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Organized Play In The School Yard

Some teachers seem to feel that it is beneath their dignity to play with the children, and one often hears the old saw " Familiarity breeds contempt." Whenever I hear this quotation in this connection, I always feel like completing it by its implied condition. Familiarity reveals you as you really are. It leads to contempt if you are contemptible. If familiarity makes you contemptible to your father and mother, your brothers and sisters, it will make you contemptible to the children as well ; but if, on the other hand, you wish to be a real friend to the children and have a lasting influence over them, there is no other way. The person who sits upon a platform of assumed dignity and answers our questions by " yes " or " no " and gives us sage advice about our conduct has very little influence upon us either in school or outside of it. Everywhere the testimony of the teachers who are sympathetically playing with their children is that this play solves the question of discipline. It will not make angels of street Arabs of course, but it cuts out almost altogether the vicious and willful disorder and makes the sentiment of the school the strong ally of the teacher. While Dr. Harris was Commissioner of Education he asked me to make a study of the personal influence of the teacher for his annual report. I collected about eight thousand papers from high-school students, normal-school students, and eighth-grade students on the subject of " The Teacher who influenced Me." While I never completed the study, I went over all the papers with some care. There were not five per cent of them which referred to the classroom relationships. Apparently the teacher who had made a lasting impression was the one who had established a more intimate relationship with the pupil than that of the classroom. It was the teacher who had organized play, who had taken them on walks, who had got up picnics and clubs, etc., who had been remembered.

The country children need this organization of play. Principal Scudder of the New Paltz Normal School says in his booklet on " The Field Day and Play Picnic for Country Children," " Country children do not play enough. Their repertoire of games is surprisingly small and inadequate, except where especial efforts have been made to teach them. Moreover, their games are strongly individualistic, training them for isolated effort rather than cooperation." The school is almost the only place where country children can play organized games, because it is the only place where there are enough of them together. There are some communities and schools where the children themselves develop sufficient leadership to have much play that is worth while in certain groups, but this will never include all of the children. Perhaps for these capable children a suggestion may be all that is needed, but for other groups, probably the little children and the girls, actual leadership and organization will be required if they are to do anything that is worth much.


If the teacher has had kindergarten training or is familiar with the games, she may safely play all of the more active ones with the children in the yard. They are being used in the city playgrounds everywhere. In New York City, where we once made a rule that no child over eight should come into the kindergarten section of the playground except in the case of little mothers who were caring for their little brothers or sisters, we found that the older girls would often borrow a little brother or sister in order to get in. These girls were often thirteen or fourteen years old. Some of the most popular games for children a little above the kindergarten age are Cat and Mouse ; Jacob and Rachel ; Slap Jack ; Whip Tag ; Hide and Seek ; Puss in the Corner ; The Miller ; Farmer in the Dell ; Bean Bag ; London Bridge ; The Needle's Eye ; One Old Cat. For further games for children of this age, consult " Games for the Playground, Home School, and Gymnasium," by Jessie Bancroft ; " Education by Plays and Games," by G. A. Johnson ; " Play," by Emmett D. Angell ; " Popular Folk Games," by Mari H. Hofer.

Games that are popular with children a little older, and which require no apparatus and little teaching, are Blind Man's Buff ; Drop the Handkerchief ; Duck on a Rock ; Three Deep ; Last Couple Out ; Bull in the Ring ; Fox and Geese (in the winter) ; Pom Porn Pull Away Prisoner's Base ; Captain Ball ; Dodge Ball ; Catch Ball ; Battle Ball.

These last four games are played with a volley ball or a basket ball, preferably with a volley ball. These are all standard games that every child should know.


The same principles apply to teaching games as to teaching anything else. Whatever is taught should be taught thoroughly until the children know it. A new game should not be brought in until they are thoroughly familiar with the old and have begun to tire of it. The process of learning a game is not interesting.


The games of the little children, while important to the school, are less important in a large way to the community, because they are left behind by the growing children and will not be carried from the school into life. The school must start a set of athletic enthusiasms that will give recreation and safeguard the leisure of later years. It must seek to break the isolation and build up the social life of the country by games that call for a number of participants and that mature men and women will play with pleasure. Even a superficial observer must be aware that we have no such games at present.

We have a tradition that baseball and football are our national games. However, a moment's thought will tell any one that for the most part these games are played by school-boys only, and that we as a people have no national game except professional baseball, in which we participate from the bleachers. We need very much a series of games in which girls and adults will take as active an interest as schoolboys do in baseball. Baseball and football cannot be considered in this connection, because our population is rapidly becoming an urban population, and both of these games take much room. Both baseball and football are unsuited to girls and adults because they are too violent, and football is unsuited to the majority of the student body for the same reason. We need to teach our children games in the schools which will be pursued later, so that leisure may not mean dissipation. Leisure is going to be a larger part of life in the next generation than it has been in the past, and the schools must see that this does not mean that the next generation is going to be more dissipated. Liberty H. Bailey of Cornell University, Dean of the State Agricultural College of New York, says : " Better technical farming and a more carefully organized farm plan will give the farmer the time that he needs for other interests. In the future he-will be able to command at least one day a week, aside from Sunday, for reading, study, vacation, and other forms of recreation." One needs only to glance at the raising of corn to see how much the farmer's time is being economized. To-day it is certainly cheaper in many localities for the farmer to have his plowing done by a steam plow than to do it himself, if he cannot afford such a plow. Corn is now largely planted with a drill ; it is cultivated with a horse cultivator that tills one or two rows at a time ; it is coming to be cut by a horse cutter and husked by a machine husker. The same circle of labor-saving appliances have al-ready become nearly universal for wheat, oats, rice, and beans. The farmer to-day needs to be a mechanic, a stockman, a merchant. He must know the sort of crops to raise on his farm and where and when to sell them. He cannot keep his nose on the grindstone or his feet in the furrow all the time and hope to be successful as the man of affairs which the times demand. The great drawback to life in the country is its isolation, and the cure of its isolation is the development of its social and recreational life. The school must do its share.

There are two games that have become popular in the last few years that are well suited to the needs of the American people for recreation. They are well suited because they re-quire but little space, because they are played by boys and girls and by men and women with equal pleasure, and because they offer the sort of exercise, the social opportunities, and the mental relaxation that are needed. These two games are volley ball and playground baseball.


Volley ball I believe to be the very best game we have. It is a game that is played with a sheepskin or horsehide ball a little smaller and a little lighter than a basket ball. In Germany a similar game, faustball, is played over a rope ; in this country volley ball is usually played over a tennis net that is stretched so that the top of the net is seven feet and a half from the ground The indoor size of the court is 25 by 5o feet. Outdoors it is often played on a court 35 by 70 feet, or even larger. Any number of players may participate, but matched games are usually played with five or six on a side. The ball is served over the net with the palm of the hand, as one would serve in tennis. The server stands with one foot on the back line. Those on the opposing side strike the ball while it is in the air and return it in this way to the other court. If the ball that is served is not returned or is knocked out of bounds, it scores one for the server. If the opponents knock it back and the serving side does not re-turn it, the server is out. Twenty-one points are a game according to Spalding rules, but it is sometimes played with fifteen-minute halves, as in basket ball. Volley ball is our best school game, because it takes little space for many players and is played by the girls as much as the boys. Both girls and boys will begin to play it four or five years younger than they will basket ball and will continue to play it forty years longer. A whole class may be taken into the yard to play volley ball, as a city class might have gymnastics. The net is seven feet and a half high, and the ball is often twenty feet in the air. The player must use both hands to play skillfully, so he must keep his head and his shoulders back and his chest out. Volley ball is the best corrective that we have for the bad postures of the schoolroom and the round and stooped shoulders which often distinguish the country boy. Almost the only game that the business men are playing in the Y.M.C.A. gymnasiums is volley ball. So far as college faculties are playing any game outside of tennis, it is generally volley ball. Basket ball does not meet this need of a game that will safeguard the later years, because it is not played after school days are over. Volley ball in a small rural school may often be the only team game that there are enough of the older children to play, and it is a game at which the girls are at no considerable disadvantage in playing with boys. It must not be thought on this account, however, that the children are going to be eager for the game at first. It is one of the laws of play that it is independent of all thoughts of advantage. Children want to participate in the games they see and hear about, and no game is very interesting until some little skill is acquired. In introducing volley ball the teacher will have to take part with the children. After a little skill is acquired there are few games that are more popular, but during the period of learning they need all the encouragement and help they can have. Volley ball is a good game with three or even with two on a side, but it is also good with fifteen or twenty on a side.


Indoor, or playground, baseball is similar to regular base-ball except that it is played with a large, soft ball from four-teen to seventeen inches in circumference, and the bases are thirty-five feet apart instead of ninety, as in regular baseball. The only important differences in the rules are that the ball must be pitched underhand and that the runner may net leave his base until the ball has passed the batter or been struck. The advantages of this game are much the same as the other. It is played by both boys and girls, it is not dangerous in a crowded playground, it is enjoyed by much younger children than is the standard game, and adults will continue to play it long after baseball has become too strenuous for them. It is a good thing for the girls to play with the boys, as they will thus learn the rules more rapidly and they will borrow from the boys some of the play spirit which they are so apt to lack. The criticisms of the boys will also stimulate the listless ones. The boys will probably think that play-ground baseball is not the real thing at first, and the girls will regard it as a boys' game. There will not be much enthusiasm in the beginning unless the teacher plays with them. I have seen places where the children have been furnished with the equipment and told about the game, without their doing anything but throw the ball around for the whole summer until the teacher began to play, when it took only two or three days before several teams were organized and a vigorous interest was manifested. Women teachers often hesitate to play, fearing that they will appear ridiculous, but they need not be discouraged from thinking they may do fairly well. Among several hundred students in playground base-ball at the University of Utah last summer, the best player was a woman teacher, though most of the participants were men. The boys will not expect very much of their lady teacher in baseball and will be the more surprised and respectful if they find her an expert. Playground baseball and volley ball are also much easier to umpire than baseball and basket ball, and there is less danger of unfair or rough con-duct or quarreling. It does not take long to make the children enthusiastic, A matched game or two with another school will help greatly. If a rural school contains only fifteen to thirty pupils, it is not likely that there will be eighteen boys or even ten girls or boys of baseball or basket-ball age, for in both of these games the girls will have to play separately from the boys to have much fun. Under these circumstances the advantages of having a game which the children enjoy at an early age, and where the girls and boys can play together, are apparent. Of course there is a question in the minds of many people whether the boys and girls should play together any-way. In the city the girls' yard is usually separate from the boys' yard. This separation is not feasible, however, in the country school or in the country community. The number of children in any given area is so limited that the boys and girls are practically compelled to play together if they are to play at all. I am not able to see any moral dangers arising from boys and girls playing baseball or volley ball together. It is the loafing and sequestration of boys and girls that is likely to be morally dangerous. A vigorous competition in which girls are at no considerable disadvantage is likely to create a more healthy relationship between them and to suppress some of the sentimentality of girls in the early giggling age in a way that will be advantageous.


Long ball is played with a regular indoor baseball. It differs from baseball in that there is only one base, which corresponds to second base. Whichever way the ball may go, or if it is only touched, it is a fair hit. All fouls are eliminated. The batter is out on a caught fly or the third strike or when he is hit or touched with the ball in passing to or from the long base. Any number of players may assemble on the long base and wait their chance to run in, but if all the players get on the long base at once, the side is out. The score is the same as in baseball, and three outs retire the side. This game has the added charm over baseball of throwing at the runner. As there are no fouls, the game is very fast. As there are no set positions, all players are fielders except the pitcher and catcher, and there may be any number on each side, though of course the game will not be as vigorous with a large number as with a small number.


Tether ball is probably the best game that can be played in a limited space by two players. From its nature it is especially suited to the small rural school. A post two or three inches in diameter and thirteen feet tall is set three feet in the ground. Six feet above the ground there is a black band around the pole. Attached to the top of the pole is a tether ball (a tennis ball inside a netting sack). A line twenty feet long drawn through the pole divides the ground into courts, and a circle six feet in diameter keeps the players away from the pole. On opposite sides of the pole stand the contestants with tennis rackets. The server takes the ball in his hand and strikes it as hard as he can, seeking to wind it up around the pole above the black line. His opponent on the opposite side seeks to wind up the ball in the opposite direction. Players may not step over the dividing line or inside the circle. The ball is up in the air most of the time and tends to keep the head up and shoulders back. The player must run back and forth over the space allotted to him and often jump as high as he can in order to reach the ball. There is fully as much exercise in fifteen minutes of tether ball as there is in an hour of tennis. When some little skill is acquired, it is one of our most interesting games.

In Washington, from the time our playgrounds were opened in the morning until they were closed at night, there were always two or three children standing in line to use the tether ball, but the children left to themselves without encouragement do not learn the game well enough to make it interesting.


Croquet and tennis are both well adapted to the rural school and especially the consolidated rural school. They have also the great advantage that they are suited to the home as well, and playing these games at school should do much to introduce them into the community an argument that applies also to volley ball and tether ball. When one looks at the large problems of social welfare and social needs, at the isolation of the country home, and at the frequent resulting dreariness of rural life, is there not reason for saying that it is quite as important that the children should acquire whole-some recreations in the school as that they should learn geography and grammar ? If the farmer and the farmer's wife have not played enough for their own good or the good of their children or the country, what better thing can the rural school do than to instill into the children an enthusiasm for sports that will be carried into the home and the community ? This is not sentiment but common sense. Few other things can do so much to keep the boys and girls on the farm.


Basket ball is not a good game for a strictly rural school, because it is not played with much interest by children under thirteen years of age. The exercise is violent and a severe strain upon the heart. The boys' rules are different from the girls' rules, so that they cannot well play together. There are not many rural schools that have ten girls or ten boys that are old enough and strong enough to play. However, in village schools and in consolidated rural schools it is probably wise to make provision for basket ball. It has the advantage of an enthusiasm already created, and it is easy to form teams.


The older girls are really the great problem in organizing recreation anywhere. The boys will play a good deal under almost any conditions, but the girls do not play anything of much value without a good deal of encouragement. Girls are handicapped by their clothes and by all sorts of restrictive customs. The boys are constantly encouraged in their sports, but the girls are usually discouraged. The girl comes up to puberty with only three fourths the lung capacity of the boy of the same age. Whatever the school can do to make play more interesting for the girl, it should do.


One of the best things that has happened to athletics in this country was the establishing of the standard test by the Public School Athletic League of New York City. This test says that every boy under thirteen who can run sixty yards in eight and three-fifths seconds, chin a bar four times, and jump five feet nine inches standing shall have the standard button of the League. The great advantage of the test is that it is non-competitive, and the winning of the button by one does not interfere with its being won by others. It sets a standard, and we all tend to live up to a standard when we know what it is. It is generally supposed that country boys are strong and that they will not need practice to perform such feats as these ; nevertheless, it did not prove so in Ulster County, where the test was tried. There was scarcely a boy who was able to do the three things without practice. It is probable that the same results would be found elsewhere. Country boys in general would be able to do the chinning very likely, but not the two other stunts. In order to get up much enthusiasm for this test there must be a place for chinning, a horizontal bar if possible, and a sixty-yard running track that is marked off. A stop watch will be an advantage, and it is well to have a place five feet nine inches long laid out for the broad jump, so that they can practice when they wish. If an enthusiasm for this test can be aroused, most of the boys will come up to the requirements after practice.


The country school is the best place in the world for athletics of the intercollegiate or interschool type. In our city schools they are always objectionable, because they lead to the development of a team of nine players with a thousand rooters on the grand stand. The players are overstimulated and overtrained and not infrequently overbruised, and their school work suffers. The cheering has not been good exercise for the student body, and the team has had more than it needed. The country school will not be subject to this criticism. If it organizes a first and second team in playground baseball, it will probably use all of its available material, and all will get the training. The country boy and girl are made diffident and backward by their isolated life. They need the experience of going over to another school, meeting other children, and having contests with them. The country school has in general created no loyalty or school spirit. The easiest way is through a contest with another school. We have deemed that intercollegiate contests were necessary in our colleges in order to maintain the interest of the student body, and probably they have been in the past. Most of the organized play of England is in the schools located in the country, and it has been within the school itself without many, if any, outside contests. But athletic enthusiasm is old in England, and athletics are required in the curriculum. It would certainly be to the advantage of the rural school to hold contests with other schools.

It is not impossible that the children should walk to these meets, but it would be better that they should be taken, especially if they are to participate in contests. If it be feasible to transport the children of a township to a central school building every day, it should not be impossible to transport them occasionally to an athletic meet, even though one or two farmers were hired to take a hayrack load of children to the tourney. One or two such meets will be sufficient to make the enthusiasm run high and set the children to training.


It may seem difficult to find time for play at the rural school ; but there are available the noon intermission of an hour, as most of the children do not go home for their dinners as they do in the city, and two recesses of fifteen minutes each. It is not well to take violent exercise after a hearty meal, but the children do not bring hearty meals with them to school. They do not take more than ten or fifteen minutes to eat, and this leaves at least half an hour for good play. It will be to the advantage of the lessons to get the children out for the recesses also. But many country children will come to school at eight o'clock if there is anything interesting to do before school begins, and they will often stay for an hour after school is over. The small children are not going to study more than two or three hours a day, and they might well be allowed to go out and play as soon as they have their lessons, on condition that they will not disturb the school with their noise. This would put in the hands of the teacher an effective incentive to secure the faithful study of lessons, and would probably yield better scholastic results than the five.-hour school day. At the same time it would give the children the outdoor exercise and life which they need. An hour of organized play a day, on an average, is part of the school curriculum in every grade below the fourth in New York City. There is an hour and a half of organized play a day in the first six grades of the public schools of Gary, and many other cities are taking up the movement. The German folk school, on an average, devotes an hour a day to gymnastics and play in every grade. The preparatory school of England has about two and a half hours a day of required play. t would be no anomaly in the educational practices of the world if two or three hours a week were set aside from the school day to play games that are worth while.


Probably we Americans are more adverse to walking than any other people. If we have two or three blocks to go in the city, we take the streetcar, and in the country we drive. In Scotland one will often meet a good-sized party out walking in the rain, and in England whole schools often go off for long trips. The school journey is a part of the program in Germany and Switzerland. In Germany these trips often cover a hundred miles or more and take a week or more of time. Walking is the best way in the world to become familiar with the country, to learn its resources and possibilities, and to develop a love for nature. It is excellent exercise. The teacher in the rural school is greatly handicapped by the different ages of her children in attempting such ventures, and she also will have to consider the attitude of her board of directors toward it. t would be wise, if the school directors agree, to send the little children home at noon on Friday in pleasant weather, if they can go home by themselves, and take the older children to some place of interest not more than five miles away. There are such places in nearly every neighborhood, and it is surprising how few of them the children see by themselves. t may be the city hall, the public library, or museum in a neighboring town; or it may be a mountain, a river, a historic or literary landmark; or a fine herd of cattle, a fine farm, a field of sugar beets, or some other crop that is new to the children ; or it may be a flourmill or sawmill, a lime kiln, a stone quarry, a lumber camp, or colliery. There are few neighborhoods that are without some of these objects of interest. A visit to them is quite as educational as the school studies, it is travel and experience, and these the country child greatly needs. If the trip be to a neighboring academy or technical school, or country high school, it may lead Winter trips on skis are often taken by German children some of the children to continue their education further. The walk will develop the social life of the school and the personal relationships with the teacher. Along the way collections of leaves and flowers may be made, and the children may be taught to observe the birds, the formation of water-sheds, water channels, beautiful views, etc. Such a journey might well be made the prize of good conduct and lessons during the week. On Saturday it would be well to have an occasional picnic to which the parents also are invited, and where, besides a picnic dinner, there might be ball games and athletics.


There is a great movement at present for the wider use of school buildings. This movement holds as the first article of its creed that to use public property only five hours a day for five days a week and eight or nine months a year, when it is possible to use it profitably much longer, is folly. t is known as the Recreation Center, or Social Center, Movement. Farm communities do not get together enough for social, educational, or civic purposes. There is more need for the wider use of the country schoolhouse than of any other school building. In the city there are the theaters and church socials and public lectures and entertainments. t is hard at any time to select a night when there will not be many things going on. During the late fall and winter the farmer's duties are not usually very pressing and he has plenty of time for reading and social and educational purposes. Every rural school should be first of all a center for the distribution of books to the community. The old-time school had a number of social uses that it seems to have lost. In it were held the singing school, the country debates, and the spelling match at least, and all of these were social events of importance to the community. This topic will be treated in detail in the later part of the book.

( Originally Published 1914 )

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Organized Play In The School Yard

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