A well-balanced body is a favourable condition of a well-balanced mind, and although, in exceptional cases, genius dwells in misshapen bodies, it is, found that in most cases there is correlation between mind and body.
Maternal instinct, generally suggests exercise for young muscles, and Froebel, whose chief study was the well-being of the young, noticed the benefits which children derive from mother-play. He collected from various sources the traditional games of mother and child and embodied them in his " Mutter und Koselieder." This book is full of suggestions. Each part consists of:
1. A motto, which explains to the mother the object of the game.
2. A song, in which music and words are inter-wrought with physical movement or play.
3 A picture, which illustrates the underlying idea, and
4. Froebel's explanations and commentaries,
It is a noticeable feature of the book that movement is held to be of importance. Thus the first is "The kicking song," followed by "Bump! see how my baby's falling," followed by "The weathercock," and others which are illustrated chiefly by movement of hands or fingers, such as "Pat-a-cake" and "Finger-piano."
These songs owe their origin to the love of movement which characterises child life. It is Nature's method of causing the child to grow and develop in mind as well as in body. From the time that a child begins to walk until about seven years of age, the area of the brain which governs muscular movement develops rapidly, and Dr. Seguin and others have shown experimentally, that in exercising the muscles and corresponding nerves of a young child we are really cultivating the brain.
. That full benefit may be derived from exercise, it should be of a pleasant nature. Monotonous and mechanical motions exercise the, muscles in a perfunctory manner, but when enjoyment is found in varied play, there arises an agreeable excitement, which has a highly invigorating influence, so that truly it can be said, " Happiness is the best tonic."
The greatest benefit from games and exercises is obtained when they take place in the open air. Children should lead an out-of-door life as much as possible, and if they are accustomed from babyhood to plenty of fresh air, they rarely suffer from colds. There are many games which are particularly suitable for out-of-door play, such as ball games, skipping, battledore and shuttlecock, but these are little practised by children under school age.
No game should be unduly prolonged. So soon as the interest flags it shows that the particular set of muscles involved is becoming fatigued, and other muscles should be used. This should be done by change of play, and at this point it is impossible to lay too much stress on the desirability of children suggesting their games.
Play is of double value if it is spontaneous and fresh, and few things are more tragic than the wail of a child who does not know what to do next. It is the foundation of ennui in later life, but the child who is accustomed to find occupations and interests for himself possesses the key of happiness. Very little guidance from the parent is needed when once the child has been taught how to play, and game arises from game in orderly sequence.
Passing on from the finger games, the delight of babies, of which mention has been made already, imitative games are to be commended. froebel says, "What a child imitates he begins to understand," and that is why young children tend to translate all their ideas into actions. Children spend many happy moments playing at shops, with a small pair of scales, a few dry grocery goods, and a supply of paper; in visiting friends or extending hospitality by means of a set of china tea-things; in farming, with its make-believe agricultural processes; driving, boating, etc.; and the "properties" for such play-acting need be only of the simplest description.
Any of these games can be played by a child alone, because most children have the power of sharing their play with an imaginary playmate; but in such cases egotism, vanity, and selfishness find full scope, whereas in playing with others, be it even the mother engaged in work that occupies her hands only, the true social instincts are aroused, and thus a sense of community life in which all are needed to make a complete life is developed.
Sense games should be practised. In this way colours, flavours, smells, and other properties may be distinguished, so that one or more senses may be exercised, for well have the senses been called " the gateway of knowledge."
Excellent as games are in the training of children, they must not be played to the exclusion of more serious matters. As Kant says, "It is a false thing to accustom a child to look upon everything as a game." Life is not made up of play, and childhood is the preparation for later life. Unless the habits of attention and perseverance are formed early, the adult character will be weak and unstable. In play, as in more serious work, the great thing is to arouse the interest so that whatever is attempted is done in a whole-hearted manner and nothing in a perfunctory and casual spirit. This attitude of mind is most easily cultivated through the games and plays, and it will be found that a child who plays intensely will bring the same intensity of purpose to bear on lessons and other occupations later on.
A certain time each day should be set aside for more formal exercising of the muscles, but here again the aim must be to introduce a sense of pleasure. With very little children simple exercises can be arranged as follows: A story can be told introducing words that suggest actions such as can be easily performed by the child. Thus: "One day a little girl went for a walk. (Here the child should walk across the room and back again.) As she went along she saw a big horse running away. (Here have a gallop.) And a little horse tried to run after it. (Canter.) The little horse could not go so fast as the big one because of a cart behind. The cart had four wheels that went round. (Swing left arm round three or four times, right arm the same, and then both arms together.) The man slashed the horse with his whip." (Arm exercise as if whipping, repeated a certain number of times, the child counting.) And so on until interest slackens. The tale can be repeated on other occasions or a new one devised on similar lines.
Dancing is one of the most satisfactory forms of exercise for the young. It gives grace and suppleness and develops the sense of rhythm which is the foundation of orderliness in later life. The weak point with dancing, as it is usually taught, is that the lessons are often too long for young, untrained muscles, and delicate children are really exhausted by the prolonged exertion.
Swimming is an exercise which should begin as soon as a child is old enough to overcome the natural childish fear of a vast expanse of water. In learning swimming, better progress is made if the particular set of muscles involved in this form of exercise are well practised beforehand, so that they escape the fatigue that follows unwonted exertion. Thus, as a preparation for real lessons, a few minutes should be spent each day in swimming exercises. The three movements of the arm stroke should be taught and each should be done at the word of command.
1. Hands to the breast, with the fingers pointing forwards.
2. Shoot the hands out in a forward direction.
3. Half turn the hands, and sweep the arms round in a quarter circle each.
1. Legs together, drawn up, and bent at the hips and knees.
2. Shoot out the legs sideways and backwards.
3. Bring the legs together in a straight line with the body.
Formal drills of a few minutes each day have a wonderful effect in rendering children alert and responsive. The most pleasurable are those to the rhythmic sound of music, and many such can be devised so that the muscles of the arms, neck, trunk, and legs are harmoniously exercised. The drills are performed with more zest if the child holds a simple article bedecked with a bell or bow of ribbon, such as a pair of wooden dumb-bells, wooden curtain-rings, tambourine, wand, hoop, or scarf, while boys find unlimited delight in handling a toy gun. Such drills should be of short duration. The movements must be made smartly and briskly to the word of command or the rhythm of music, but all jerkiness of motion must be carefully avoided.