiences that come afterward. We are apt to speak of childhood as a period of preparation, but when we come to weigh the gains of life after its struggles and victories are over, I doubt whether we shall find anything in business or scholarship or politics that has weighed heavier in the scale, that has meant more to the spirit, than the joyous self-forgetful play with brothers and sisters in our childhood's home. Every period of life is preparatory to the period that comes afterward, but each portion of life is also an end in itself, and to regard it as preparatory is to degrade it. " Write it upon thy heart, ' Today is the best day in all the year.' " If we were to measure these experiences in terms of preparation, however, I believe that the showing would be equally good, for we should find that this play had largely determined our habits, cultivated our emotions, and furnished the motives for subsequent action. Consciously or unconsciously the guiding hand of the mother is upon this play. She must furnish the toys and equipment, she must allow the time that is necessary, she must not seek to persuade the child that it is not worth while, else she will dwarf or pervert these impulses which nature has given to the child for training in the most fundamental things.

FIRESIDE CHEER

Some of the most beautiful pictures in art and poetry are pictures of the home circle gathered around the open fire at night. These pictures appeal to us because they call up similar memories from our own past. The passing of the open fireplace may have been an economic gain, but it has been a great social loss. Fire has meant much to man in his struggles with wild beasts and nature and in furnishing him warmth and food. It speaks to his emotions and imagination as few other things can. Whether the circle sits in silent reverie be-. fore the crackling logs, or engages in conversation of the work of the day and the plans of the morrow, the fire is an element in the picture and the impression ; it draws its circle together and makes it a unity. I am not aware whether the word " sparking " came from the young people's sitting before the fire together or not, but certainly there is no more wholesome or propitious place, for the open fire is the best and most silent of confederates. The fire creates the family " circle " and promotes a deeper understanding and sympathy among the members. If it is possible, for the sake of family life there should be some place where an open fire can be kindled on winter evenings. It should be the family council fire and the center of sociability and play. We have a beautiful picture of what it might mean to the rural home in Whittier's " Snow Bound." Such activities as will bring the family together frequently around the fireside should be consciously planned for. There should be story-telling, the popping of corn, the cracking of nuts, the roasting of chestnuts, etc.

MUSIC

Music is at the same time art and recreation and sociability. It is obviously much needed in the country. The Greeks made music a part of the training of every boy, because they believed that it harmonizes the soul. Music draws people together unites them in thought and feeling. It is one of the easy ways of becoming acquainted when a group can sing together, and it is also one of the easy ways of forgetting differences, if such exist. Music at its best seems to be a common medium in which spirits blend. If a family can sing together occasionally it will do much to maintain the family harmony, and it will also provide a valuable training. It helps to throw off the care of the day and to rest from monotonous work. It should be a part of the family policy that at least one member of the family should have some training in instrumental music, and that all should sing. The instrumental training, however, is no longer entirely necessary, because there are now so many and such good mechanical piano players, victrolas and phonographs, etc. that fairly good music can be secured from this source. Music makes a definite contribution to the home, to individual training, and to the social life of the community ; for all of these reasons it should not be neglected.

READING AND STORY-TELLING

By the time children are a little over a year old, they de-light to hear stories told. Story-telling is a delightful form of recreation, which is much practiced by all primitive peoples. It is the immediate predecessor of the book in the development of literature. The Iliad of Homer and several other great racial epics have been handed down for centuries be-fore the invention of writing by special story-tellers. It is the natural way to interest children in literature. If there is some one in the family that will tell stories in the evening, it adds greatly to the family life. Reading, on the other hand, often detracts from the life of the family by creating different interests, by preventing conversation, and by with-drawing the readers from the family circle. However, reading aloud does not have this effect. It brings the group together and gives them common interests. It should be encouraged in each family. It is well if the news and a few good stories can be read in this way each week. This allows comment and explanation, and makes it easy for the parents to discover the real interests of their children. It shows their attitude toward various situations, and gives an opportunity for helpful suggestion.

Children that are read to and told stories at home, and given books to play with, will often learn to read without any one's realizing how or when they learned. Picture books for little children are so common and so cheap now that there is no excuse for withholding them. The child who has not been read to or told stories from books when small comes to school without having any motive for learning to read, while the child who has learned the delight that may come from this source naturally covets the power to explore and taste for himself. The prescribed work of any course of study will not produce general culture. It does not give breadth of view, and unless the information is kept alive by further reading, it is soon lost. If children have formed a habit of reading at home, they will learn nearly or quite as much from this reading as they will from their studies. Small children always love fairy tales, or folk tales as they are better called. These are, for the most part, old racial stories which have been handed down by oral tradition for hundreds or even thou-sands of years. They represent a primitive view of the world and things which is essentially the child's view. His nature responds to them, because they represent the world as he sees it. We need not fear that they will lead to untruthfulness or misinformation. The child outgrows the fairy tale and its point of view as naturally as he does his five-year-old clothes. The boys crave and should have books of adventure. There should be at least one good child's magazine, like the Youth's Companion or St. Nicholas, that can be looked for-ward to each week or month and read and pondered. If possible there should be some well-lighted room where those who wish to read can be by themselves, undisturbed by the family conversation.

TOYS

Toys are used largely as educational material in some foreign countries, but most toys that are on sale in an American toy-store mean mere diversion or dissipation of mind. The endless mechanical toys that run a few times and then smash up do not serve any considerable purpose. The baby needs a rattle and soon afterward a ball, but very many children are given too many toys. It is much better for them to have a few simple toys than a number of complex ones. The simple toy which can be played with a long time is the most serviceable ; but I suspect that there are only two types of toys that really have much value for children, and they are building and dramatizing material, such as blocks and a doll. Children like large blocks much better than the small ones that are ordinarily furnished them. If any one will take an ordinary two-by-four and saw it into blocks about the size of bricks in a mortise box, the children will greatly prefer these to the blocks that we purchase at the stores. It would be well to take also a number of boards about four inches wide and saw them into strips about a foot long. Out of these a great variety of things can be built, and it will be found that the children will never use the small blocks that we ordinarily purchase for them while these larger ones are available. It is well also to have some large, square boards with gimlet holes in them in which twigs can be stuck to represent forests, or yards, etc. Toys are valuable pretty much in proportion as they lend themselves to dramatization and enable the child to act out the stories he hears and reads. For this purpose it is well to have some figures of both animals and men, so that the small dramatist may be able to represent life.

Parents, if they can afford it, usually purchase an elaborate wax doll for their children, but all the studies that have been made of the feeling of children for dolls show that they love the rag doll more than they do the wax doll. The wax doll is a doll and remains so, but the rag doll may be anything a child, a soldier, a giant, anything that is needed. For exactly this reason the wax doll is not as educative to the child as the rag doll. Probably the toys of the rich are not as valuable to the children in general as the simpler toys of middle-class children. Dramatic play is the method that nature has adopted to make nature and life real to children. The parents should give this play all encouragement, and often help them in their new attempts.

A PLAY ROOM FOR THE CHILDREN

Where ever it is possible there should be some room in the house that is recognized as the children's room. Here they should be pretty free to play the things that they want to and have thin s much as they wish. If it is only an attic that they can paper and decorate, it is worth while. Such a room gives so much more freedom to the play. It helps to develop independence and originality in what is done, if it can be done away form adult observation. This is the place for the children's library, for their collections and curios, for their post cards and other things that they prize, and also, of course, the place for their toys and games.

PLAYING GAMES

Most of the games for the home are so inexpensive that the poorest parents can well afford them. Dominoes, checkers, and authors are standard games that are played nearly everywhere. Other games may be furnished as the children tire of these, but they should not be given more than one new game at a time. A child will learn to calculate from dominoes as easily as from t e arithmetic, and it will be much more interesting to him. The child who has become familiar with the great literary men and their works from the game of authors will want to rad these works also. Only recently I searched several book stores to find " The Tent on the Beach " by Whittier. I did not know anything about it, but I remembered that it was one c f the works by Whittier in the game of authors that I played as a small boy. I have always welcomed one of these books as 'in old acquaintance. Parents should play with their children for their own and their children's sakes, for there is no other way that one can keep in intimate and sympathetic touch with a child. When Froebel invented the kindergarten he did not intend that there should be a separate set of teachers to play these games with the little children. They were designed for the mothers. The common play not only establishes a sympathetic relationship, but the recreation is needed by the parents as much as it is by the children. I have read in questionary returns thousands of accounts of cases of fear that have made the lives of little children wretched. Most of these fears were entirely groundless and would have disappeared if the children had told them. They were fears of lions in Massachusetts, of Jesse James and his gang, of the bogie man, and hundreds of other similar things, having no relation to actual dangers. At puberty comes in a whole new line of fears and temptations. Unless the parents are on the most familiar terms with their children, these fears and temptations are never told, and often make the years of youth barren and despondent. It is through play that this intimacy is most easily established.

VISITING

It is one of the sad features of the new social order in the country that people do not visit as much as formerly. The visit to a distant grandmother was always one of the greatest events of the year for me, and the coming of cousins from another part of the state was also an event to be remembered. Even to stay all night with a boy who attended the same school was something to give color to a whole week not much less an event than a trip to Europe would be now. Parents often fail to appreciate their children's point of view and hence do not see these things in their real importance to children. The family cannot always be satisfied with the society of its own members. It needs the touch of outside life as well. The mother should plan for visits and have neighboring children come in to spend the evening or the night occasionally. A skillful woman may thus make her home the center of a most attractive social life for the im-mediate neighborhood. A social life too that is safe and over which she may have immediate supervision. If she does not wish her girls and boys to go out evenings, here is her answer to the lure of outside attractions.

CHRISTMAS

Christmas is a sort of concentration of the spirit of home, a quintessence of kindness and love. It gives us the ideal of what the home spirit should be. It is this sort of a social relationship and attitude that the home should seek to cultivate and maintain all the year, and largely by the same means of teaching each to render service to the others. Christmas is one of the great educators and softeners of the human heart. The social atmosphere would be a little colder all through the year, if it were not for its warmth. It should be made as much of an event as possible, with the tree and lights and mystery and everything else that can make it appeal to the imagination ; for is it not the one day of the year when fairyland touches our land of the humdrum and the commonplace, and the people come across, loaded with presents and good will ?

As a quickener of the imagination, Santa Claus is doing a great work. At no very distant time all unknown lands and even the surrounding forest and darkness were peopled with gnomes and fairies. But science has moved down the centuries, a perfect Juggernaut for all these beautiful and mysterious creatures that once inhabited the brooks and the forests and the air. It has made life hard and cold and unemotional, not at all the sort of a world the children need. Santa Claus is the last of all these beautiful and benign creatures, and it will be a sad day for childhood if the time should come when he too shall disappear, to leave behind a dead material world of natural laws. One needs only to see the little' skeptic struggling with his doubts to realize how much he means to the child heart. We need not fear that the falling creed will leave a scar. The race and the individual naturally outgrow and cast aside belief after belief in order that they may take on other and larger faiths, more true to their developed state. If the disillusionment comes too early, it means struggle and bitterness, but if the belief merely falls away like the ripened leaf or the tadpole's tail after it has served its purpose, it leaves no scar and causes scarcely a pang. A developed imagination is one of the most distinctive characteristics of a superior person.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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