The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Some Practical Points in the Physical Education of Children, Part 1

by John Mason, M.D.
Volume 4, 1893/94, no. 2, pgs. 199-204

[John Mason was a doctor in Windmere.]

[A Lecture delivered before the members of the Parents' National Educational Union at Kendal.]

Now I must pass to another period of life altogether, school time, and under this head I will discuss shortly

       1. Hours of Work.
       2. Hours of Sleep.
       3. Food and Drink.

1. Hours of Study.--In English schools, about six and a half hours is the average amount of book-work per diem. I have obtained papers from several public and preparatory schools giving statistics of the hours of work, of sleep, and of food and drink. To take the hours of work first.

At Kendal High School for Girls five to five and a half hours is done.

This, I fancy, would be extended by many girls working overtime at home, and here comes in the great drawback of all day-school work, that the parents do not know how much time the boy or girl should spend in preparation of new work, and so cannot be expected to supervise it as well as they would if the whole tuition were in the hands of the same person.

School.       Ages. Hours of Work a day.
Haseley Manor (Preparatory) - 8-14 - 6 Hours.
Rottingdean (Preparatoty) - 8-14 - Summer. 6 1/2 Winter. 6-6 1/2
Harrow       13-19 - 6 1/2
Millfield, Keswick (Preparatory) - 9-15 - 6 1/2
Barrow-in-Furness (High School) - 9-18 - 6 3/4
Sherborne        12-19 - 7 1/2
Clifton College        - 14-19 - 7 1/2-8
Rossall        under 15 - Winter 7 1/4 Summer 7 1/2
Rossall        15-17 - Winder 8 1/4 Summer 8 1/2

The hours given are those on whole school days, they are not the average including half holidays.

I have tabulated these schools in the order of increasing duration of work.

Of the first five, three are preparatory schools for young boys, and here naturally the hours are shorter than generally prevail at the public schools. They are, in my opinion, and in that of many competent judges, quite long enough for small boys. Six hours a day for an average boy under twelve, and six and a half for boys under fourteen, are quite sufficient. The great point is to keep the mind applied during the lesson--to work while you work, and play while you play. It might be though that Harrow coming amongst the preparatory schools with regard to length of school hours, implied that there the working day might be longer. But, as the time for "preparation" out of school varies considerably with different boys, the average may be higher than I have calculated.

Of Sherborne and Clifton I have no remark to make; but with regard to the eight and a quarter hours (winter), and eight and a half (summer) which the boys over fifteen perform at Rossall, and that with only one half holiday during part of the winter and Easter terms, I cannt but think it is rather long. No doubt the school carries off abundant honours at the universities, so there is room for a contrary opinion, and nowadays various forms of light work or even entertainments, such as interesting lectures and concerts, occasionally take the place of the evening study. Such, the head-master informs me, is the case at Rossall.

There is so much to be said on "over-pressure" in schools (chiefly existing perhaps in Board schools and girls' schol) that it is difficult to know where to begin, and perforce the greater part must be left unsaid. I shall, however, give an extract from Herbert Spencer, quoted by M. Guyau with M. Guyau's remarks on it. ["Education and Heredity," p. 133, published by Walter Scott, in "The Contemporary Science Series," 3s. 6d. A book to be cordially recommended.]

"Excessive study is a terrible mistake, from whatever point of view regarded. It isa mistake in so far as the mere acquirement of knowledge is concerned. For the mind, like the body, cannot assimilate beyond a certain rate; and if you ply it with facts faster than it can assimilate them, they are soon rejected again: instead of being built into the intellectual fabric they fall out of recollection. . . . It is a mistake, too, because it tends to make study distasteful . . . It is a mistake also, inasmuch as it assumes that the acquisition of knowledge is everything; and forgets that a much more important thing is the organisation of knowledge, for time and spontaneous thinking are requisite."

M. Guyau adds:

"The over-pressure of which Spencer complains is much more exceptional in England than in France, where it say be said to be the rule. The pupils of the Lyceums in Paris have four hours daily in class, and seven hours of preparation: eleven hours altogether; and those who take up rhetoric and philosophy are allowed an additional half-hour. Eleven and a half hours' work per day! During the scanty time allowed for recteation, they stop in a corner of the playground and talk jogether, or walk about like "grave citizens." Of games of ball or tennis the boys in our Lyceums know nothing. 'Are there many grown-up men among us who work eleven hours a day?' asks M. Simon. [M. Jules Simon was Minister of Education.] Quality of work is far better than quantity. This has been shown experimentally in the London schools. Chadwick, inspector of either schools or workshops in England, was one of the founders of 'half-time' schools. His experiment in London was as follows:--He divided the boys of a school into two series of almost equal strength--the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th classes respectively. One of the series worked all day, the other worked half the day; after a time they were set to work together. The half-time school often beat the whole time school. It was shown that two hours' good work was of more value than four hours' indifferent work."

2. Now for Sleep.--"Six hours for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool!" I do not know if that is exactly the authentic statement of the person who originally said it (was it George III.?), but at any rate it is about as foolish as any rule of life that ever was given. It is absurd. Let us look at it from the beginning of life onwards. For the first few days of its life a baby should sleep all day and all night. At the end of three years or so the sleep has been gradually reduced to about fourteen hours a day,

       From about 4 to 6 years 13 hours is usual.
       From about 8 to 10 years 12 hours is usual.
       At 12 years 10 1/2 to 11 hours.
       At 18 or 19 years 9 or 10 hours.

These numbers are taken partly from my own observation and partly from the statistics of the nine schools I have mentioned. There is usually half an hour, and sometimes an hour difference in the amount of sleep between summer and winter, and rightly so, I think; it seems physiologically likely, and I should expect such a rule to extend to the lower animals in a greater degree. I have observed a considerable difference in Rossall School; it stands out from the other I have mentioned, not only in the length of working hours, but also in the boys having from half an hour to an hour less sleep than boys of the same age in other schools. Possibly the air makes a difference, it being a fine, bracing, seaside place.

[The amount of sleep required varies according to the amount of work done, especially brain-work. A hard-working business or professional man find he can quite comfortably do with an hour less sleep when he is taking a holiday abroad, or at his shooting in Scotland, provided he is not overworked and suffering from what has been termed "the new disease call 'run down'" beforehand. Again, climate has a marked effect; the first few days' residence at the seaside are productive of drowsiness and lethargy as a rule, the reverse effect being felt later on. On the other hand, one of the chief troubles connected with the health resorts in high altitudes in Switzerland and Colorado is the difficulty the invalids have to obtain sufficient sleep.]

From the age of twenty onwards through life the amount of sleep necessary and, I may add, possible for the normal brain steadily diminishes. From thirty to forty perhaps eight hours or eight and a half is the average. With the elderly, that is those over seventy, a sleep of five or six hours is common, and those who can get it may rest very thankful, for a short two or three hours in the twenty-four is far from common.

I have a few, a very few, remarks to make about food and drink. The question is so large, especially that for infants and young children, that I shall avoid it.

But there are one or two things I may with advantage touch on. First teach your children to masticate their food. Habitually they swallow it in lumps, and though in youth the stomach will digest almost anything, whether in lumps or not, yet it will soon cease to do so, and the sooner the habit of chewing is learnt the better. Besides, a very important part of digestion of all cereals and potatoes takes place in the mouth. The starch of which they are chiefly composed is changed into dextrin, a change which is absolutely necessary, and which the gastric juice is not able to effect, though one of the secretions lower down in the digestive tract has that function. So that besides the mechanical breaking up and crushing of the food, there is the further important point of thorough mixing with the saliva that takes place in the mouth.

Secondly, do not let children have sweets or cakes between meals. I do not object to a piece of bread or drink of milk in the middle of the morning, for instance, but it is the bonbons, sweet cakes, and chocolates that interfere with digestion when taken while the stomach is busy with the last meal.

Thirdly, do not give children meat more than once a day until they are eight or ten years old.

I do not include in the prohibition bacon or fat ham, which are equivalent to butter as an article of diet, nor white fish or sausages, though these should only be taken sparingly.

Lastly, shun as poison all wines and beer as habitual drink. I find in nearly, if not in all, public schools, boys are allowed beer. They do not all take it, but they may have it if they like, and the habit of accustoming boys to beer is, I think, a most pernicious one. I do not say that it has any deleterious effect on their stomachs or their heads either; it is usually too light and too sound to do that; but you do not know how many boys you may have in the school whose parents are drinkers, and who themselves have that most terrible curse within them--the tendency to drink. Boys are such queer things, so monstrously conservative, and such slaves of school and public opinion, that the knocking off beer would be a difficult thing to do. Yet I would ask all thoughtful parents to look for and seize every opportunity of putting an end to this custom. It is only parents who can do it, and they only by creating a general feeling against it.

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