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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/835

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FREE PLAY IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

FREE PLAY IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION.
By M. FERNAND LAGRANGE.

To all the dangers that threaten the health of the child in existing systems of education, the best and only remedy to oppose is the regular practice of physical exercises. This remedy can, however, be efficacious only provided the exercises are well chosen and applied according to a rational method. Here we meet a serious difficulty in the fact that many persons do not appreciate the importance of the choice of a method, and are hostile to changes in the systems already adopted. "It is contended," once said a university dignitary in our presence, "that our children should take exercise, because hygiene requires it. But what bearing has it on their health to make them march this way and that way, play at the bars, or perform in a trapeze? Select for them the most convenient exercise to apply, and the problem of physical education will be by so much simplified."

In order that the reader may judge intelligently concerning the controverted question of the choice of a method of physical education, it is indispensable to cast at least a rapid glance upon the different forms of usual exercises, and to compare their tendencies and spirit. The immense number of bodily exercises, which it is impossible to describe here or even to enumerate in full, may be referred, if we regard their spirit rather than their details, to two methods—the natural and artificial. Exercises in the former method are inspired by instinct, and demand movements very similar to those which one would execute spontaneously if he were left to himself. The method is called play, and constitutes a kind of regulation of acts to which the human being is naturally inclined. The child, for instance, has a natural inclination to walk, jump, run, and throw whatever he has in his hand, and attention has been turned to give the execution of all these acts a purpose that shall make them interesting.

The other method of exercise, called gymnastics, proceeds in a different way. It is more scientific and systematic than play. It does not start from the observation of the instinctive tendencies of the human being, but from the study of the conformation of his body. It does not say the child is disposed to walk, jump, and throw stones; let us therefore give it opportunity to perform all these acts. But the body is divided into so many articulations and contains so many muscles; let us move each of these joints in turn, bring each of these muscles successively into play, in order that all the constituent parts of the human machine may receive their quota of exercise. Gymnastics proper, basing itself on knowledge of the anatomy of the human body, has devised more or less ingeni-