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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/467

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PHYSICAL TRAINING OF YOUNG CHILDREN.

ive application of gymnastic exercise will yield as readily to a distorting one. It is only when the frame has become mature and firmly set that such exercises can be applied without danger and to advantage; and that they are then useful when rightly applied can not be gainsaid.

These objections do not lie against floor exercises, or light gymnastics, which are not performed with fixed apparatus. In these, the child bends, stretches, and shifts his arms, legs, head, and body in various directions, at the command of the teacher, in measured rhythm. These motions are hygienically irreproachable. They do not exact any very intense muscular effort, or vicious attitude of the body, or abnormal use of the limbs. But even when performed in concert they are not recreations, and this is an extremely important matter with pupils whose brains are working to excess. They become exceedingly monotonous, and the child begins to perform them reluctantly, or learns to partly evade them. Although he can hardly escape going through the visible motion, he can easily avoid the muscular effort without which it is ineffective. The evasion may, it is true, be corrected by strict vigilance on the part of the teacher; but what becomes then of the distraction, of the mental relaxation which the pupil ought to find in his physical training? To compel one to the performance of the motions is no way to make him love his exercise. In this way the pupil finds in them, not a recreation, but a lesson additional to the others—a new burden. Now, recreation is not only a moral want of the child, but it is an important physical need, in so far as it furnishes a remedy for the nervous weakness and irritability that are induced by constant constraint, and helps to prevent disturbance of the equilibrium of the vital functions. Both of the gymnastic systems of physical education, therefore, lack the important essentials of being hygienic and recreative.

The prime fault of both these kinds of gymnastic exercise is that they are artificial. They were introduced for the praise-worthy purpose of supplying the want of natural exercise where that could not be obtained; but they have gone beyond this, and the notion has arisen that a child can not take proper exercise without going through an apprenticeship and being subjected to a method: the more complicated the method, and the more difficult the apprenticeship, the better the results that are anticipated. The elaborate gymnastics, which many regard as a kind of perfection of natural exercise, is, from the hygienic point of view, nothing but a make-shift when we can get no better means, but a poor substitute for the spontaneous gymnastics to which every child is naturally inclined. This instinctive exercise would amply suffice for the development of the body if the instinct was listened to every time it speaks, but social and scholar conditions do not per-