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Play In The Dooryard Of The Farm Home

The first playground of the children is the house itself. During the years from two to five or six most of their play is in the yard. For the years that come after, larger grounds are mostly demanded, but still the yard is bound to be the center of the family sociability, and much of its play during the warmer months of the year. It should be suitable for such a use.

BEAUTIFYING THE DOORYARD

In the city land is costly and the houses are huddled together. There are no fences as a rule, and nothing to distinguish one from another. The country, on the other hand, has plenty of room ; there is no need of crowding, and it should be possible to make the yard a place of beauty. There are many who do not care for fences around private houses, but to me the fence seems desirable because it adds a sense of privacy to the yard and the home, and it sets it apart as a place by itself. It serves to suggest that this is not the place for the mowing machine and the hay tedder or the self-loader. It makes of the yard an institution, a separate entity around which feelings and thoughts may gather. An evergreen hedge of privet or cedar may be an ornament to the yard, or a woven wire fence that is covered with flowers may be still more beautiful. The yard should contain a few fine trees if possible, for the shade, the birds, and the romantic associations that gather around trees. There should be some flowers, if may be, and a few flowering shrubs. Country life is all too materialistic at best, and it is most cheering to drive by a country home and find a fine bed of flowers in the yard, because it shows that beauty has not been utterly forgotten in the pursuit of gain. Flowers are very restful after a hard day's work, more so than has been generally realized. Whenever the mind can slip back from a period of conscious effort to dwell for a time on pure sensation, it is one of the most restful things that it can do ; and a bed of beautiful flowers forever holds out that invitation. The flower bed is also one of the easy ways of cultivating the sense of beauty and love for natural things in children, and this is one of the tastes that must be cultivated if country life is to be as attractive as it should be.

Doubtless there are other necessary uses of the dooryard besides the play of the children, but there is no other that is more important. There must be a considerable space which is suitable for them to romp on, and there must be provision for their games.

A SAND BIN

Every dooryard where there are small children should contain a sand bin. This should be placed under a tree or in the lee of the house, where it will have shade during the hot hours. The bin should be five or six feet square, and ten or twelve inches high, with a flat, broad seat or molding board running around the top of the bin. It does not need a bottom. The best sand is the fine white sand from the sea or lake shore, but any plastering sand will do. The children should be provided with pails and large spoons with which to dig and mold the sand. They should be encouraged to lay out the road, the creek, the farm, and the neighboring village in the sand bin and there to dramatize the tales they read or hear. It is well to have a quantity of small round pebbles and let them outline their drawings with these. Children will enjoy a sand bin from the time they are one year old until they are ten or twelve. There is no play interest that is more universal than this love of digging and molding shapes with the hand.

A SMALL SLIDE

Of all the pieces of apparatus in our city playgrounds, one of the most popular is the slide. It is also one that can be depended on to give thorough satisfaction in the dooryard.

A kindergarten slide nine feet long can be purchased of the mail-order houses for about fifteen dollars. It will be used almost constantly by the little children if there are enough of them about to make it interesting. Such a slide in one of our neighbor's yards is used constantly by a group of children, the oldest of whom is five and the youngest two. They are all able to go down head first, on their backs, and in nearly every other conceivable fashion. There has not been a child hurt. Even on the city playgrounds where there are a great many children using it, there are few accidents. Children have always loved to slide down the banisters, and nearly every conceivable in-cline in the cities is kept polished by them. I have often been struck by the smooth appearance of a stone coping and have not understood until I saw a child come down.

SWINGS

From the limb of a tree if possible there should be suspended a rope swing or two. Swinging is an experience that perhaps harks back to our original tree-top home. At any rate, it has a universal appeal to children, and they cannot afford to miss the experience. It is worth while to have a lawn swing in the yard also, for both the children and the adults. I have been much interested this year in watching a group of five children that have made frequent use of a lawn swing in our back yard. I am not sure but this swing should be introduced into the course of study and made a part of the prescribed work in geography. The oldest of these children was six and the youngest was a little over two ; yet they all played this game, and each took all of the parts. One child would be the engineer to run the "train," and one would be the conductor to take up the tickets. The engineer would start up the train and run to Chicago or New York, the conductor collecting the tickets (leaves) ; then the train would be stopped and everybody would get out and gather more tickets from the nearest bush or weed. After this the train would start again with a different engineer and conductor and run to St. Louis or some local station. Even the smallest child learned the names of the places and the way the train was operated.

A TENT OR PLAYHOUSE

Every yard should contain a tent or a playhouse or both. If there can be only one, the tent is better, as that serves a great variety of uses in the country. It can be used for sleeping out of doors in the summer time, for fishing and camping trips, and for countless adventures that would not otherwise be thought of. The tent is, however, rather too light to be a first-class playhouse. A playhouse should arouse the imagination a little ; it should be dim within, so that all can-not be plainly seen. If it could be a cave, that is the sort of a playhouse that almost any group of children would prefer. The playhouse should not be too much like a real house. It is quite as well if the children make it themselves. A fence corner that is boarded up and roofed over, or a very primitive affair that can be made of rough boards, is quite as good as one that is built by a carpenter out of rosewood. If the house can be made in a tree, that is the best of all, especially if it gives an outlook as well. It takes only a short time and very little ingenuity to make such a house if a suitable tree is available. If the house is only a platform with a railing around it, it will serve.

CROQUET

The yard of every farmhouse should provide a croquet court and set. Croquet is probably the commonest outdoor game in the country. It is in every way well suited to country conditions. It requires only two players. It is a good social game, not overstrenuous, and adapted alike to the old and the young. An eight-mallet set can be had for a dollar, or as much more as you wish to pay.

QUOITS

Somewhere in the back of the yard, so as not to make it unsightly, there should be a place for quoits. The orthodox way, of course, is to use horseshoes and to cut the stake from the woodpile.

TENNIS

If there are young people in the family, or the farmer and his wife themselves are young, there should be provision for tennis. Tennis is an excellent game for the country, because it requires only two players, and because it is a game which both the boys and the girls can play. I suppose it would cause some astonishment to see the farmer and his wife out playing tennis after supper or on a Saturday afternoon, but I know few things that would be more wholesome or salutary. The country has room for tennis which the city has not. If a dirt court is to be constructed, the farmer has the implements with which to make it. At first blush, it would appear that the farming business is overstrenuous for such a form of recreation, but it must be remembered that the farming business is becoming less and less strenuous ; the farmer is becoming more and more the operator of machines which are doing the heavy work. There are considerable parts of the year when his work is not hard at all. It would be more valuable, however, for his wife and daughter than it would be for him, and if it calls over the neighbor's son to play with the daughter in the evening, this will be better than the constant riding in the single buggy. The farmer tends to become muscle bound and awkward from his work, and tennis would help him to keep supple and active. Tennis has a wide age range, as it is played with pleasure from twelve years old to sixty.

TETHER-BALL AND VOLLEY BALL

Tether-ball is also an excellent game for the farm home, in that it takes only two players, and it makes the player hold his head up and put his shoulders back. Volley ball is the very best game of all, because it raises the head, puts the shoulders back, and expands the chest. It will, however, take from four to ten players to be very satisfactory and will re-quire some of the neighbor's boys and girls to join in most cases. As both of these games are described in Chapter VI I refrain from describing them in detail here.

The cost of the equipment which I have mentioned would be very slight ; with the exception of the equipment for tennis and volley ball, a mere trifle. The sand bin and play-house can be made from odds and ends that would otherwise be wasted. There is scarcely a farm home that cannot afford to have these things.

Children are naturally fond of animals. The ownership of a dog or cat gives the child a certain importance and dignity in his own eyes, and its care is a valuable training.

I have gone over thousands of papers on the feeling of children for animals. They all show that the child regards the dog or cat as he does a person. He talks to it in the same way. He interprets its thoughts and language by the sounds that the animal makes. The dog especially gives a great opportunity for the enlargement of experience and sympathy. Its care has much the same effect upon the child as the care of a dependent human being, and it will often come next to the father or mother in affection. The dog in his play constantly lures the child to activity. He is an inexpensive and most valuable toy, that is always changing its position and occupation. His usefulness as a hunter has largely ceased. As a watchman he probably does as much harm as good. He occasionally saves the life of a child in time of danger, but he probably kills as many or more in his anger or rabies. But the real use of the dog is to the spirit of the child. There is a deep sympathy and comradeship between them, which is one of the valuable experiences of childhood. As a mere inciter to physical activity he is worth as much as a gymnasium. Not only does the dog lure the child constantly into playing games and races, but with him the child will venture into the woods and the dark where he would otherwise be afraid, and will take long walks and trips of exploration. The loyalty of the dog to his masters, little and big, is one of the most beautiful of moral qualities. On the other hand, not much can be said for the cat. She in-cites to little activity, has little if any loyalty, is likely to scratch if annoyed, and is the most serious menace to all our common birds. We keep the cat to catch mice, but she probably catches more birds than mice, and the mice would be more surely caught in a trap.

CHICKENS

On the farm and in the village, but especially in the village, it is often possible to combine the care of animals with profit through raising chickens. The ordinary garbage will keep a considerable number ; in the village there is apt to be no use for this, and it accumulates or has to be buried, if things are to be kept in a sanitary condition. The chickens will not cost much outside the care. If the family will now purchase the eggs from the boy or girl at regular prices, they will secure fresh eggs at no greater price than they have been accustomed to pay, and will provide the boy or girl with an allowance at the same time. The chickens will furnish a good deal of valuable knowledge, keep the children out of mischief, and give them regular duties to perform, a new interest, and some spending money.

( Originally Published 1914 )

Play And Recreation:
Play In The Home And Its Environs

Play In The Home

Play In The Dooryard Of The Farm Home

Some Experiences That Every Country Boy Should Have

The Improvement Of The School Ground

Equipping The School Ground

Organized Play In The School Yard

School Exhibitions And Corn Clubs

Recreation In The Rural Community

The Play Festival And Pageant In The Open Country

Read More Articles About: Play And Recreation



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