Of all the domains of human consciousness, the physical is the one most completely governed by method, order, discipline, procedure. The lack of plasticity and receptivity in matter has to be replaced there by an organization of details, at once precise and comprehensive. In this organization one must not forget, however, that all the domains of the being are interdependent and interpenetrating. Yet, even if a mental or vital impulsion is to be expressed physically it must submit to an exact and precise procedure. That is why all education of the body, if it is to be effective, must be rigorous and detailed, foreseeing and methodical. That will be translated into habits: the body is a being of habits. But these should be controlled and disciplined, yet at the same time supple enough to adapt themselves to the circum stances and the needs of the growth and development of the being.
All education of the body should begin at the very birth and continue throughout life: it is never too soon to begin nor too late to continue.
The education of the body has three principal aspects:
(1) control and discipline of functions, (2) a total, methodical and harmonious development of all the parts and movements of the body and (3) rectification of defects and deformities, if there are any.
It may be said that from the very first days, almost even from the first hours, of his life the child should undergo the first part of the programme in the matter of food, sleep, evacuation, etc. If the child, from the very beginning of his existence, takes to good habits, that will save him a good deal of trouble and inconvenience all the rest of his life. And also those who have the charge to watch over him during his first years will find their task very much easier.
Naturally, this education, if it is to be rational, enlightened and effective, must be based upon a minimum knowledge of the human body, its structure and its functions. As the child grows, he must gradually acquire the habit of observing the functioning of his organs so that he may control them more and more, taking care that this functioning
is normal and harmonious. In the matter of positions, postures and movements, bad habits are formed too early and too quickly that may have disastrous consequences for the whole life. Those who take the question of education seriously and wish to give their children all facilities to develop normally will easily find the necessary hints and instructions. The subject is being more and more carefully studied, and many books have appeared and are appearing which give all the information and guidance needed on the subject.
It is not possible for me to enter into details of the execution, for each problem is different from another and the solution should suit the individual case. The question of food has been studied by experts at length and with care; the dietary to help children in their growth is generally known and can be usefully followed. But it is very important to remember that the instinct of the body, so long as it remains intact, knows more than any theory. Thus, if-you wish that your children should develop normally, you must not force them to eat food for which they have a disgust; for often the body possesses a sure instinct as to what is harmful to it, unless the child is particularly capricious.
The body in its normal state, that is to say, if there is no intervention of mental notions or vital impulsions, knows also very well what is good and necessary for it; but this can happen effectively when the child has been taught with care and has learnt to distinguish desires . from needs. He must develop a taste for food that is simple and healthy, substantial and appetizing, without any useless complications. He must : avoid, in his daily food, all that merely stuffs and causes heaviness; particularly he must be taught to eat according to his hunger, neither more nor less, and not to make food an occasion to satisfy his greed and gluttony. From one's very childhood, one should know that one eats in order to give to the body strength and health, and not to enjoy the pleasures of the palate. The child should be given the food that suits his temperament, prepared with all care for hygiene and cleanliness, pleasant to the taste and yet very simple; and this food should be chosen and measured out according to the age of the child and his regular activities; it must contain all the chemical and dynamic elements that are necessary for the development and the balanced growth of all the parts of the body.
Since the child will be given only the food needed for maintaining health and supplying necessary energy, one must be very careful not to
Mother giving a prize and her blessings in the Playground
use food as a means of coercion or punishment. The habit of telling a child: "You were not a good boy, you will not be given your dessert, etc." is totally disastrous. You create in this way in his little conscious ness the impression that food is given to him chiefly to satisfy his greed and not because it is indispensable for the good functioning of his body.
Another thing should be taught to a child from his early years: the taste for cleanliness and hygienic habits. But if you wish to form in the child this taste for cleanliness and respect for the rules of hygiene, you must take great care not to instil into him the fear of illness. Fear is the worst incentive for education and the surest way of attracting what is feared. Yet, while not fearing illness, one need have no inclination for it either. There is a current belief that brilliant minds have weak bodies. It is a delusion and has no basis. There was perhaps an epoch when a romantic and morbid taste for physical unbalance prevailed; but, fortunately, that tendency has disappeared. Nowadays a well-built, solid, muscular, strong and perfectly balanced body is appreciated at its true value.
Mother playing tennis
In any case, children should be taught to have respect for health, admiration for a healthy man whose body knows how to repel attacks of ill ness. Often a child pre tends illness to escape a troublesome necessity, a work that does not interest him or even simply to move the heart of his parents and get them to satisfy some caprice. Children must also be taught, as early as possible, that this procedure is not worth the game and that they are not more interesting by being ill; rather the contrary. The weak have a tendency to believe that their weaknesses make them particularly interesting and to use this weakness and even their illness, if necessary, as means of attracting towards them the attention and sympathy of persons who are around them and live with them. On no account should this pernicious tendency be encouraged. Children should be taught that to be ill is a sign of failing and inferiority, not of a virtue or a sacrifice.
That is why it would be good for the child, as soon as he is able to make use of his limbs, to devote some time daily to developing methodically and normally all the parts of his body.
Every day some twenty or thirty minutes, preferably on wakingif possible, will suffice to assure the good functioning and balanced growth of his muscles, preventing at the same time stiffening of the joints and of the spine that comes about much earlier than it is supposed.In the general programme of education for children, sports and outdoor games should be given a fair place; that, more than all the medicines of the world, will assure them good health. An hour's moving about in the sun does more
to cure weakness or anaemia than a whole armoury of tonics. My advice is that medicine should not be taken unless it is absolutely impossible to do otherwise; and this "absolutely impossible" must be absolutely strict. Although there are, in this programme of physical culture, certain well-known general lines as to how best to develop the human body, still if the method is to be fully effective, each case should be considered individually, if possible with the help of a competent person, otherwise by consulting books on the subject that have already been or are being published.
But in any case, a child, whatever may be his activities, should have a sufficient number of hours for sleep. This number will vary with age. In the cradle, the baby should sleep longer than it remains awake. The number of hours for sleep will diminish as the child grows. But till the adult age the number should not be less than eight hours and that in a quiet and well-ventilated place. The child should never be made to stay up uselessly. The hours before midnight are the best for resting the nerves. Even during the waking hours, relaxation is an indispensable thing for everyone who wishes to maintain the nervous balance. To know how to relax the muscles and the nerves is an art which should be taught to children even when very young. There are many parents who, on the contrary, force their children to constant activity. When the child remains quiet, they imagine he is ill. There are even parents who have the bad habit of making their child do household work at the expense of his rest and relaxation. Nothing is worse than that for a growing nervous system which cannot stand the tension of too continuous an effort or an activity imposed upon it and not freely chosen. I hold against all current ideas and prejudices that it is not fair to demand services from a child, as if it were his duty to serve his parents. The contrary would be more true: certainly it is natural that parents should serve their children, at least take great care of them. It is only if the child chooses freely to work for the family and does the work as a play that the thing is admissible. And even then, one must be careful that it diminishes in no way the hours of rest absolutely necessary for the body to function properly.
I said that even from a young, age children should be taught respect for physical health, strength and balance. The great importance of beauty must also be insisted upon. A young child should aspire for beauty, not for the sake of pleasing others or gaining fame, but for the
Mother watching a pole vaulter and waiting to note down the results of the competition.
love of beauty itself: for beauty is the ideal which physical life has to realize. In every human being there is the possibility of establishing harmony among the different parts of the body and the different movements when (he body is in action. The human body that undergoes a rational method of physical culture from the beginning of its existence can realize its own harmony and thus be fit to express beauty. When we shall speak of the other aspects of an. integral education, we shall see what are the inner conditions to be fulfilled if this beauty is to be manifested one day.
Till now I have referred only to the education to be given to children: for, a good many bodily defects and malformations can be avoided by an enlightened physical education given at the proper time. But if, for some reason or other, this education has not been given during childhood and even in youth, it can begin at any age and followed throughout life. But the later one begins, the more one must be prepared to meet bad habits that have to be corrected, rigidities to be made supple, malformations to be rectified. And this preparatory work will need much patience and perseverance before one can start on a constructive programme for the harmonization of the form and its movements. But if you hold within yourself the living ideal of beauty that is to be realized, you are sure to reach the goal you aim at.
Extracts from The Mother, Physical Education
Bulletin of Physical Education, April 1951