Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/837

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FREE PLAY IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

cise, because exercise was presented to them in the wrong way, under an arid and difficult form.

Thus, our artificial methods of gymnastics are not favorable to the physical education of children, because they are athletic and not hygienic methods. They look especially for strong subjects to make champions of them, when a good hygiene should look for weak subjects to make strong ones of them. We must not forget that the weak form the large majority of the children of the present generation. Our children, so precocious now in their mental development, are far behind in their bodily growth. They need methods of education adapted to their weak physical aptitudes. This is the capital fault of artificial and difficult methods; they do not bring exercise within the reach of children. They are, properly speaking, methods of "selection." They subject children to a sort of trial, taking the strongest to make athletes of them, but leaving the weakest, or the great majority, delivered to all the physical and moral woes that are derived from want of exercise.

It is obvious that difficult exercises can not be recreative. This is still a great reproach to our gymnastics when we undertake to apply it to children subjected to school work, and who have so great need of amusement and distraction in the intervals between their studies. It is not a relaxation that the brain of the child can find in these methodical exercises, but one lesson more added to so many others. Among the movements of our gymnastics, those which are not hard enough to discourage the child by a long apprenticeship are so destitute of interest that they repel by their monotony. Such, for example, are the "floor" exercises. Forty children ranged in three lines wait with erect body and fixed eye the command of the master. Then all together, at his order, turn the head, first to the right, then to the left. They count aloud one, two, three; and, while counting, extend their arms, bend them, raise them, drop them; then the legs have their turn, and finally the trunk and loins. All these motions are very hygienic; but where is there a place for transport and joy in that cold discipline that fixes the features and effaces the smile, in those insipid gestures of which the slightest distraction would destroy the grouping? Yet, to the pupil, pleasure is not only a moral satisfaction, it is a hygienic element indispensable to his health. Under the influence of constraint and weariness the vital functions languish, nutrition is retarded, the nervous centers grow torpid. To impose on a child exercises in which he will find no pleasure is more than a want of solicitude—it is an offense against hygiene.

All methods of physical education must reckon with the necessity of giving some kind of attraction to the movements, even