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Some Experiences That Every Country Boy Should Have

In the pioneer days, life offered to the boy in the country almost exactly what his spirit craved. There was a primitive open-air life, with some romance and a good deal of adventure. There was an opportunity for scouting and exploration ; there was the Indian fighting and hunting of bear or deer ; there was the fishing and the life of the woods and the camp fire. This is the kind of a life that any vigorous boy usually craves. The Boy Scouts have sprung up like mushrooms all over the world in response to such an appeal. Much of the adventure of pioneer times has gone, but there is still an opportunity for many valuable experiences in the country, for which the city has no facilities. I believe that the boy who has not been hunting or fishing or swimming before he is twelve years old will be the poorer for it all the rest of his life. No pressure of work or school should be allowed to crowd these experiences out, for, in a large way, they are more valuable than work and more educative than the school.


Royce says that we can judge of the value of any experience by its tendency to produce maximal experiences. Certainly experiences that stand out in memory, that rise unbidden to keep us company in our moments of leisure, are more likely to influence our lives than experiences that are lived through and forgotten. To me, the memory of the old swimming hole and its joys, of the pickerel we pursued and speared, of the suckers we sought by torchlight, of the mink and coon and muskrat that we trapped in the fall, is as plain today as though a quarter of a century had not passed between. Perhaps I did not learn anything of value in these pursuits, but if education means the arousing of the spirit, the really living the largest and most intense life of which we are capable, there have been few things since then that have been so intensely educative. The eagerness of the spirit which arose in response to this nature call shows that it was satisfying an inner need, a natural instinct or appetite. It was the call of the wild before the child soul had entirely forgotten its original home.

I wish that we might make a law, applying to the older communities, forbidding all adults to hunt and trap, in order that we might save these experiences for the boys. I doubt whether the boy to whom it has been denied can ever develop that fullness of emotional and spiritual life that he should have. It was through experiences like this that the human brain was first developed, and it responds to them as it does to nothing else.

The hunting instinct is largely unrewarded in many sections of the country at present, as the game has disappeared; but the boy still wants a gun, if it is only to shoot at a mark. A city boy thus equipped is usually a nuisance, a menace to the welfare of the country, because he fires indiscriminately upon everything alive, shooting robins, bluebirds, and other songsters with the same readiness that he would a rabbit or a squirrel. The small hunter, like all beginners, needs some training. The primitive warrior is flourishing his spear and shouting his battle cry within the boy, and the successful way to quiet him is to let him have his way, that the hunter may evolve into the agriculturist, as he has in racial history. If the boy is provided with a shotgun, he will doubtless get more game, but there is not much sense of achievement in this, and he does not learn to shoot. A shotgun is expensive to maintain and is more likely to start fires. The kind of arm that a boy ought to have in most localities is a twenty-two target rifle with all safety appliances, such as can be purchased from a mail-order department for from three to eight dollars. If the farmer will now offer bounties for the common pests, about as much as they are worth or even much less, the boy will keep himself in ammunition, will develop marksmanship, and have a fine time doing it. It is estimated that every rat on the farm will eat a bushel of corn or wheat during the year. He will cost fifty cents or more for his keep. If the farmer can get his son to shoot the rat for ten cents, he will be making forty cents by the bargain. Every sparrow will probably eat a peck or so of grain and will also drive away the other birds that protect the farm crops by eating moths and worms. If the farmer pays his son five cents for each sparrow, he will be making a good investment. Probably every blue jay robs the nests of a dozen or more other birds. He is beautiful, but his scream is discordant, and he gets his living at the farmer's expense. The red squirrel robs the nests of many birds, drives away the large game squirrels, carries away the nuts from the very doorstep, and steals the corn from the crib. The farmer may well add him to the list at the same price. The woodchuck lives largely on the grass in the meadow, his burrow is bad for horses to break into, and the mound of earth and pebbles obstructs the mower and dulls the knives. He tracks down a great deal of grass that he does not eat. The farmer can afford to give his son fifteen or twenty cents for him, and as much or more for any hawk or owl or skunk that may develop a taste for fresh chicken. In this instance, as in gardening, while the farmer is furnishing his son sport and an allowance, he is actually saving money at the same time.

Swimming is another of the standard experiences of child-hood that no child can miss without being the poorer for it. Bathing may be dangerous, but courage is cultivated only in the presence of danger, and it is worth the cost. The country parent may as well take it for granted that his son is going to go in swimming, as he did himself as a boy, and look around for a safe place. It is the swimming that is forbidden, which must seek out-of-the-way places, that is most dangerous. Children should be given some instruction in rescuing a drowning person and in resuscitation, just as the Boy Scouts are now doing everywhere. Swimming has long been a part of the course of instruction in many English schools. In several of our city systems it is now being taught to all the boys in certain grades. The high schools of Boston and several of our great universities require swimming for graduation. Swimming is an accomplishment that appeals to a boy as worth while. - It greatly increases the pleasure of the summer time and may be the means of saving the life of the swimmer or one of his friends. Perhaps there is no experience that is more to be feared than to have to stand helpless on the bank while a loved one drowns before one's own eyes. One could scarcely refrain from springing to the rescue, even though unable to swim.


The dangers that have preyed upon man through the ages have largely been conquered. Modern life furnishes few opportunities for the practice or culture of courage by the adults, but there are many opportunities for the little people, and these should not be neglected. Parents should not allow their fears to make cowards of their offspring. It is more or less dangerous to climb trees, but tree climbing is a nature experience that is old to the race, and it has its own message in arousing the spirit. The danger involved in climbing is not grave and is one of the reasons why children should climb. A broken arm will be painful, but there will not be many, and this chance is scarcely to be considered against the sense of freedom, the spirit of exhilaration that comes from the waving boughs, the sunshine and shadow, and the nature romance of the tree tops.

A short time ago I attended a farmer's picnic. As it chanced, I sat down under a tree with a group consisting of a father, mother, and three children aged about three, five, and seven. These children were not allowed to leave the group for a moment. If the boy edged off three or four feet where he could watch the other boys, he was immediately jerked back and told : " If you don't sit right here by mamma, you will get the worst whipping you ever got in your life." It is no surprise that each of the children soon began to say, " I want to go home." Such parents ought not to be allowed to bring up children, for they will surely deprive them of most of the experiences out of which a boy may develop manliness and self-reliance, out of which a girl may learn to take care of herself.


One of the most valuable experiences of my own childhood came from frequent scrimmages with bumblebees. There was always a sense of exhilaration from such a combat, because one knew that they could strike back, and there was the honey for the prize if one succeeded. It is one of the cheapest possible methods of developing courage in a boy. The consequences may be painful, but they cannot be serious. Generally we used to rob the nests with paddles, which we made out of shingles, and with which we struck the bees as they attacked us, though we had several other methods as well. We used also to make hives for bumblebees, and usually had three or four swarms on hand to observe.


The country boy should be taught to regard the birds and to know them. It may seem strange to suggest that this knowledge and feeling often come from making collections of birds' eggs, but I believe it was so in my own case. There is scarcely anything more attractive to a child than looking for and finding birds' nests. The seeking necessitates an observation of the birds and their habits, and the intelligent boy will generally read a good bird book at the same time. This study is apt to lead to a real knowledge and regard. If the boy makes a practice of taking only one egg from the nest, the birds will not suffer much, and even if the nest is robbed, it will only delay the process long enough for the mother bird to lay a new nest of eggs. When we consider how conscienceless we are in robbing the hens, we need not develop neurasthenia about the few eggs the children will take in making collections. One cat that seizes the mother bird upon her nest at night will do more damage than a whole community of egg-collecting children. A Parliament of Birds might well agree to contribute an egg from every nest for the love and regard that comes from the knowledge and the staying of the shotgun later. A still better way to teach the children to know and regard the birds is to have them build bird houses and feed the birds in winter. The great advantage that the country has over other sections is the constant presence of nature, but this is nothing unless farm people come to love it in its varied forms.

Likewise it needs only a little encouragement to get children to collect and press all common wild flowers, or even to take up and raise in the back yard many of these varieties. These collections will bring an acquaintance with nature and a love for it that cannot fail to mean much for country life.


Every facility should be given to boys and girls to dramatize the lives of their seniors, the occupations they see around them, and the stories they read. I have often watched with great interest the farming operations of four boys, aged from seven to ten, who had their log house, which they had constructed, and their small farms on a wooded island in a Michigan swamp. They battened the cracks in their house with moss and pasted up such pictures as they could find. They plowed their little fields with a crooked stick in the true primitive fashion and fenced them, according to their fancy, with post or rail fences from fallen twigs. They built pens and inclosures for the domestic animals which they whittled out of sticks, and they threshed their grain (moss) with threshers made from driving nails in a cylinder of wood, which was turned with a crank. Play of this kind every country child should have. At its best it is no less educative than the school. Such play the children will develop more or less for themselves, if there is any leader among them.

The girls love to keep house, dress up, pay calls, keep school, etc. ; but even their dramatic play is probably less rich than that of the boys.


The greatest day in the year for the country boy is apt to be the day when the circus comes to town. It serves to develop the faculty of foresight and anticipation as scarcely anything else does, and it transforms the sports and amusements of the children for a month after it has gone. It has a primitive appeal that few other things have. A boy had better miss a week of school, in most cases, than miss the circus. It is one of the real, maximal experiences that colors so much of life before and after. Perhaps the school ought to be dismissed and the children taken at the expense of the district. I believe this would be a perfectly legitimate expenditure of educational funds ; but since the exclamations of the children furnish half of the pleasure to the parents, it is undoubtedly better for all to go as families.


There is a very general feeling for the " safe and sane Fourth " all over the country. Certainly the Fourth ought to be sane, but it must not be taken for granted that safety can-not be purchased at too high a price. The things that intensify and deepen life are far more important to it than safety. The country boy cannot afford to lose the "glorious Fourth," with its sky rockets and fire crackers, from his experience unless he gets something equally appealing to take its place. It is far better that a thousand children should suffer that a million children may live a larger, deeper, more appealing life, than for life to drift on in its wonted monotony for all, without anything new or primitive enough to arouse the spirit from its accustomed lethargy. Any day that will be anticipated for months and remembered for the year is not to be lightly sacrificed on account of danger. This is not to be construed as an argument against the better Fourth, which has come in with the play festival and the parade and the general fireworks at night, but it is an appeal not to take the old Fourth away and put nothing in its place. The old Fourth even with its danger was better than nothing. I have found the new Fourth in the small country towns of parts of the West, but in general it has thus far come to the large cities only.


The play of the first years of life is naturally in and about the home ; but as the child grows older, he meets his peers and does his playing largely at the school. The rural school has been as a whole an example of monumental neglect. The building has generally been poorly constructed, poorly ventilated, and poorly furnished, the teacher untrained and underpaid ; but the most neglected thing about it has been its yard. In a hundred-mile drive in most sections one will scarcely see anything else that looks so utterly forlorn as the little patch of often uneven and nearly always unimproved and unmowed ground, on which the children are supposed to play. It is perfectly evident from the sites selected, from the amount of land purchased, and from the condition in which it has been left, that the school directors have not even considered the play of the children, or, if they have, they have put it aside as unimportant. It is vital to the country that these conditions be improved both for the sake of the children, who sadly need the play, and for the sake of the community at large, that needs it no less. The school must be the gateway for the introduction of play into the community. The school, therefore, must take thought to itself that its games and athletics are suitable for the country community. It must make the play attractive enough at school so that the children will carry the games home and introduce them into the dooryard and teach their elders to play as well. The school board must furnish enough ground and equipment to make play possible, and the County Superintendent must see that it is organized.

( 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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