Page images
PDF
EPUB

Page.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

I.--VACATION SCHOOLS.

INTRODUCTORY-THE CHILDREN OF THE POOR IN OUR GREAT CITIES.

In order to understand the movement for vacation schools and playgrounds in

America, it is necessary to understand the conditions out of which this movement

has grown.

Few people, perhaps, have fully realized how artificial child life has become in

our great cities. The change from country to village, from village to city, and

rooms.

from city to metropolis has been so gradual that, like the frog that is slowly boiled * alive in the laboratory experiment, we have not realized it. Our cities have failed to make any provision for the play of children, nor have they striven to retain for them an environment of nature.

The country child lived with the trees, flowers, and animals; he was acted upon by all of those natural forces by which our primitive ancestors were surrounded and to which the brain most readily responds. He could hunt, fish, and swim in the streams and climb the trees. There was always ample space, if there was not always ample time, for play.

On these conditions the zeitgeist has laid his iron hand. The village hadits trees and lawns and its open lots for the children to play, but in the city the dooryards of the village had disappeared. The entire block became one solid square of masonry, built even with the sidewalk. Too often the interior of the block was filled with tenements or factories, until not even a blade of grass remained. The open-space playground of the village was sacrificed to this same demon of gain, so that there was a section in New York, until four years ago, containing 300,000 inhabitants without a single open space foreplay.

But the process of change has not stopped here. The price of land has made rent high, and poor families have had to content themselves with two or three

These rooms have been made small in order that a maximum of rent per floor space mnight be secured. There was no longer any work for the children to do.

When amid these conditions the long summer vacation came, there were twelve weeks in which there was no place for the children of the poor but to remain in the narrow tenements or roam the streets. Each of these alternatives was almost unendurable. The homes of the poor in cities like New York are located on narrow streets, which are very seldom shaded by trees; the hallways are narrow and dark; the rooms are insufficiently lighted; and the kitchen and dining room in one, is the only living room of the family. The chairs are apt to be piled with clothes and the table covered with the remnants of the previous meal. As a family does not usually occupy one whole flat, it is generally impossible to ventilate a two or three room apartment properly. The heat is reflected up from the narrow street and from the buildings across the way until the rooms become unbearable on a hot day and the children can not remain in them.

The alternative left the child is the street, but this was far from being a tempting alternative. The narrow streets become like ovens under the scorching rays of the sun, which beat down from above and reflect from the buildings at the sides. These streete can not be kept as clean as in better neighborhoods on account of the volume of the traffic and the obstacles in the way of the sweepers. Each gust of wind raises a cloud of dust, which analysis proves to be 95 per cent horse manure, to fill the eyes and lungs of the children. This results in inflammation of the eyelids and other eye complications. Analysis also shows that this dust nearly always contains the germs of consumption, and the susceptible are exposed to this further peril. Commissioner Woodbury, of New York, found as high a nunber as 185,000 germs per cubic centimeter in the air of some slum streets, while there were only 8 or 10 germs per cubic centimeter on upper Madison avenue. But there are other serious objections to slum streets as playgrounds. Filthy streets make filthy children. Where there is stone paving it is almost impossible for the children to run upon it. They are always interrupting the traffic. In the narrow streets of the east side in New York, where there is often a row of push carts at the curb on each side, there has been very little open space of which the children could avail themselves. Even if a free space can be found, play is always dangerous, as the children are always liable to be run over by cars or recklessly driven drays. The number of accidents to children always trebles or quadruples the week after school closes. But even if the street game were not dangerous, it always has a bad effect upon the child. His game is always being interrupted by the traffic of the street; so he comes to play in a listless way; and almost any good game he might seek to play, such as baseball, is against the law and renders him liable to arrest.

The education of the street does not lead to a love of the beautiful or the good, and it has little intellectual value. Physically it means overstimulation of nerves and dangers from heat and dust. Intellectually it gives a certain alertness and cunning, but causes distrust. There is not much in the sight of passing trucks and push carts or beer wagons that can have a high intellectual value or exert an elevating influence. The manners of the street are derived from its law of success—to push yourself forward and grab the thing you want. Its moral code is, They should take who have the power, and they should keep who can."

If one of these crowded sections in which there has been no provision made for the children be visited in vacation time, scores of the children will be seen sitting listlessly on the steps of the tenements or playing half-hearted games on the streets. Many will be seen pitching pennies, or at games of cards, or playing craps, despite the law. The sight of boys stealing fruit is not infrequent. There is always a tendency for the boys of a neighborhood to organize into gangs for purposes that are not always good.

The writer has dealt with these conditions thus fully because out of them arises the great child problem of city life which all the social agencies are trying to solve. It is this condition out of which has grown all of our vacation work, including vacation schools, playgrounds, fresh-air work, boys' camps, etc.

DEVELOPMENT OF VACATION SCHOOLS.

In the large meaning of the words “vacation schools" would include all schools carried on in vacation time, but as the words are generally used they do not apply to the summer schools of universities, teachers'institutes, Chautauquan circles, etc. The term “ vacation schools' is also often used to apply to both vacation schools in the narrower sense and playgrounds. As the words are here used the name refers to schools for children carried on for the most part in the class rooms of the regular schools during the summer racaticn. In nearly every case these schools are situated in the most densely crowded parts of our larger cities.

The vacation school was the first feature of cur summer work to be developed. The conditions being such as I have describedi, it is not strange that the work was started in the first instance in nearly every case by philanthropic societies. The first vacation school of which the writer can find any record was started in the old First Church of Boston in 1866. The work was begun in New York by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor in 1894. It was begun in Chicago in 1896; in Brooklyn, Hartford, and Cleveland in 1897. Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Indianapolis, and many others started these schools in 1898. In a number of cities the work was carried on by playground or vacation school societies which were formed for this purpose; in others it was maintained by women's clubs or civic clubs. For the last five years there has been a very strong tendency for the school systems of the various cities to include vacation schools as a part of their regular work. During the summer of 1902 probably in one-half or one-third of the cities which had vacation schools the work was under the direction of the superintendent of schools, and in a large proportion of the others a part or the whole of the money needed for carrying on these schools was furnished by the school boards. The public school buildings were used in nearly every case. The first vacation school to be maintained as a part of a school system was in Newark in 1886. In the summer of 1903 nearly every city in the United States of 100,000 inhabitants maintained vacation schools. The writer has been unable to gather definite information as to just how many and which ones of the smaller cities stipport such schools, but the number would probably exceed 200. New Orleans, which begins this work this sumner, is the la: t large city to take it up.

If we look for the cause of the very rapid development of vacation schools during the last five years, I think we shall find it in the action of the board of education of New York in taking over, in the year 1868, the 10 vacation schools of the Society for Improving the Condition of the Poor. Superintendent Stewart was placed in charge and given sufficient funds to show the possibilities of the movement. Superintendent Stewart, being a man of unusual originality and thoroughly in touch with the movement, made such a success of the work that all the leading papers had freqnent articles about it and public interest was awakened all over the country. The work in New York arising from a graver need seems to be flourishing more vigorously than elsewhere. In the summer of 1901 there were over 1,000 teachers in its vacation schools and playgrounds and nearly $100,000 was expended. During the summer of 1903 New York maintained 58 vacation schools, which employed 1,400 teachers. While I have not seen any estimate of the cost of vacation schools for 1903, it will certainly largely exceed $100,000, and in the budget for 1904 an increase of $183,000 alove the budget for 1903 is asked for. There is now a special superintendent who devotes all her time to this work and the evening play centers, which are carried on throughout the year.

It is impossible to predict just how far this work is to spread in this country, but the present indications are that every city in the North of 15,000 to 20.000 inhabitants will soon have vacation schools and that these schools will also exist in many villages of from 3,000 inhabitants upward.

It does not seem likely that this movement is to take as deep root abroad as in America, because the summer vacation is so much shorter there, and much better provision for the children is generally found in the parks, municipal playgrounds, school playgrounds, etc. However, a vacation school was started by Mrs. Humphrey Ward at the Passmore Edwards Settlement at Tavistock Place, England, in the summer of 1902. The experiment was a great success and is to be continued. There is a movement to start vacation schools in Amsterdam. There seem to be no vacation schools in Canada, nor can the writer get word of any being started in Mexico or in any South American country, though there is a movement to start such schools in Buenos Ayres.

a

COURSE OF STUDY.

The vacation schools have been experiment stations, and there has been little uniformity in the courses of study in the past. At first the idea was simply to keep the children off the street and keep them occupied, a merely negative aim. It soon became evident, however, that if anything was to be done it was best to do something worth while. As soon as educators came to consider the problem carefully they saw it was not merely a question of keeping the children off the street that was before them, but that they also had the problem of supplying the children with something that would take the place of those old duties of childhood that had disappeared, of furnishing manual activities and problems similar to those with which our ancestors had had to deal, and of restoring to the child something of the environment of nature which he had lost. When these new ideals came to be perceiveci, it became evident that it was not the children of the poor alone that needed vacation schools, but they were as necessary for the children of the well-to-do as for the children of the needy, for the children of the village as for the children of the city, unless the child got from his home life and surroundings this invaluable acquaintance with work and nature.

Many experiments have been tried in order to determine what is most valuable

a

for vacation school work. Each city has tried its own experiments, and in some, as in New York, there was at one time a different curriculum in each school. However, the work is becoming more uniform every year. In broad outlines it is now well defined.

Nearly all vacation schools have manual training as the basis of their work. This is supplemented by nature study, story telling, music, lccal geography, history, and excursions.

Manual training.-With manual training the first idea of the beginners of the movement seems to have been an occupation which should keep the children busy and contented. Since then three other well-defined ideals have arisen. These ideals are not always consciously held, but the educators have seen that in the quarters of the poor, where the struggle with want is hard and bitter, the mother too often works with the father at the bench or in the factory, and there is no time or energy left to teach the daughter the activities of the home, if such a habitation can be said to be a home. Then, too, the parents in our slums have nearly always come from some foreign land of oppression, where the refinements of life have never flourished. They scarcely have a conception of the standards of living of our American people. Under these conditions the children must reform the home, and instead of learning the household arts there, as children usually do, the school must teach the arts and refinements of the home to the children, who, reversing the traditionary method, must teach them to their parents. Led by a knowledge of such conditions the New York board, and the boards of education in most cities, have taught in the vacation schools nearly ali the activities of the home. These have included sewing, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, sweeping, dusting, scrubbing, laundering, cooking, setting table, waiting on table, washing dishes, parlor decorating, bandaging cuts or bruises, nursing the sick, care of babies, etc. Especial attention has been given to an attempt to create an appreciation for the neat, clean, orderly, and tasteful arrangement of the room and work done. Politeness and helpfulness are insisted on. The boys have been taught to make brackets, wall pockets, and other things which might assist in making the house attractive.

The first motive to become prominent in determining the nature of the work for boys was a consideration of the disappearance of children's chores or duties from modern life. The country boy, by the time he had finished the district school, has learned to perform all the activities of the farm, but tlie city boy, by the time he has finished grammar school, probably has not learned to do any work. The father's work is often at too great a distance for his son to know much about it.

Perceiving these deficiencies, the vacation schools are teaching a great variety of occupations to the boys. Of these the most cominon are whittling and carpentry, but wood carving, venetian and bent-iron work, weaving, basketry, chair caning, and cobbling are also found in many schools.

The third ideal is a more purely educational one. It has been most influential in determining the method rather than the nature of the work. This ideal sees in the development of the hand and its activities the secret of the development of motor areas of the brain, the origin of speech, and all the higher mental activities. It reasons that to revive these old activities in something like the order in which they were formerly pursued by the race will stimulate and develop the corresponding brain cells as no later sujerimposed activities can. This has led in one or two cases, as at Andover, to the teacher taking the boys into the woods, where they built their own houses, constructed their beds, made fishhooks, and caught a considerable part of their own living.

This ideal sees in doing a part of education that is quite as important as knowing, and doubts the value of an education which teaches a child to know without

« PreviousContinue »