The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by Lucy H. Yates
Volume 14, 1903, pgs. 785-789

The instinct of Play is strong to all young creatures,—one might indeed call it a "dominant idea" with both the human and the animal, but with the human it is almost equally an instinct to bring imagination into the play. And imagination has a wonderfully educative effect. If it is unwise to check imagination, it is disastrous to ridicule it, but this the unimaginative parent will generally strive to do. Children are not diminutive men and women; they live in a world of their own; if it is a world in which mistaken notions and ideals loom large, what matter?—they will all too soon fade into the light of common day. When disillusion comes, the charm of the play is invariably gone. An instance of this occurred the other day; a little girl was playing at draper 's shop, her mother taking the part of purchaser. Partly with the idea of adding to the fun, and partly to tease the child, the mother made remarks of a ridiculous character, but the child saw no humour in the inconsistency. "You know you never speak like that in a shop, mother," she said, and the whole attraction of the play vanished.

In the home, at any rate, it would be an advantage if we encouraged games that called out imagination, rather than such as call for active exertion. Children are many-sided beings, with undeveloped resources; they have not only arms and legs, eyes and ears, but senses of taste and touch, faculties of reasoning and speculating, of listening and criticising, all of which want bringing into use. To use a faculty is to obtain control of it, and as the aim in physical training is to gain freedom of movement and grace; so the sharpening-up of the faculties brings them under control and makes them ready for use.

Knowledge of the material world only reaches child through the doors and windows of the senses, and according as his powers of perception increase, so he is able to form correct judgements and add to his store of knowledge. There are some games admirable for assisting to train the senses—sight games, taste games, touch games and even the sense of smell can be quickened by playing blindfold games requiring objects to be detected by their odours.

In sight games, the motive is to distinguish the size, shape, length, width, and colour of different objects, and to describe them so that their kind can be told by others who do not see them. This is played by keeping all the players blindfolded save one who gives the description, but the play become much more keenly interesting when the "teller" is blindfolded as well. Similarly, sound games—to distinguish objects by their sound and locate them; the judgement will be based upon whether the sounds are loud or soft, high or low, far or near; the voices and footsteps of different persons are easily distinguished by tone and sound, but actions that are not seen are more difficult to describe. The attempts to do so will be as amusing as they are interesting.

Taste games are always popular, and, like those of sight and sound, they are played blindfold; the children will be asked to distinguish not only between sour and bitter, sweet, pungent, acid, and mild flavours, but between the more subtle differences of herbs and spices. The reward, of course, is to have a taste of a favourite morsel. The sense of smell is wonderfully elusive, and we soon learn how much sight has to do with our ability to detect odours. But an amusing game can be arranged by placing bits of cheese, onion, orange, coffee, pepper, spice, peppermint, camphor, and other sufficiently strong-scented things, at distances apart, and letting the children find them by the odour, then certain perfumes and spices of a fainter character can be learnt, and so on to the scent of flowers and fruits.

In the same way, we train the sense of touch by placing in a bag such objects as a lump of sugar, of salt, pieces of shell, of wood, stone, silk, cotton, woollen, balls of thread, of leather, etc., and small objects that are known familiarly by sight. Only one object at a time should be taken from the bag, and the name should be told at once, a correct guess being rewarded by an extra "dip."

The amount of actual information gained by games like these may not be great, but the training they give in perception and accuracy certainly is so. They bring into play faculties that have been comparatively dormant when outdoor games and physical drill occupied the attention. Older people, who have a taste for games of skill like chess and draughts, cribbage and puzzles, are virtually bearing out the same principle.

Our modern ideas as to the value of play are based upon all that was good in the ancient games, but we go a step beyond the Greeks, for, whereas they prized beauty of face and symmetry of figure, they do not appear to have thought much of the graces of character, nor did their games tend to draw out moral qualities. With the Romans it was the same, their delight was in show of skill and gymnastic feats. But later generations have both educated play, and made play a part of education. While skill and agility are still greatly admired, everybody acknowledges that the playing fields are training ground for chivalrous forbearance, consideration of others, courtesy and courage. The honour of a school and the manners of a house are as much at stake in the playground as they are in any other arena.

Some games are more valuable than others because they help to concentrate attention, others again because they demand quickness of observation. Pestalozzi said, "observation is the basis of all knowledge," but to observation we generally need to add concentration. Take the game of tennis; for example, to be a good tennis player one must be quick at sight, quick to gauge where a ball will fall so as not to miss the stroke; and to quick sight must be added a steady hand and alert mind. Because tennis calls out the faculties of sight, reason, and judgement, we call it a game of skill, and rightly so.

Cricket calls out the same faculties and adds to these a vigorous muscular exercise that develops the arms and legs. There is no radical reason why girls should not play cricket if they enjoy it, provided the ball is light enough for them to wield it easily, although, on the whole, tennis equals cricket in the matter of exercise. Most boys' games, when brought into use for girls, are apt to turn into games of skill rather than of physical prowess. From the boy's point of view, they degenerate on this account, and if he is not quite correct he is at least perfectly just in condemning the subterfuges girls sometimes employ in their effort to compete with him. And there are many games and sports in which girls and boys can join on equal terms, as also men and women, without involving competition that is unfair to one side or the other. There is hockey, golf, croquet, fives, rounders—all these are games of skill and all require the same qualities of character, frankness, forbearance, fair-play, and confidence in others, as well as self-reliance. Games that are played with balls, like badminton, are excellent for training the eye and strengthening the arm; but we can hardly include amongst them that degenerate latter-day production—ping pong! Better by far is the old-fashioned play of battledore and shuttlecock. Rousseau, indeed, says of this last, "When a child plays at shuttlecock he trains his eye and arm in accuracy; but when he whips a top he increases his strength without learning anything else . . . To spring from one end of the ball to the other, to estimate the bound of a ball while still in the air, to send it back with strong and steady hand—such sports serve to train a youth."

In infancy and early childhood the play of the child when left to itself seems largely an outlet for superfluous energy, but it quickly alters its character when imagination begins to enter in and control it. It is at this stage that an older person may do so much to help and encourage. The eager request, "Do come and play with me," means that the child wants not so much your company—children are rarely lonely—as that it wants the stimulus of another mind and the help of another imagination.

Later on we notice the character of the plays that are chosen alters; the alteration has nothing to do with whims and fancies, it is a natural development. It would be as unnatural for a boy or girl of sixteen and seventeen to play as a child of six or seven does as for a grown person to behave as a child behaves. Again, when a man or woman enters into a game they go about it in quite a different way to that which a child sets about it, and if they did not, we should be inclined to credit them with a deficiency of intellect. That this is a truth we realise, when an illustration of it, such as that which came under the notice of the writer of some Irish studies, occurs. The studies are of a village in Ireland where the inhabitants, young and old, all appear to be children. No one seems to reason about things, but while, in the young children, this unforeseenness has a certain charm, in the old it becomes ridiculous even whilst it is pathetic. An old woman, named Gubinet, is watched playing in the streets with the children the time-honoured game of "pickle." The writer says, "It is a game requiring much hopping and skipping over chalk lines, great watchfulness, and a loud insistent voice to claim one's rights. Of all the Inisdoyle pickle players, the loudest and most active was Gubinet. Strangers thought it a queer and uncanny thing to see the little, withered old woman, hopping, yelling, and quarrelling with the children, but the children skipped and yelled and fought back, quite unconscious that she was not one of themselves. The game almost invariably wound up in a violent squabble, whereas Gubinet hastily rubbed out the chalk squares and left the play in a passion of anger."

Play is without a doubt a part of education, and as such it advances with the years, and this does not in any way prevent it being the relaxation for both mind and body that we all feel it should be, or interfere with the impulse to find enjoyment therein, which is form the first our dominant idea with regard to it.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, August 2008