The Kindergarten and Play

I take it the great new principle that the kindergarten brought into education was the use of the spontaneous activity of the child. Education in the schools above the kindergarten takes its exercises and methods from adult life, simplifies and adapts them to bring them within the range of the child intelligence, and depends upon their routine repetition for development. The kindergarten takes its methods and exercises from the child. It, too, has adapted and directed these spontaneous acts or plays, but that which the child does in the kindergarten is supposed to spring from his own instincts. In the kindergarten he plays,—when he gets into the grades he works. The opposition, then, between the methods of kindergarten and public school has been diametrical. The primary grade has come in to some extent as a connecting link. Its methods have more and more approached the kindergarten in principle, but it has still been obliged to fit its graduates for the task of acquiring abstract processes and principles from the books, which they must face sooner or later. The demand for a connecting link between the kindergarten and the primary school shows how profound the opposition is and how keenly it is felt, now that the kindergarten has forced itself from the position of an outside nursery into the school system. It is so profound that one feels more and more that it can be overcome only when it has reorganized the whole school as it promises to reorganize the primary grade.

The difficulties, however, in the way of such a reorganization do not arise alone from the resistance offered by the traditional methods of the public school. The kindergarten cannot undertake this task, which is being forced upon it, until it has mastered its own method, and this mastery cannot be attained until a sounder psychology unfolds the processes of child nature. The essence of the child-act is play. But its educational value can only be learned when we understand how the play-acts of the child are gradually organized into the fully developed activity of the grown man, who is conscious of their meaning for himself and society. To get an inkling of this development, our psychology has had to pass from the fixed analytical type of the traditional English school to the dynamic type which is characteristically represented in Professor James. Universal interest in evolution was needed, that attention might be directed to the natural evolution, for example, of the mouse-catching cat out of the spool-chasing kitten, or, in a word, of the adequate activity of the adult form out of the detached and immediately valueless plays of the young.

It should certainly be possible for the kindergarten to analyze and test its methods to-day from a new standpoint—for between us and Froebel lie evolution and a new psychology. I shall try to indicate the lines along which such an analysis must run. Let me state again what have been the assumptions of the school and of the kindergarten. The school assumes that a child gains the technique of the full-grown man by mastering step by step its different elements, language, number, and the results of past experience. It assumes, also, that the meaning of these cannot be given to the child because he cannot live the life of the man. The spontaneous acts of the child, lying entirely within the range of his own intelligence, cannot therefore become parts of an education which is governed by ends lying beyond. He must wait till he has attained maturity for the comprehension of these steps. Out of school he can be left to himself to play. Within school he must work, not as the man works with a full realization of what he is working for, but with a childlike faith in his parents and teachers that it will in the end all work together for his own good.

The kindergarten has been satisfied to take the child before the school could claim him, before he could be inducted piece-meal into the full-grown man's activity. There were left, therefore, for the kindergarten teacher only the child's plays to deal with. But she' has felt that these may have an essential bearing upon his later life, and has taken it as her task to bring this out and to utilize it to the full. She has seen that every play does, or at least may, represent in some degree what is to be done when the child is grown. She has striven to take advantage of this reference in three ways: First, by emphasizing the correct emotional attitude of the child in the act which the play represents; second, by symbolizing in the plays what is going on around and within him, and finally, by a direct education of the sense organs and powers of discrimination and perception.

It will be seen that in a general way this corresponds to the two divisions of the school work. The school aims to give to the child the technique of life work—for example, the use of number and language—and then in history, natural and social, the information which makes the basis for their use. So the kindergarten plays at getting food and shelter, the use of hands, feet, eyes, and ears, and on the other hand symbolizes in games the essential facts of life and nature. It aims to give technique and information. The giving of the technique again is by two different means—by educating hand, foot, eye, and ear in weaving, building, singing, dancing, etc., and by making the child feel the meaning of his plays as representative of what he will do when grown. Out of the first has grown an education of the sense organs, and a primitive artistic and manual training in drawing, singing, sewing, cooking, etc. These by themselves are not essentially kindergarten processes. They become such by their direction and arrangement with reference to the desired emotional attitude.

This emotional attitude is either that of the society to which the child belongs—the family and the state as represented by the family—or that coming with the recognition of the beautiful and orderly. The same is true of the symbolic games, the emotional and aesthetic reference of the play to the playmates and the home is the governing principle in their direction and control. I do not mean the mere ethical correction of the child's way of playing so that he shall recognize the rights and places of his playmates, parents, and teacher, but inducing the emotions that should characterize the life activity which the play symbolizes. In a word, the kindergarten has striven to organize and direct the plays of young children, by making them symbolic of their later life and the world in which they are to live, and has striven to educate the children by inducing the emotional attitude in the midst of these plays which should underlie the activities symbolized.

I wish to emphasize here that the problem which the kindergarten has recognized, and from its standpoint has solved, is not only that of finding the possibilities of beginning a school education earlier than the primary grade. The problem is not simply to find exercises with the hands, eyes, etc., which will start the child's education at the cradle—though the recognition of these possibilities are largely due to the kindergarten but this would have been without value if it had not discovered a way of setting the children at these exercises and keeping them at them at an age when they could not profitably be subjected to school discipline. The problem is so to organize and arrange the exercises that the child will carry them out through his own spontaneous activity. But, on the other hand, to make them educative they must not be simply plays—they must not only appeal to the child's spontaneous nature—they must lead on to the adult life for which education seeks to prepare the child. A merely sympathetic mother or nursery maid can keep children playing healthfully. This is not necessarily education.

The problem is twofold: to find appropriate processes of education for these early years, and second, so to organize them that they shall be both play for the child and preparatory and educative for adult life. The solution comes back, then, to the question in what sense can children's plays stand for adult activity. The answer to this question gives the principle on which the plays must be organized. The answer of the kindergarten is that, on the emotional and aesthetic reaction of the child within his plays, one finds the element which relates them to adult life. Plays have, then, to be so organized as to bring out the fundamental social and aesthetic emotions. Within such a system an education of sense organs and a primitive manual training may be developed, but these presuppose a system of educationally organized plays.

The only way in which the kindergarten is able to organize them from this standpoint is by a symbolism, to which reference has already been made. The hunting games must be symbolic of the search for food for the self and those dependent upon him in later life, and he must, for example, as father-bird, feel the love for the nestlings which is to prompt him to provide for his children when he becomes an actual father. In the fighting games must be symbolized the defense of home and country, and the little soldier must feel the love for home and fellow citizens which it is assumed should prompt him to offer his life in battle. In the work with colors and forms—the mats, the cubes, and spheres—if they are to be educative, they must be symbolic of the aesthetic value of color and form in art. The aim must be to arouse in the child the emotional reactions upon the primitive colors and forms which afterwards be developed in the adult into aesthetic judgement upon all expressions of beauty.

The psychological test of the kindergarten education of the past will be found in the answer to the question: Can children's plays be thus symbolic to them of later adult activities? Or, in other words, do we develop the native play activities of the young form into the full acts of the adult by bringing to the child's consciousness the emotional phase which represents that underlying the adult act? Can this be the principle by which we organize and arrange children's plays so that they become a part of his education? Do children in this way feel social and aesthetic value of such isolated acts as those of games? For this isolation is the characteristic of play. The act in itself is rational enough. The child hunts for the hidden object just as rationally as the adult searches for the necessary food. But the object for which he hunts has no value for the rest of his life. He fights in principle as rationally as if he were defending his life or those of his family, but his victory or defeat has no relation to his own real independence or that of any one else, and so on through the whole gamut of children's games. He draws a line and calls it a man, but the success in reaching a likeness has at first no connection with his further drawing or his other life processes. He picks out a bright color, but this act has for him no connection with his recognition of a sunset. How are we to set up the necessary connections and so help nature in developing a rationally acting man out of the detached processes, by arranging and controlling his plays that he will feel in the midst of them more strongly his love for the members of his family and playmates? Is this emotional element that which develops the isolated play-act into the full act rationally connected with all other acts in a well-ordered life? I do not think so.

I think the whole evidence of psychology, individual and comparative, is that the detached isolated acts of the young forms—the plays of the lower animal or the child—are developed by objective stimuli that connect the play-act more and more closely with the life activity of the adult. The rolling spool calls forth, in the kitten, the spring and clutch which is just so much nearer the capture of the mouse. The larger meaning of this act of play is found in the control which she gets over a rapidly moving object. When this technique is thus developed, she is in a position to maintain herself by seizing her prey. There is no evidence that her feeling of dependence upon mother in the play or out of it develops in her a sense of the wider significance of the act of catching the spool. Furthermore, the child advances from his interest in using tools for the fun of it, to the sense of a valuable technique where he sees what he can do with them—and out of the appreciation of his power, and the social position which this gives, comes the recognition of the social relationships which this makes possible. His feeling of affection for his family or playfellows cannot lead him to develop his technique till he feels in the technique the new relation which this sets up. It is impossible for us to evaluate emotionally a social relation until our activity has already set up this relationship in consciousness.

The negro is being taught his duties to himself and his family by an industrial education which really makes of him a self-supporting artisan or farmer. No people have advanced to civic virtues except by acquiring of capacities for independent life within the community. The emotion follows upon the recognition of the situation. The child, recognizing his dependence upon his parents, has an affection for them that must be different from that which arises when he feels within him the capacity for maintaining them in their old age, and no amount of emphasis upon the young child's dependent love for the parents can develop the technique by which he advances to an independent place in the community. It is what we do and can do that determines our relationship to others, and there is no emotional prevision that can push us into it unless we feel the capacity within us of doing what brings responsibilities with it.

The impulses out of which these capacities develop must respond to the objective stimuli that call them out, and their connection with other acts which finally altogether make up the technique of the fully developed man must be recognized before we can feel the emotions that are our valuation of these acts. Our psychology is making it constantly more evident that our emotion follows up on the act not vice versa, it is demonstrating that our objective world is known to us in terms of our action—the necessary conclusion from this is that we increase our known world by finding stimuli for further, higher action, and only then can we recognize the value of the larger world in our emotional states. Or, in still other terms, we must first feel in some sense the intellectual meaning of that which is to have emotional value.

If this is true, symbolism cannot be a legitimate means for educating the child. The result of it must be sentimentality, so far as it has any effect—an emphasis upon a sentiment beyond its immediate range. We are, in fact, subject to the psychological fallacy when we try to use it as a means of education. In the child's play we recognize the fully developed act of the adult and feel its emotional value. But, when we try to transfer this emotion to the child, we are emphasizing a sentiment out of its natural sphere, and, if we succeed in making it predominant in the child's consciousness, this must result in making him set up the sentiment for the sake of feeling it, and this is but a definition for sentimentality. What can dying for one's fellow playmates mean to a child who knows nothing of fighting nor the legitimate causes of it, except a mere wave of feeling? I do not imagine that the healthful child is very apt to fall into this sentimentality. He will much sooner build up in imagination some grotesque picture of a battle or funeral in which he is doing something, whatever may be the terminology which he uses. He will play the game, but to luxuriate in the feeling of dying for his playmates and teacher is probably not granted to many children. In exact proportion as this leads to such unreal pictures and ideas, must the child be hindered in the normal development of his powers. He will lose the sense of the real relationships between things when he pictures himself dying in a battle without the necessary concomitant of fighting. To emphasize the sentiment in this one-sided way is necessarily to deprive the child of the logical relation between different acts.

This brings us to the broader question of the use of the child's imagination. As the kindergarten teacher organizes the plays through their emotional reference, the use of the imagination is left largely arbitrary. Indeed, with the child himself the use of the imagination seems arbitrary. Likenesses which are almost beyond our recognition are sufficient for him. He identifies things that for our purposes are without a shadow of resemblance. There are two ways in which you may aim to develop this power. Either a simple facility in finding likenesses, which we may try to make as free and independent of all fixed lines of association as possible, or we may assume that the child always has a sufficient reason for the likeness which he finds, a reason which is founded in his own development.

From this standpoint what we want is not an indeterminate freedom of the imagination, but the association of ideas should enable one to find in the objects about him the stimuli that will call out his whole nature. The child must be free to find in his environment what he needs, and to give him this freedom we must make him conscious of his needs.

This brings us back to the original problem. The child's life is made up at first of isolated detached acts—acts which represent the different sides of what he is to do in later life. His growth brings with it a gradual organization of these isolated play-acts into the rational activity of the full-grown man. If this organization cannot be brought about by emphasizing the social emotion—making the child feel in this way the larger meaning of his play—and this we have seen is impossible—we have left the possibility of organizing his environment. If in this way we can make his plays parts of one large activity that corresponds to the whole life act—within which in reality they all lie—we give him the natural lines of association which he is really seeking. The apparently arbitrary movement of the child's imagination is but the inner expression of the isolation of his acts, and his instinctive groping after the connections between them as the brain and body develop. It lies within the power of parent and teacher to give him surroundings which will naturally assist this growth. For example, he may play at housekeeping, building, making dishes, getting and preparing food. In one way or another all his plays have a bearing upon this.

We can give him the means, arrange them so that the life activity will be called out in all its phases, and the inherent connection of things which the imagination is seeking for will be at hand. There need be no forcing at any stage of the child's growth. We have only to order his world about him so that one play leads on to another—so that the inherent unity between the games which is open to us, but as yet not awakened in his consciousness, will be ready for his intelligence as soon as he is able to grasp it. This is, of course, only carrying the organization of the child's world a little farther than it is in [the] home already. Just such an organization is to be found in the surroundings of the young animal that lies below us. His life is, however, infinitely simpler than ours in its details. The infant beast of prey needs only the moving object, the odor and sight of the prey brought home, and eventually the experience of the hunt by the parent forms to arouse during its short period of infancy the co-ordinated acts by which he is to support himself. The necessities of life keep him within his limits of his ultimate process, and as fast as his development proceeds he finds the appropriate stimuli to call out the larger acts that include isolated processes that preceded them.

The longer period of infancy of the child enables him to await a full development before he is thrown upon his own resources and obliged to differentiate himself in some particular calling. But we are in error if we try to take advantage of this long period of infancy by protracting the isolation of his different acts. Certainly one of the greatest advantages of freedom from the necessity of self-support is the possibility of learning the real interrelation of all individual activities in the whole life of society. Then, when he must concentrate his whole energy in a single calling, he can carry into it a consciousness of its solidarity with every other and be able to control his life by a recognition of its relations to those of all others within the community. The earlier, 'therefore, the child recognizes the interrelations between his acts the better. And out of the consciousness of this interrelation comes the stimulus of advance. As we have seen, it is characteristic of the child in play that he is interested not in the product, but in the activity. The problem of education is, in one sense, to bring him to the point of criticizing his act by the product. The result must be exact and adequate to the further use to which it is to be put.

The public school forces the child by its discipline to produce a result which the teacher passes upon from the standpoint of the use to be made of it later. The child has but little immediate interest in it. And it is evident that he can have little interest in it until he feels its value in the spontaneous act that follows upon the first. He has no interest in exact measurement. But the exact measurement that is essential to the box he is making at once arouses the interest that the making of the box calls forth. In a word, we must so connect the different acts together in a whole, which the child grasps, that the product of one act becomes the stimulus for the next. From the first the control lies in the feeling of the whole, and education must present wholes within the range of the child's interest and intelligence which will control the separated and at first isolated play-acts.

The principle then, it seems to me, upon which the kindergarten must organize the plays of the child if they are to become educative, is that of giving at every stage of his development a whole life process within which his spontaneous acts fall. The plays must be related from without in a whole which the child can recognize, With this principle—one that is at work within our educational system at many points—the kindergarten will be able to force the public school to adapt itself to its methods. Like all great reforms, this one is coming from below. The kindergarten teacher has felt that in education a little child shall lead us—but we must be able to recognize the child first.


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