Chapter XI


  The bright hours fly by; and there is still at least one lesson on the programme, to say nothing of an hour or two for games in the afternoon. The thought of a lesson is uninviting after the discussion of much that is more interesting, and, truly, more important; but it need only be a little lesson, ten minutes long, and the slight break and the effort of attention will give the greater zest to the pleasure and leisure to follow.

          The French Lesson.—The daily French lesson is that which should not be omitted. That children should learn French orally, by listening to and repeating French words and phrases; that they should begin so young that the difference of accent does not strike them, but they repeat the new French word all the same as if it were English and use it as freely; that they should learn a few—two or three, five or six—new French words daily, and that, at the same time, the old words should be kept in use—are points to be considered more fully hereafter: in the meantime, it is so important to keep tongue and
ear familiar with French vocables, that not a lesson should be omitted. The French lesson may, however, be made to fit in with the spirit of the other out-of-door occupations; the half-dozen words may be the parts—leaves, branches, bark, trunk of a tree, or the colours of the flowers, or the movements of bird, cloud, lamb, child; in fact, the new French words should be but another form of expression for the ideas that for the time fill the child’s mind.

          Noisy Games.—The afternoon’s games, after luncheon, are an important part of the day’s doings for the elder children, though the younger have probably worn themselves out by this time with the ceaseless restlessness by means of which Nature provides for the due development of muscular tissue in them; let them sleep in the sweet air, and awake refreshed. Meanwhile, the elders play; the more they run, and shout, and toss their arms, the more healthful is the play. And this is one reason why mothers should carry their children off to lonely places, where they may use their lungs to their hearts’ content without risk of annoying anybody. The muscular structure of the organs of voice is not enough considered; children love to indulge in cries and shouts and view-halloos, and this ‘rude’ and ‘noisy’ play, with which their elders have not much patience, is no more than Nature’s way of providing for the due exercise of organs, upon whose working power the health and happiness of the child’s future largely depend. People talk of ‘weak lungs,’ ‘weak chest,’ ‘weak throat,’ but perhaps it does not occur to everybody that strong lungs and strong throat are commonly to be had on the same terms as a strong arm or wrist—by exercise, training, use, work. Still,
if the children can ‘give voice’ musically, and move rhythmically to the sound of their own voices, so much the better. In this respect French children are better off than English; they dance and sing through a hundred roundelays—just such games, no doubt, mimic marryings and buryings, as the children played at long ago in the market-place of Jerusalem.

          ‘Rondes.’—Before Puritan innovations made us a staid and circumspect people, English lads and lasses of all ages danced out little dramas on the village green, accompanying themselves with the words and airs of just such rondes as the French children sing to-day. We have a few of them left still—to be heard at Sunday-school treats and other gatherings of the children,—and they are well worth preserving: ‘There came three dukes a-riding, a-riding, a-riding’; ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s’; ‘Here we come gathering nuts in May’; ‘What has my poor prisoner done?’ and many more, all set to delightful sing-song airs that little feet trip to merrily, the more so for the pleasant titillation of the words—dukes, nuts, oranges,—who could not go to the tune of such ideas?
          The promoters of the kindergarten system have done much to introduce games of this, or rather of a more educational kind; but is it not a fact that the singing games of the kindergarten are apt to be somewhat inane? Also, it is doubtful how far the prettiest plays, learnt at school and from a teacher, will take hold of the children as do the games which have been passed on from hand to hand through an endless chain of children, and are not to be found in the print-books at all.

          Skipping-rope and Shuttlecock.—Cricket, tennis, and rounders are the games par excellence if the children are old enough to play them, both as giving free harmonious play to the muscles, and also as serving the highest moral purpose of games in bringing the children under the discipline of rules; but the little family we have in view, all of them under nine, will hardly be up to scientific games. Races and chases, ‘tig,’ ‘follow my leader,’ and any romping game they may invent, will be more to their minds: still better are the hoop, the ball, the shuttlecock, and the invaluable skipping-rope. For the rope, the very best use is for each child to skip with her own, throwing it backwards rather than forwards, so that the tendency of the movement is to expand the chest. Shuttlecock is a fine game, affording scope for ambition and emulation. Her biographer thinks it worth telling that Miss Austen could keep up in ‘cup and ball’ over a hundred times, to the admiration of nephews and nieces; in like manner, any feat in keeping up the shuttlecock might be noted down as a family event, so that the children may be fired with ambition to excel in a game which affords most graceful and vigorous play to almost every muscle of the upper part of the body, and has this great recommendation, that it can be as well played within doors as without. Quite the best play is to keep up the  shuttlecock with a battledore in each hand, so that the muscles on either side are brought equally into play. But to ‘ordain’ about children’s games is an idle waste of words, for here fashion is as supreme and as arbitrary as in questions of bonnet or crinoline.

          Climbing.—Climbing is an amusement not much in favour with mothers; torn garments, bleeding knees,
and boot-toes rubbed into holes, to say nothing of more serious risks, make a strong case against this form of delight. But, truly, the exercise is so admirable—the body being thrown into endless graceful postures which bring every muscle into play,—and the training in pluck, daring, and resource so invaluable, that it is a pity trees and cliffs and walls should be forbidden even to little girls. The mother may do a good deal to avert serious mishaps by accustoming the younger children to small feats of leaping and climbing, so that they learn, at the same time, courage and caution from their own experiences, and are less likely to follow the lead of too-daring playmates. Later, the mother had best make up her mind to share the feelings of the hen that hatched a brood of ducklings, remembering that a little scream, a sharp and sudden ‘Come down instantly!’ ‘Tommy, you’ll break your neck!’ gives the child a nervous shock, and is likely to cause the fall it was meant to hinder by startling Tommy out of all presence of mind. Even boating and swimming are not without the reach of town-bred children, in days when everybody goes for a summer outing to the neighbourhood of the sea or of inland waters; and then, there are swimming-baths in most towns. It would be well if most children of seven were taught to swim, not only for the possible usefulness of the art, but as giving them an added means of motion, and, therefore, of delight.

          Clothing.—The havoc of clothes need not be great if the children are dressed for their little excursions, as they should be, in plainly made garments of some loosely woven woollen material, serge or flannel. Woollen has many advantages over cotton, and more
over linen, as a clothing material; chiefly, that it is a bad conductor; that is to say, it does not allow the heat of the body too free an exit, nor the heat of the sun too free an entrance. Therefore the child in woollen, who has become heated in play, does not suffer a chill from the sudden loss of this heat, as does the child in linen garments; also, he is cooler in the sunshine, and warmer in the shade.

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