The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Suggestions for Holiday Amusements

by E. [Ellen] A. Parish.
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 366-373

["Holiday" refers to vacations when students are home from school, not necessarily just Christmas.]

I have come to speak to you with great diffidence, feeling that in all matters you, as mothers, must know by experience what I can only know by theory.

But armed with the fact that I have for two years had the privilege of living under Miss Mason's roof, I am hoping that, by telling you some of the things she has told me, I may be able to help you a little. I have been asked to give some suggestions about holiday amusements and occupations. Such a question covers so much ground that I must confine myself to one part of it.

However, amusements, strictly speaking, are the same everywhere and must be regulated by the conditions in which children are placed. They include games such as cricket, football, tennis, hockey, etc., which, beyond the sheer delight they give to all enthusiastic players, and the healthy exercise they afford, are also very valuable from an educational point of view, training the quick eye and active limb, teaching prompt obedience to recognised rules and instilling that ingrained sense of honour which is so characteristic of most school-boys, and of girls who are allowed free exercise in such games.

But while fully acknowledging the value of all these games, it seems impossible not to see that there is a great danger attached. Children are inclined to think that games are the only joys with which they can fill their free time. The instant work is finished, they rush off to their cricket or football, and when they have tired themselves out with that, they just kick their heels till bed-time. This idea does not lessen as they grow up; games are then supplemented by sport and other amusements—all very well in their way, but hopelessly unsatisfying to the adult mind.

How frequent it is to hear both young men and young women complaining that life is so dull, so slow. How constantly one hears the mother's complaint that, now her daughters have left school, they waste their time.

What we want to do for the children is to provide for them such a multiplicity of interests, that they will estimate their leisure according to its just value and realize that holidays are really precious moments, that must be made the most of.

The usual custom of devoting a quarter of the year to holidays, points to the fact that this is far too great a share of a child's life to be frittered away in objectless amusement.

Besides, parents have to face the fact that as soon as school-life has begun for their children, and especially in the case of boarding schools, these holidays are the sole time they have to depend on for the most valuable part of education —that of home education.

It seems advisable, then, that they should strive to make each holiday a really profitable as well as delightful time to their children.

It would be good if, in looking back to childhood, we could number a fresh step forward with each holiday spent with our parents.

Mothers are apt to look forward to holidays with very mixed feelings; they long to have their children back with them, but they dread the days which are sure to come when Dick, having nothing to do, will quarrel with Mary, and when the baby boy will be led into mischief by his older brother.

It is not possible, neither is it desirable, that parents should devote every minute of the holidays to amusing their children. What they want to do is to suggest interests so that the thing most desired for will be time to carry out many cherished plans.

I think it would be a good plan if children could learn to look on their holidays as something of their own, and then, as is the case with all good things that come to one, be prepared to share them with other people.

In this way. School work leaves so little leisure for girls or boys to be occupied with anything beyond their immediate school duties, and these become more and more absorbing as they get older. This is quite right, because the main object of school days is to enable one to become acquainted with those things which make life worth living and enable us to make the lives of others fuller and happier. But in acquiring this knowledge, there is little leisure left to think of other people, and this is a great danger in this egotistical age.

Would it not then be an excellent thing to assume, as a matter or course, that a certain proportion of each holiday should be set aside for the benefit of other people, in working for missions, for the poor, or for the children's hospitals; the object is not of much moment, provided the aim be a little self-denial for the sake of others. Perhaps a series of entertainments could be organised for the amusement of the village children; or a little girl who enjoys her handicrafts classes at school, might like to show a friend less fortunately situated than herself, how she makes her baskets.

It is nice when children realise their power of brightening the family circle, and are consequently ready to provide pleasant surprises in a variety of ways, which all speak of unselfish affection.

In this way, the habit of recognising the duty of serving others will be formed, and the habit will increase as the capacity for usefulness increases. We members of the P.N.E.U. all recognise the power of habit, how repeated action leads to the unconscious performance of the same, and how repeated thought becomes a habit of mind which can influence the whole career.

Thus, during early years, the habit of unselfishness can be formed which will be strong enough to combat this egotistical age, and outbalance the result of looking after one's own interest, which is so much a necessity at school.

I presume that the education of boys and girls almost universally comprises some handicraft. Let this be turned to account during the holidays in making objects suitable either for sales or for presents. These must be well made and saleable, nothing in the form of a makeshift must be tolerated for a moment. But I think you will find that this plan will produce a good deal of original and spontaneous work which will give great satisfaction to the producers, and, by enabling them to realize the practical use of their handicraft classes, send them back to them with renewed zeal.

A boy may take lessons at a carpenter's bench for a long time without valuing his opportunities, till he has seen how the knowledge he has gained there enables him to make a bookcase for his mother, and a new kitchen table for his old nurse.

A little girl has found her Sloyd training decidedly irksome till she has discovered she can make practically any useful frame, box, or stand she wishes, by joining her Sloyd training to her common sense.

What children need is not so much to have occupation procured for them, as to get inspiring ideas which will busy them in pursuit of some object which their own ingenuity will teach them to use all their acquirements in following.

It is during the holidays that children have time to realize not only what they have learned, but why they learned it. But even here it needs the guidance of the parents before they can discover it.

With this object in view, the occupation of the holidays must in some wise carry on the work of the term, and to this end the parents must be prepared to follow the term's work in order to be ready to present those ideas which will fire the enthusiasm of their children.

For instance. We take it for granted that reading aloud shall form one of the delights of all holidays, summer and winter, and a pastime in which every member of the family circle takes part, from the oldest to the youngest who is able to read at all.

The importance of good reading cannot be too highly estimated, and nothing helps so much to produce it as this delightful custom of family reading, where it is felt that the pleasure of the circle depends on the power of the reader to give, pleasantly and naturally, what he is himself gaining from the book.

To have a good book in hand in this way provides material for conversation, and the various characters, by being discussed (and discussed with the wonderful insight of children), become living people, never to be forgotten by them. Let, then, the choice of the book or books for the holidays be guided by the work of the term.

Those children who have the privilege of belonging to the P.R.S. [Parents' Review School]will already have read some book in connection with their history during the term, but it would be most profitable to enlarge upon this by choosing a fresh historical novel dealing with the same period, and by reading some good book of travel which will take them over the ground they have visited during the term. I believe if we consider what historical characters are most living to us and what foreign countries most real, we shall recognise that they are those with which we were made familiar during our childhood, not by our lessons, but by the enchanting books we read about them.

Another point which seems to me of great importance; Do give your children the benefit of the light Shakespeare throws upon his historical characters. Watch their school course and see that they read the plays as they study the period. Let this reading be a great event. By dint of a little trouble beforehand all the characters can be made to fit in so as to be taken by different members of the family and it will be found a source of great enjoyment.

Of course, where children are sufficiently advanced it is most enjoyable to look forward every holiday to reading a French or German classic, they will be encouraged to find that they read every book more easily than the last. The difficulty, of course, is to find really interesting books which it is desirable for them to read, but, as is the case with all literature, the very best can do no harm, and beyond that, there are a great many simple and beautiful French tales which will provide really profitable reading.

It will greatly increases the delight and interest of children in their geology classes if some holiday excursions can be anticipated which will illustrate the points they are taking. Of course, this is not always possible, but where it is, the opportunity should not be neglected. We want the holidays to furnish continual proof of the utility and reality of what is being done in class. What a help it would be to the teacher to know that she is in every respect working with the parents and that there is no gulf fixed between lessons and holiday hours, because each can serve to make the other more enjoyable.

If children have collections which are not entirely in order, to classify them properly and arrange them in a museum will occupy many a wet day.

If they are being educated at home or go to a day school, it is very nice for them to have gardens. A botanical garden with beds devoted to certain orders affords an immense amount of pleasure and instruction, and interest is added to walks when there is the hope of finding a fresh plant for the garden. A vegetable garden, which really produces peas and beans for dinner, or salad and other delicacies, is another great source of satisfaction. I think a course of cookery could offer a very pleasurable occupation for the winter holidays for girls of almost any age, and I am not at all sure that brothers would not enter into it with equal zest. Many simple recipes can be learned without great expense and it is certainly a most useful acquirement.

Those who are fortunate enough to possess a good oil stove will be able to do their cooking in the schoolroom, and this obviates all the trouble which is occasioned by any trespassing in the kitchen.

Another excellent interest for the winter is the existence of the family scientific society of which each member undertakes a different subject, and reads a paper or gives lectures to the assembled family.

Then some fresh handicraft may be taken up during the winter holidays. Elementary bookbinding seems to me one of the most delightful, and requires care and patience more than any great skill. Of course, a training in Cardboard Sloyd is an invaluable help towards clean and neat work in bookbinding, and where that is not given in school, it should be given as a preparatory course during some holidays.

Linoleum chip carving is very simple, and though not particularly artistic, it is of value in so far that it affords ample opportunity for original design, and work which is carried out entirely according to their own taste has great fascination for children.

Carton work also lends itself to original work, and a whole doll's house can be furnished with carton work by dint of a little thought and patience. It is wonderful what children will produce by themselves if once they are started on the right track.

Basket work is a delightful occupation either for summer or winter holidays, and this can be varied by chair caning; the boy is proud who can cane his mother's bedroom chairs, and it is quite possible to do this with perfect neatness.

I need not go into the advantages of clay modeling, which is sure to be taught at school.

Scrap-books form a pleasant pastime for younger children and are always acceptable gifts at Christmas time. Part singing will pass many a pleasant evening hour.

Of course, physical exercise must not be forgotten. Swimming, rowing, boxing, fencing—let some new exercises be learned each holiday, girls need them every bit as much as boys, perhaps more, because their natural inclination to movement is less pronounced than in boys and because less school time is generally devoted to games and exercises during school time than is the case with boys.

Holidays afford time for expeditions to places of archaeological, architectural, historical or literary interest in the neighbourhood; the subject must, of course, be read up beforehand. I think that where it is possible this idea might be further developed by devoting the summer holiday trip to some fresh district or country every year and there making a somewhat detailed study of the district, hunting up all points of interest, noticing the physical features, making rough sketch maps of the hills, rivers, etc., noticing the most striking points about the scenery, sketching the parts which please the most, and seeking their cause as affected by geological formation, etc. What a gold mine of interest is here provided.

Then, ample occupation is always at the disposal of those who are interested in Nature study, because it is quite endless. During the Christmas holidays the children have to notice the bare trees, and recognise then in that condition as oak, elm, sycamore, and this is no easy matter for a beginner. However, they settle what they think they are, and wait to see. They notice bark, branching, and leaf buds, how they are situated, &c. The Easter holidays show various developments, the buds are swelling and some few opening. Here and there are blossoms, as on the wych elm, hazel, and various willows. In the summer holidays the trees are in full foliage, and finally the fruit appears. The children describe these various stages in their Nature note books, and make sketches of them in brush drawing, indifferently at first, but always better as time goes on.

Then they can keep a flower list, noting the flowers they find in each month; and a bird list, stating when the first migrants are seen or heard, when the nesting begins, &c. Indeed, a diary can be kept, wherein is entered anything about Nature which has attracted notice. This is illustrated by brush drawings, which give great pleasure in the doing, and also bring to our notice the special features of different flowers or fruits. Of course the Nature note books are only the outward expression of the beautiful work which goes on in the child's mind; work which goes on without books or any help other than the actual facts before him and the vivifying influence of the pure air.

He needs nothing but to have his thoughts turned into this channel, and then to be left to himself. Just a hint here and there from one who is in sympathy with his interests is all he needs, and we may be sure he will ask when he wants the benefit of our experience. Even then it is best to guide him to find out the answer for himself as far as possible, for one of the great gains of Nature study is that it teaches the art of seeing, and a boy or girl who is keen to observe what Nature so liberally offers will not be slow in putting two and two together over any matter.

It is unlikely that a child, who has gained a real love for Nature work, will let it drop during term time, because it is a thing which grows unconsciously, making the world always larger and more fair and interesting to him. At first these suggestions may seem inclined to trench on the freedom and careless light-heartedness which we all want the children to enjoy during their holidays.

But children must think and children must act; so that it is no harder for them to think and act profitably than unprofitably, and we know the difference between the employed and the unemployed children.

All that is meant is, that children should have suitable ideas given to keep them happily busy, always allowing a large margin for entire freedom, when they may do "just exactly what they like."

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, November 2008