It is not necessary to discuss here the respective merits of large and small schools, of day and boarding schools. We may assume at once that the discipline of the school is so valuable, that the boy or girl who grows up without it is at a disadvantage through life; while, at the same time, the training of the school is so far defective that, left to itself, it turns out very imperfect, inadequate human beings. The point for our consideration is, that the duty of the parents to educate their child is by no means at an end when he enters upon school life; because it rests with them to supplement what is weak or wanting in the training of the school.
Now, as hitherto, education has a fourfold bearing––on the body, the mind, the moral, and the religious nature of the pupil. As far as physical education goes, the parent who has boys at school may sit at his ease; they are as fish in the water, in the native element of that well-regulated animal activity which should train them up towards a vigorous, capable, and alert manhood.
The schoolboy is so well off in the matter of physical training, that the rest of the world may envy him. But the schoolgirl is less fortunate; her chief dependence is upon gymnastics, dancing, and calisthenics; and some of the severer kinds of gymnastics cannot be attempted without risk by girls in their "teens." Little provision is made in their case, as in that of the boys, for thorough abandonment to games as part of the business of life. If they have tennis-courts, only a few can play at a time; if they have playgrounds, the games are haphazard affairs, and the girls are not encouraged to a healthful exercise of their lungs. Day schools can seldom undertake to make full provision for the physical development of girls, and, therefore, that duty falls back upon the parents. Skipping-rope, shuttle-cock, rounders, cricket, tennis, archery, hockey, cannot be too much encouraged. Long country walks with an object, say, the getting of botanical specimens, should be promoted on at least two days a week. Every day, two or three hours in the open air should be secured, and when that is not possible, on account of the weather, the evening should end with a carpet dance, or with good romping games.
Where is the time to come from? That is a question requiring serious consideration on the part of mothers, on whose good management it must depend if their children are to grow up with that sense of leisure which should be a prerogative of youth. For it is very true that the time of the girls is too fully occupied, and it is only by careful mapping out that enough growing-time can be secured for them. Say, their waking-day is fourteen hours long, from seven in the morning till nine at night: something like five hours will be spent in the schoolroom––goings and comings count for open-air exercise, though not of the best; from an hour to an hour and a half will be required for home work, "preparation"; an hour, at least, for "practice" on the piano; two hours for meals, an hour for dressing, etc.; now, three hours and a half is all that is left upon the closest calculation; and two hours and a half of this should be given up without stint to the girls' physical culture and amusement.
The younger children, who have fewer or no home tasks, and take less time for practising, will have the more for play. But, if the schoolgirl is to get two or three hours intact, she will owe it to her mother's firmness as much as to her good management. In the first place, that the school tasks be done, and done well, in the assigned time, should be a most fixed law. The young people will maintain that it is impossible, but let the mother insist; she will thereby cultivate the habit of attention, the very key to success in every pursuit, as well as secure for her children's enjoyment the time they would dissipate if left to themselves. It seldom happens that home work is given which should occupy more than an hour to an hour and a half, and a longer time is spent in the habit of mental dawdling––a real wasting of brain substance. It is a mistake to suppose that efforts in this direction run counter to the intention of the teachers; on the contrary, the greatest impediment they meet with is that mental inertness in the children, who will rather dawdle for an hour over a task than brace the attention for five minutes' steady effort. There is promise that a certain strain will, by-and-by, be taken off home life by the removal of homework or evening 'preparation' from the school curriculum. Teachers will gradually discover that if they let their pupils work from fitting books in the three or four school hours, more ground will be covered in less time, and the occasion for home tasks (or evening work in schools) will disappear.
Firmness on the mother's part in enforcing promptness in the taking off and putting on of outdoor clothes, etc., and punctuality at meals, and in not allowing one occupation to overlap another, secures many a half-hour of pleasant leisure for the young people, and has the double advantage of also making them feel themselves under a firm home rule.