The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Physical Culture.

by Miss Helen Douglas.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 177-181

There are many aids to this, of course, for no one branch--either dancing or gymnastics, for instance--can really produce physical culture, however excellent its results may be. Before speaking about the more important branches of physical culture, it may, perhaps, prove interesting to mention some others.

I think it is now generally understood that games form an important item in the physical education of girls: and, as a matter of fact, they are most important. The chief reason is because the games--I allude chiefly to hockey and cricket--are played in the open air: thus the players get a fair amount of exercise with plenty of fresh air. Naturally, then, their lungs become more healthy, and they are able to breathe more deeply, which is a very important result when we think of the many girls with narrow chests, who use only the narrow part of their lungs for breathing purposes, thus sowing the seeds of consumption and many other diseases. For it is a law of Nature that if any part of the body is not properly exercised, it withers and causes disease. In the case of the lungs, if we do not breathe deeply the lower parts do not get exercised, and so they become weak and unable to perform their work, which is to give up to the blood and oxygen obtained from the air breathed in, and to get rid of certain other substances. Now these substances are highly poisonous, and--as the upper parts of the lungs cannot do their work and that of the lower as well--these substances are again absorbed into the body, and do more harm than can be expressed in a few words. Outdoor games, therefore, are valuable adjuncts to the physical development of both girls and boys.

Swimming is a branch of physical culture too often neglected, for in summer it forms a pleasant method of exercising, besides which every boy and girl should acquire the art as a means of preserving life. In these days, when swimming baths are to be found in every town, it seems a pity that the principals of schools should not more often arrange regular classes for swimming.

Fencing is the one branch of physical culture which may be considered unsuitable for school-girls; but, having very splendid results, should always be practised on reaching adult life. Some of the results are accuracy, grace, rapidity of thought and action, and courage. The chief objection to this form of exercise is that it tends to one-sided development: but most teachers of physical culture now require their pupils to fence with the left arm also. Left-arm fencing, in the case of the average individual, requires a much higher stage of physical development and co-ordination than right-arm fencing--so the latter should first be mastered in order to pave the way for the former.

Dancing is of great help, for it makes the pupil graceful, and so counteracts a certain "squareness" which is occasionally the result of gymnastics. It also helps to tide over the awkward stage of self-consciousness so often found in the growing girl. Dancing should always be taught with gymnastics, for each helps the other to the more perfect development of the common aim of both. On the other hand--from the Physical Culture standard--dancing is of little use without gymnastics, though the latter can very well be taught alone and show good results. I would again urge the necessity of gymnastics being always taught with dancing if the best results are desired. This is so well understood by most teachers of dancing that they generally make their pupils perform some exercises at each lesson; but these, although no doubt of great help, do not in the slightest degree take the place of a good gymnastic lesson once or twice a week.

Gymnastics, which we now come to, may be called the chief aid to physical culture. The particular system I teach is that known as Ling's Swedish System, and it will, doubtless, prove interesting if I give a short account of its origin.

[Ling: Swedish Drill.]

Many years ago there lived a man in Sweden who realized that gymnastics should mean much more than the mere development of a few muscles, for instance, the biceps of the arm. Feeling convinced that--to do any real good--gymnastics must affect all parts of the body equally, this man--Peter Henrik Ling--devoted much time to the study of anatomy and physiology, in order to understand about the build of the human body and the different kinds of work it has to perform. It was only after he had thoroughly mastered those subjects that he began constructing his exercises, the result of which is that today, every exercise used in the Swedish system is of distinct value to the human body, and has a sound scientific reason for existing.

After much thought and experience, it was finally decided that the best results would be gained if the exercises were arranged in a certain order, and it is that order which forms the basis of the Swedish system. The exercises are arranged in nine large groups--according to their most important effects upon different parts of the body--and in each day's lesson two or more exercises are taken from each group and arranged in their proper order. So that in each lesson we give:--

(1) Introductory Movements. Consisting of marching, simple arm and leg movements, etc., useful for making the pupils "smart," and getting them in good working order.

(2) Arch-flexions. These consist of a backward arching of the spine, and are most useful for straightening the spine and widening the chest.

(3) Heaving Movements are almost always done on different kinds of apparatus. They raise the chest and develop the muscles we use in breathing as well as those of the arms.

(4) Balance Movements may be done either with or without apparatus, and require that both mind and body shall be well controlled, else it is impossible to do them.

(5) Shoulder-blade Movements. These are arm movements principally. As they draw the head backward and flatten the shoulder-blades, they are most useful for round shoulders, etc.

(6 and 7) These two groups consist of exercises which specially affect the muscles of the lower part of the trunk of the body. They enable the individual to carry herself in an erect manner without the aid of artificial support.

(8) This group consists of vaulting and jumping, which are very useful as they cultivate courage, presence of mind, and many other good qualities.

(9) Respiratory Exercises. This group is made up altogether of exercises which help the pupil to breathe more deeply and easily. They are invariably given at the end of each lesson, and also are interspersed between the other exercises.

Now to compare the Swedish system with one or two others. "Oh," say many persons, "it is all very well to talk about a scientific system of gymnastics, but why should children have all the pleasure taken out of their gymnastic classes, and only the dull, solid, scientific goodness left?" For, you know, many people think that anything to do with science must be dull! But I assure you that this is not so in the case of our system; children -- and adults also -- thoroughly enjoy Swedish gymnastics. A favourite system of gymnastics for children is that known as musical drill, and I grant that at the first glance Swedish gymnastics might be considered dull when compared with it. But, before judging, let us understand what the results of the two systems are--for we are considering gymnastics as a means to Physical Culture, and not merely as a pastime. In musical drill, after the first few lessons, certain bars of music suggest certain movements to the pupil, so that he can perform those movements without thinking about them. Now, such a mechanical way of doing exercises is quite opposed to the true meaning of physical culture, which demands that not only shall the muscles be developed, but that the mind also shall be controlled. In Swedish gymnastics, on the other hand, the exercises are done to word of command from the teacher, which makes it necessary for the pupil's full attention to be given to what he is doing; otherwise he will surely go wrong, as there is no outside influence to suggest the desired movement to him. In a word, he has to depend upon himself, and in this way he is unconsciously taught to control his will as well as his body. It seems to me that after the first novelty has worn off, the charge of dulness can more truly be applied to musical drills than to the Swedish system, for, in the later, the pupil never knows what he is to do next (for the exercises are different in each lesson), while in musical drill the same movements are practised to the same music, lesson after lesson. Surely the reproach of dulness cannot be applied to a system of constant change? It has always seemed to me absurd having music with gymnastics--for music belongs to dancing, which is quite another thing. You, who approve of musical drill, why do you not also insist on your children singing their lessons at school instead of repeating them? It would not be any more incongruous than the other.

In another so-called system of gymnastics, the teacher stands before the class and performs the various movements while his pupils copy him. If you think for a moment you will see why this cannot be a correct way of teaching. In the first place, as the teacher is himself performing, he cannot possibly correct any faults of his pupils, so that he gets the benefits of the exercises, for he only knows the correct manner of doing them. Secondly, here again the exercises are done mechanically, for the pupil's attention is fixed, not on himself and what he is doing, but on the teacher's movements, which he wildly copies.

In the German system, too much apparatus is used for the development of physical culture. I have recently been present at several classes conducted under this system, and in each case almost the entire lesson consisted of work done on the horizontal bar, parallel bar, and horse. Now the exercises done on these pieces of apparatus very closely resemble each other in their effects--the consequence of which resemblance is twofold--

(1) Too much strain is put upon the heart and lungs, very often causing many severe complaints, and sometimes certain forms of heart disease.

(2) Only certain parts of the body are brought into play, so that the result is imperfect development.

In the Swedish system a fair amount of apparatus work is done, but it is judiciously mingled with the other exercises in order to prevent these bad effects.

So that, in summing up, we find that the Swedish system of gymnastics has many good results. The pupils learn self-control (which in these days of increasing hysteria ought not to be neglected), and courage, while determination and self-respect are both increased. The pupils learn to take good postures in sitting and standing, so that the chances of spinal curvature developing are greatly lessened. In this system, the body is developed as a whole; that is, no one part is developed at the expense of, perhaps, more important parts; but each part is developed in its relation to the rest of the body. By this method we do not, of course, produce renowned athletes; we do not aim to do so, but merely to produce, as far as possible, an harmonious whole, and to enable our pupils to attain more perfect health than they otherwise would enjoy.

Typed by happi, Oct 2019; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020