This article, written by my Nan, was published by Department of Agriculture WA’s Journal of Agriculture in July 1964 for the “Farm and Home” series.
My Nan trained as a Kindergarten Teacher in the very early days of Kindergarten in WA and at the age of 23 she was in charge of a cutting-edge Kindergarten in North Perth.
In an interesting side note, she was also a Voice Actor for the radio plays on the ABC during that time; my Nan is way cool, and a person who always brings out imagination and stories from the people she meets.
As with her writing on Women’s Liberation, I find this article fascinating for its practical love and respect for children and their play, and the respect for the incredibly important educational role of parents in the home with young children.
As is consistent with the way I was brought up, this educational role is about the parent being the educator and guide, not simply the provider of education from other people and sources.
My Mum and her mother-in-law were both Teachers in the Home, and I appreciate the influence of this attitude in my Father and my siblings. While the role of education and respect in the home may be have been the role of Mother in my Nan’s time, it is the role of Parents now.
THE LITTLE ONES AT HOME
Where there is just one child at home by day, whether it be an only child or the youngest of an older family, Mother frequently has a lonely child on her hands – and very often a bored little one at that.
Even where there are two, three or more pre-school children and loneliness is not a problem, it is wise for a mother to realise that children must have a certain amount of her time and help if they are to play happily and constructively.
Many adults look upon the play of the tiny child as merely a way of passing the time and of keeping him out of the way between meals and bed. To the little one, however, playing is living. It is all-important and very, very real. Above all it is the beginning of the child’s education.
Good habits established when tiny play a vital part in a child’s healthy development. Concentration, cooperation, independence, obedience, tidiness, enthusiasm and a desire to learn are all desirable qualities in school age children, but cannot be expected if there has been no grounding in the formative years. These all depend on the way in which a child has been encouraged to spend his playing time.
There are a number of steps which the mother must take to ensure happy play at home.
Choose suitable play materials
Suggestions for a variety of materials were given in the March issue of the Journal of Agriculture.
Provide a suitable environment for play
A place free from interruptions but not too far from the centre of domestic activity – a sheltered veranda is ideal for this. Outdoors a suitable spot should preferably be within sight of the kitchen window and with its fair share of sun and shade. This should be enclosed with a fence if the age of the children and / or the layout of the homestead warrant it.
Establish good play habits from a very early age
By providing a roomy cupboard for toys and equipment, a low table and chair, the small child is encouraged to concentrate his play in one place. He can then be reasonably expected to keep his activities away from under his mother’s feet.
Encourage the child to be helpful
Much of a little one’s time can be usefully and happily occupied in helping mother. With a good deal of patience and a little thought, it is surprising how helpful a little one can become. There are few chores which cannot be adapted to include the pre-school child. One of the many advantages of farm life is the fact that this also applies, to some extent, to helping father.
It is essential that both parents realise and respect the importance of play in the life of the child. One needs something of a routine, or perhaps just a striving for balance, in the child’s day.
If we first consider some of the wide variety of activities which a little one needs and enjoys, mothers can best work out a mixture to suit themselves and their own children. Here are some of the things that should be encouraged:
Helping mother and being made to feel useful;
Playing indoors with specialised activities such as cutting out, pasting in, painting, drawing and modelling. Some of these need help from mother, depending on age. If so they are better encouraged at a convenient time;
Entertaining himself indoors or out at activities not requiring help but perhaps an occasional word of encouragement, praise or stimulation. These activities should occupy by far the greater part of the day. Under this heading comes good physical exercise such as climbing, swinging, jumping, running and so on. This is where cheap equipment is invaluable. Packing cases (from the electrical store), empty drums, a good smooth plank for jouncing or sliding (Oregon is expensive but perfect for this when cleated at the ends), an old steering wheel, car tyres and wooden cable reels provide endless scope for physical development and dramatic play;
Quiet time with books or music while waiting for meals;
Radio broadcasts beginning with “kindergarten of the air”. This very often stimulates play for the day. School broadcasts, although obviously planned for school age children, are often a great delight to the older pre-school child. It is easy to judge whether the 4 – 6 year old is interested and able and one can readily switch off if the programme is found to be too old;
Daytime sleep is important for mother’s sake as well as the children and should be encouraged, if not insisted upon, until they are nearly ready for school. By this time they do not need much more than a rest anyway;
Ideally all children deserve a story time at the end of the day with mother or, better still, father. It is unfortunate that, with our busy programmes and most often TV, this is one of those treasures of parenthood of which we are depriving ourselves. Perhaps with a little planning the middle of the day might hold more possibilities. There is nothing quite so rewarding when it can be arranged.
After noting the broad outlines of the various activites, it is worth considering some general principles which go to make the pre-school years a memorable time for both mother and children. I always feel that these early years should be enjoyed to the utmost. They are really such leisurely years by comparison to the rush and bustle of school days ahead and when a mother is thoughtful, patient and sensible there is much to be enjoyed.
I mentioned earlier the need for respect for the child’s play. If we remember this we will not make unreasonable demands upon him such as expecting him to cease play at a moment’s notice. Of course there are times when this is unavoidable. It is more thoughtful to give warning: “It’s nearly time for you to pack away your blocks and wash for dinner”. To the older ones: “dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. I expect your game to be finished and away by then.”
When drawings or paintings are brought for inspection a thoughtful mother will say “What a pretty picture! Tell me about it” but not “What’s that?” So often we are requested, in our busy moments, to “Come and see how I can turn over on the bar” or “Mum, we have made a beautiful farm in the sand patch. We want you to come and see it.” There are times when we want to say, and in fact do say, “But I’m so busy.” It’s not until we go that we realise the pleasure we give, perhaps the stimulating suggestion we can make and, above all, the very few minutes that it takes.
This subject of respect is two-way and it is most important for parents to expect and receive the same consideration that they give. While it has been suggested that parents give time and help to the children’s play, the children must not be allowed to expect this at any unreasonable time. They must realise that mother’s work is important too. So often when she is seen to sit with a cup of tea the little ones come with their many requests. “Yes, I’ll help you with that later but not until I have finished my tea” and not until then should it be done. When in the middle of a huge wash we are asked to help with some intricate or messy activity, we must refuse. “No, I’m afraid this washing must be done today. I’d like to help but we’ll try and find time for that when the washing is done.” However, it is wise to make suggestions for alternative activity or better still allow them to help with the washing.
It is surprising to see how many parents these days give their children all the consideration, yet expect and receive none in return.
When we stop to think how much there is to be learned in the world around us and how receptive is the child’s mind we are struck by a sense of challenge. Our conversation alone can become stimulating. When we’re busy it is easy to close our minds to the child’s chatter and answer “yes” and “no” to their questions. After all this doesn’t get them far.
Try giving the children some simple, accurate information or ask them some questions: “What happens to a caterpillar?”; “Do men make honey?”; “How many legs have you? – a table? – a horse? – a hen?” When a new insect or bird appears, help them to identify it, consulting the encyclopaedia if necessary.
We want our children to develop enquiring minds for the world is full of wonder: Shadows, for instance, are fun to watch at various times of day; or the trees that lose their leaves and those that don’t; the colour of each garment as it comes from the washing machine; the names of the flowers in the garden; all the animals that crawl, those that fly and those that live in water. Most of these thoughts can be transferred to paper and projected into the child’s drawing, painting, modelling, cutting and pasting activities. With a little thought any mother can offer stimulating contributions to conversation and consequently to their play. This is easily done during routine chores. An easy chair outdoors when darning is enjoyed by mother and children alike. There is much to be seen and shared during a walk to the gate, or simply while pegging out the clothes. A visit to such places as the fire station, railway station, post office, flour mill and so on, is easily arranged and so helpful for worthwhile play.
In conclusion, a word on the subject of independence: This should be one of our main aims in guiding our children’s behaviour. It is a very natural desire among them from a very early age and a wise parent will always foster and develop it in all forms of activity even though it often makes more work.
We all know to our grief how much the nine month old wants to feed himself. We are tempted to refuse this for the mess seems intolerable for a while, however it is not long before we are grateful for this little bit of independence.