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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/469

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PHYSICAL TRAINING OF YOUNG CHILDREN

result from a complete physical education; and they assume that these superior qualities of the picked man, to be given the fullest vigor, should be cultivated from a tender age. They fall into the mistake, which is too often made in physical education, of not distinguishing between methods of development and perfecting processes. The physical education of the child, up to his fifteenth year, should have for its sole object to favor the growth of the body in all directions, particularly in height and weight; the perfecting of the structure of the organs, and the training of them by methodical exercise to a more complete performance, should come later on. The fourteenth year will be early enough to begin more energetic motions for hardening the flesh and developing the muscles. Till that age, physical education should especially aim to remove from the child all influences that may be in the way of the free expansion and growth of the body. Among these harmful influences are two of opposite character that produce nearly identical results—want of exercise, which makes the child emaciated, and excess of work, which stunts him.

This important distinction between developing and perfecting hygiene is well understood and observed by horse-trainers. They give colts nourishing food, free air, and room to gambol; and do not begin training them for work till they have acquired bodily growth and substance.

If natural gymnastics is enough for the animal, we may conclude from analogy that it would be amply sufficient for the child, if he had the conditions of space and time that are indispensable to the satisfaction of the instinct that impels him to exercise. When, then, the social conditions to which the child is subjected do not permit him to indulge in instinctive exercise, gymnastic methods as like as possible to those which instinct suggests should be sought for him.

The form of exercise that comes nearest to natural exercise is playing. It is nothing else than a more or less methodical regulation of the instinctive motions, such as every living being is prone to execute spontaneously when he feels the stress of the want of exercise. It may be called a natural exercise, for we see the young of every species of animals playing with one another, and may even observe their parents inciting them to play. The teaching of plays, which we find in all countries and ages, originates, we may suppose, in this tendency of the living being to educate his progeny physically by exciting him to enjoy himself in motion. Play, in the progress of civilization, has taken various forms, and has been subjected to methods that tend more and more to introduce into it an artificial element. Hence, sport has been developed from plays; the exercises called sports are in general simply plays that have taken a more methodical form, per-