Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/468

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
452
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

mit this. The instinctive desire, repressed too often, becomes weakened, and finally disappears. The body accommodates itself to a sedentary life, and the insufficiency of exercise finally induces muscular indolence and an inert habit. The teacher of gymnastics would not be needed if the pupil had the privilege every day, for a sufficient time, of a large space, and liberty to amuse himself in it.

Why, then, erect halls and apparatus if we can have the privilege of a spacious sward or a garden with broad walks? While gymnastic apparatus may be useful where there is not room to provide other means, what is to be said of heads of families having ample spaces in the country, with all desired conditions for natural gymnastics, who go to the trouble of constructing gymnasiums for their children? The tendency to look for the best misses its mark nowhere more sadly than in the physical education of the child, when it prefers complicated processes to natural methods, and neglects the best hygienic means as too simple or insufficient. In the belief that the child can not take proper exercise without apparatus, when no apparatus is at hand no exercise is taken. He must have a special master for the exercise, and his taking it is made to depend on the master—to such an extent, that no one in the family thinks of the child's doing anything outside of the regulation lessons.

Instinctive gymnastics is, from the hygienic point of view, the best adapted to the regular development of the child. It is not liable to any of the objections we have brought against gymnastics with apparatus. It can not deform the body, for it is made up of spontaneous movements, and conformed to the natural office of each limb. It does not localize the work in a particular region of the body, for all the limbs are instinctively invited to take their quota of exercise; and it does not seduce the child into efforts touching upon the limits of his strength. Instinct also invites him to the kind of work which is best adapted to his particular aptitudes for resisting fatigue. He has a natural disposition to perform light but frequently recurring acts, quick motions, which put him out of breath, while exercises with apparatus rather exact slow and intense efforts that bring on local fatigue. Now, all observers have noticed the wonderful facility with which a child recovers his breath, and his impatience of local fatigue. Finally, natural exercise, being the satisfaction of a want, is by that very fact a pleasure; and joy shines in the face of the child who is playing freely.

The partisans of artificial gymnastics object to this method that it does not give in mature age the great muscular force, the capacity to bear fatigue, and the refined dexterity of movements—the various athletic and acrobatic qualities, in short, that should