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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

Play and Games as Education

Play and Games as Education.

Dr Truby King made a most thoughtful speech at the meeting of the Free Kindergarten Association. As to the working of the kindergarten system, he said that the way had been cleared for him by Dr Nisbet's remarks, by Mrs Revnolds's letter, and by his own recent lecture in favor of kindergarten methods. He need not dilate on the good results shown by the method in Dunedin. But he might say a few words with regard to the general position occupied by the kindergarten system—a few words by way of criticism, which, he was sure, would be taken as friendly by that audience. They recognised, of course, that education in the early part of the nineteenth century was in a very deplorable condition, and they recognised that owing to the work of Pestalozzi and Froebel attention was first drawn markedly to the fact that care must be given to young children.. Up to that time—that was to say, in the history of education recent at that page 69 time, for in the distant past there had been rational education—up to that time, then, children had not been regarded as interesting or worthy of consideration for iucational purposes until they had reached a stage at which they could be crammed with Latin grammar.

Children's Rights.

It was really Froebel and Pestalozzi who first drew practical attention to the fact that the infant and the child had their rights. (Hear, hear.) Now, Froebel saw entirely ahead of his time; he had a wonderful mental vision, and he recognised thing that it was impossible for the people of his own day to recognise. But if Froebel lived now he would see certain other things which had been discovered since his actual period, and he would be the first to grasp these new ideas, and to avail himself of them. One of the greatest discoveries of our time was the law of ontogenesis—the law which laid down the principle that all beings had to pass through in their individual lives all the stages passed through in the history of the race to which they belonged. The full bearing of this law it was impossible for anyone who had not thoroughly considered it to grasp. It furnished one of the most momentous issues with regard to the question of education. Take it with regard to the matter of play. At one time play was simply and absolutely regarded as a sheer waste of time. Now that was precisely what play not.—(Hear, hear.)

The Evolution of Play.

Play was the natural expression of the highest capabilities of the young individual in all the higher races. It was not peculiar to man. One might gauge the height to which different classes of animal beings had risen according to the degree in which they had developed the play-instinct. It was pointed out by Dr Woods-Hutchison and other high authorities that in the grades of life below the birds there were practically no play-instincts. If the birds were taken and divided into their classes, it would be found that the more primitive birds had practically no play-instinct, whereas the higher birds developed it Considerably. Take birds on a comparatively low plane in our own country—birds like the moa and kiwi—or take domestic poultry—hens, ducks, or geese, These birds, which made their rough nests on the ground, and had never developed such ingenuity as was essential to birds living in trees, had no play-instinct. A chick was born full-fledged, with all the necessary faculties, and straightway went to work to peck and provide for itself—born ready-made, as it were. But with the higher birds, especially such as under human tuition developed powers of speech—birds such as parrots—there was great development of the play-instinct. Such birds when young rehearsed, as it Mere, the parts they were to play in mature life. They had to learn the qualities necessary to them in after-life, and Nature saw to it that they obtained 6uch instruction in the most pleasurable way possible. The young birds enjoyed instruction, and that was the natural process.—(Applause.) That was one of the things the genius of Froebel pointed out—that all instruction properly conducted should be enjoyable to the infant. When they got above the birds it was found that the play-instinct asserted itself as a more and more essential, specialised, and conspicuous feature in the lives of the higher members of each successive genus. For these facts he relied greatly on Dr Woods-Hutchinson, who had kept animals Under observation all his life, and was not a young man. Dr Woods-Hutchinson kept marsupials, and saw very little of the play instinct in them. But in puppies and kittens the instinct was strongly marked, and could at once be recognised. When they saw a kitten rushing round and pouncing at its own tail or springing on the old cat, the kitten was obviously pursuing just such a course of training as would fit it for mature life in the open. It was getting the best possible training in the most thoroughly enjoyable way. The contests it had with the older cat, the buffets it got in the face, and the occasional harder encounters were all assisting it to qualify for the contests which were to take place on the roofs later on, when the male cats should struggle for supremacy.—(Laughter and applause.) The bearing of all this was obvious. They found as they went along the series of life that the play-instinct became a more and more important and dominant factor. In man it reached its utmost development. They found not only development of the play-instinct in little children, but also in the games for boys and girls, and in the later forms of play that all men had to exercise if they did not wish to go under—the play that was known by the name of recreation. He would quote a passage from Dr Woods-Hutchinson, because to some of them it might be somewhat new:—"The child of to-day is not born in the twentieth cen- page 70 tury, but in the Glacial Epoch, on the edge of the receding ice-sheet. It is not born an Anglo-Saxon, but a cave-dweller. Its mind is contemporary with the mammoth. Hence its earliest play-instincts seem to have no practical bearing whatever. The child's mind begins where that of the race did, and passes through absolutely parallel stages in its development. From this point of view all the child's plays become strikingly prophetic and rehearsal in character." They all knew that in the earliest stages of childhood the child tried everything it came across by the one arbitrament of its sense of taste. It put everything into its mouth. It would not accept assurances; it must gain its own experiences in its own way. From that stage it went on to another, in which it delighted to touch, handle, and play with everything it came across. Next every possible cover suggested an ambush from which to pounce out and pretend to devour or to be devoured; and so on. As development proceeded further play tended to become more and more organised and purposeful, passing in succession from mere play—e.g., with blocks, sand, or skipping-rope—to competitive group games (such as hide-and-seek or marbles), on to complex co-operative group games (such as cricket or football).

Games a Part of Education.

Dr Woods-Hutchinson says : "Exercise is literally the mother of the brain. . . . Every play and sport worth the name develops not merely strength, endurance, and fleetness but also alertness, quickness of response, coolness, balance, wariness, and judgment that is both sound and swift. Games are a valuable part of education in the widest sense. . . . It is even impossible to draw the line precisely where physical education ends and mental development begins. . . . When the child plays it is literally organising its brain. . Is it wise to regard play simply as an interlude in the serious work of education? . . . Why not frankly recognise that when the boy or girl is engaged in vigorous, joyous play, he or she is carrying out an important part of the actual work of education."

Granting that play and games are developmental rehearsals—fundamental necessities for the proper growth of the being—we have no right to ignore these traditions received from past generations. The best and safest way to train a child is to keep to the broad lines laid down by Nature. That was precisely the kindergarten system.—(Hear, hear.)

In dealing with children one should always bear in mind the child's restricted field of observation and lack of be queathed knowledge. The child's interpretation of phenomena was usually natural, simple, and direct, and was worthy of thoughtful attention, however absurd the conclusions arrived at might seem in the light of a wider knowledge and experience. As parents, they were much inclined to look upon many of the sagest remarks of children as being devoid of sense, silly, and trivial. Every time parents and elders did that they showed ignorance of the nature of child-hood.—(Hear, hear.) He gave instances showing the force of this argument, and illustrated the ineffectiveness of the present education system by a statement of his experiences in asking boys in the State schools if they had any real idea what air was.

Air and Light.

He repeated his frequent pleas for more adequate provision of air and light in the dwellings of the people. Our children, he said, were not being taught the things they should be taught and could be taught, in the easiest way in the world. As the kindergarten school in Hanover street was being removed, he need not say anything as to that. He had only seen the place that day. There was not nearly enough air and light there, and air and light were so intensely important that they ought to be the first consideration. And as kindergartens generally, surely the ides of every garden in the world was that it should be in the open air. Children should have space to work in the open fine weather, with a sufficiency of grass and trees near by and heaps of sand and shells. When cover was necessary they could have it. They should word in their own way, always directed by as enthusiastic and benevolent teacher. He had taken the trouble to inquire how many games children here play, and when he contrasted that with the number played in Massachusetts and other parts of America he felt that we in Dunedin ought to be a little ashamed of ourselves in that respect. A young girl who had been suffering from melancholy at Seacliff had spent her earlier days without games. She had no idea of what to do with her off time. When she got home on Saturdays she worked. On Sunday after a week's work and confinement, she went to church all day—a most unfortunate thing for anyone in that position to do. Dr Nisbet would agree with him that cultivation of the soul without cultivation of the body was a bad things— page 71 (Rev. Dr Nisbet: Hear, hear.) He asked this girl is she ever engaged in the make-believe of playing at keeping school, which was one of the pastimes of American children. She said : "I should think not; I did not like it that much." There was a great deal of significance in that Froebel said that school life ought to be entirely interesting. At any rate, in New Zealand it could be made very much more interesting than it was now.—(Hear, hear.) There should either be extensive playgrounds at every school or the children should be taken to some public reserve for play and open-air training and occupation at least two or three times a week. His views might seem impossible or Utopian; but however Utopian they might seem, he, at any rate, confidence that they would be given effect to throughout all the schools of the colony within the next five years.—(Applause.)

[Dr Truby King has supplied us with the following detail in amplification of what he said yesterday at the Free Kindergarten meeting. He considered that, in the case of infants, facilities should be provided for mere play and the simplest games. For older children facilities for a wide range of games should be provided suited to the sex, age, strength and development of the various pupils. Commencing with the simplest associative games, children would work up to complex co-operative games, 6uch as hockey, cricket, football, etc. Dr King contends" that every school should have a proper extensive playground attached, and, where this is impossible, that pupils should be taken to a suitable space for the after-noon twice a week. To provide against wet weather a large rough canopy would be needed. On these two days there would be play, games, and gymnastics organised under the direction of the teachers. In the case of boys, the third afternoon could be devoted to gardening or manual or technical work or to cadet or volunteer exercises. For girls, the third afternoon could be devoted to cooking, sewing, and other domestic or manual work, gardening, etc. As an occasional alternative, particular after-noons could be spent in making excursions to the seaside for bathing, etc. The above would be regarded as a necessary part of the school curriculum, attendance of teachers and pupils being required in the same way as for ordinary school work. For kindergarten, open-air playground attached to school, with, if possible, some grass and trees, as well as gravel or asphalt. Heaps of sand, gravel, and sheila should be provided for children to dig and play with. Other accessories to be supplied were waste ends of wood from saw-mills, etc., also simple appliances for outdoor gymnastics, and rough, open shelter for broken weather. Every incentive to be given to teach in the open air and sunlight, and children to be encouraged to play naturally and spontaneously, the teachers giving hints or instructions where needed.]

Mr James Allen, M.H.R., agreed that there was still a great deal to be done for the nationalisation of our education system and in providing recreation grounds, and he thought it behoved all of them who had anything to do with the country's legislation to take to heart what had been said. He was perfectly persuaded that we were not on right lines, and the aid of the man of science was needed to solve the problem. He was quite sure that the Froebel system should be applied to all our schools. Finally, he eulogised the work that was being done by the kindergarten, and expressed the opinion that if the work were taken over by the State it would not be done so well as it was now, unless they secured that constant visitation and sympathy that was shown by the committee of ladies who now visited the schools.

Mr J. F. Arnold, M.H.R., joined with Dr Nisbet in the hope that the kindergarten principles would one day be carried right through the schools to the university. In the past the only persons regarded as qualified to speak on the education question were the experts, limited to teachers and Education Board members, and he welcomed the entrance of the man of science into the arena. It was high time that some new influence was brought to bear on the problem as to the best means of teaching our children. The thanks of the community were due to Dr King for calling attention to this very great question.