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By BEATRICE E. BEAR, F.G.T.I., M.B.P.C.E.
In an article which appeared recently in The Child it was stated that “ we have no English system of physical training." I wish, therefore, to qualify this too sweeping statement by giving a short account of a system which has been evolving gradually in England during the last fifteen years, and which, in the opinion of many, is better suited to our national temperament, and in many ways more suitable for children and girls than the much-lauded Swedish system, though by general admission that system forms a valuable basis of .physical education.
The British system to which I desire to direct attention does not claim to be original. It is founded on that taught by Mr. Archibald Maclaren at the Oxford University Gymnasium some fifty years ago, who assimilated various methods and ideas, from many Continental systems, not excluding those of Sweden. From the Swedish system much of the method has been taken whilst avoiding what we conceive to be the narrowness of that system. The Swedish system is mainly concerned with the establishment of health and the improvement of physique, whilst British methods lay stress also on the cultivation of mental alertness and general control of the body. This results in the development of skill and grace, and in building up character by the encouragement of such qualities as perseverance, endurance, keenness and daring.
The British system includes mass exercises (i.e., physical drills) and exercises on fixed apparatus. The mass exercises admit of great variety.
(1) By combining movements in different ways at the discretion of the teacher, who arranges a series of exercises to include all types of movement and to bring into action all the main muscle groups. In advanced work several types of movement may be united in one exercise, the pupils passing from one to the other with neatness, skill and grace. Though the ground plan of the series of exercises may be the same, yet each season's work can thus be made completely different from the work of previous seasons. This not only adds greatly to the interest of the lessons and prevents mechanical work, but by bringing into simultaneous action different muscle groups in
a great variety of ways, new nerve centres are educated, co-ordination (i.e., the power which the brain has in controlling the movements of the body) is acquired in a marked degree, resulting in skill and grace, for grace is the result of perfect accord between the will and the muscles.
(2) Variety is further obtained by the use of light hand apparatus, of which there are many kinds, each of value in obtaining some specific effect not procurable without it. Reference can here be made to only a few :
Dumb-bells.-There are light wooden dumb-bells weighing from 8 to i oz. These, by offering a slight resistance to the movement, increase the energy with which it is made and train the muscular sense (i.e., the knowledge by which the muscles adjust the force of their action to the weight to be overcome).
Wands are light rods about 3 ft. 6 in. in length, weighing 7 or 8 oz. These have a very beneficial effect in flattening prominent shoulderblades and expanding narrow chests. They also assist in obtaining accuracy of position.
Rings of wood 6 or 8 in. in diameter. These are particularly useful in elementary work, as they help the child to obtain good positions; they also serve to unite pairs or circles of children, and so add further to the variety and pleasure.
„Skipping canes are flexible canes about 8 ft. 6 in. long. These permit of all movements similar to “free positions, together with skipping exercises, which are of great value for their effect on nutrition and in promoting lightness and agility. Indian clubs made of wood weigh from 10 to 16 oz.
These give a most pleasurable and interesting form of exercise for more advanced workers; they promote flexibility of wrists and shoulders, cultivate ambidexterity and skill.
This by no means exhausts the list of hand apparatus : there are besides, bar-bells, short wands for wrist-twisting exercises, quarterstaff, &c.; each kind having its own typical positions and uses permits of fresh combinations of movements, and consequently to the acquisition of further powers of control and skill.
Rhythm is an essential characteristic of the mass exercises. These are so arranged that, after the positions have been learnt in detail to the word of command, they can be performed rhythmically to music. All educationists are agreed as to the necessity and value of training in rhythm. Rhythmical movement is natural, enjoyable, and restful to
the nerves. By combining systematic physical exercise with music, the valuable effects of the exercise are obtained without the nerve strain induced by the constant waiting for the command.
Marching is of great importance. Much value is attached to all kinds of marching-step, figure and tactical. Frequently the pupils carry on their heads light discs of wood, or the rings described above, to promote good carriage of the head.
So far I have described only the physical drills with which the lesson is always begun. They are regarded as of the utmost importance in that they give moderate exercise to all parts of the body, and so form a transition from rest to activity. They stimulate circulation and breathing, correct faults of posture, and cultivate skill and grace. They form a valuable and interesting means of physical development for those who are unsuited to the more strenuous work on fixed apparatus.
Fixed apparatus is of great service. For the young and healthy the moderate use of fixed apparatus is undoubtedly advantageous. It is as natural for a child to hang by his hands, to climb and jump, as to run, and there are certain results which fixed apparatus alone can give. Among these are the development of strength, mental concentration, rapid response of the muscles to the will, economy of force, and such qualities as perseverance and courage. The characteristic of the hanging apparatus of the British system is that it permits of swinging exercises.
Swinging is perhaps the most natural of all exercises and the most beloved of children. As regards the pleasure of the child, there is no comparison between a swinging and a stationary hanging exercise. The same valuable effects are obtained together with a greater amount of enjoyment.
It is impossible to do more in a short article than to indicate the chief characteristics of such a wide system, and those which differentiate it from the Swedish, to which it may be said to be complementary. The Swedish system is mainly therapeutic in character; it is concerned chiefly with health and physique; the advanced work of this system, whilst simple in construction is extremely arduous, whilst the British by means of the increasing complexity of the exercises, aims also at the education of the bodily powers in the direction of greater dexterity and skill. It is in harmony with the psychological development of the
. human being, whose brain gradually becomes more adapted to complex ideas, and in this way the system is truly educational. It is no more possible to bring the body to its highest point of development by very simple exercises than it is to cultivate high mathematical powers by doing easy addition sums. The system we advocate satisfies the desire there is in every normal boy and girl for the acquiring of new knowledge and the overcoming of fresh difficulties, and their interest is so aroused that they are eager to continue their physical training after their school life is over. This is evidenced by the great number of British physical classes attended by working girls which have such splendid physical and moral effects.
It is instructive to note that the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland), 1903, recommended that a national system should be formed by "the skilful selection of the best methods” from various systems, and that music should be introduced after the exercise had been mastered without it. And that the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Model Course of Physical Exercises, 1904, whilst advocating the adoption of part of the Swedish system for elementary schools, permitted the use of " light dumb-bells, &c.,” for the older children. None of these recommendations have been carried out by those responsible for physical education in schools under Government control. The endeavour is to confine the physical education of the nation more and more to the Swedish system whith, though of undoubted value as a basis of physical training, is much too limited. It does little to cultivate skill, perseverance, self-reliance, initiative, courage-qualities essentially British and of the utmost importance to the nation. Queen Alexandra's House Gymnasium,
Kensington Gore, S.W.7.
ROUND THE CAMP FIRE.
By RUTH CLARK
(“ Minobi ”').
“Let the magic of the Camp Fire
-Fire-lighting Chant. The firemaker had lit the camp fire and, having finished the chant, sat down by her pile of firewood. Round the fire about a dozen girls were seated—they were the Chief and her Council. It was a beautiful moonlight night. The camp fire glowed in a circular clearing in the midst of a young larch wood, and the smoke from the fire curled up and up as the stars swung slowly round overhead. The figures of the girls were lit up by the fire. They wore beaded headbands and picturesque dresses decorated with beads and leather, in perfect keeping with their surroundings. There was silence for a few moments after the firemaker had taken her seat.
Here in the camp fire circle was no hurry or bustle; everything was carried out with dignity, even the squatting of the firemaker was done with rhythm as one practised in the art. Presently the tomtom beater rose and sounded the tribal tattoo : out of the wood ran some thirty girls; they came in one long line and formed a large circle round the fire. Their beads glistened in the firelight. The Chief motioned them to sit-one movement of her hand and they were all seated cross-legged, waiting eagerly for something to happen. The log-book keeper rose, and from a leather-covered book, made by herself, she read of the tribal doings : to-night it was an account of an expedition made a week ago. Then followed the most solemn of all ceremonies—one of the tribe was to be initiated. Standing before the fire, the promise was made to
1 Anyone wishing to know more about the Camp Fire Movement should write
Minobi,” Havenholme, King's Langley, Herts, enclosing stamped addressed envelope. The object of the movement is to instil into the girls a love for the outdoor life and an appreciation of the beauties of Nature. Knowledge of the science and art of camping is one of the chief points of the training. The ceremony round the Council Fire, of which the present article provides a description, is the form of discipline used as opposed to any principles or system of militarism for girls.