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The people of most rural communities have an unsatisfied desire for more play, recreation, and sociable life. Opportunities for enjoyment seem more available in the towns and cities and are therefore a leading cause of the great exodus. Economic prosperity and good wages are not alone sufficient to keep people on farms and in villages if their income will not purchase the satisfactions they desire.

To a certain extent many of these advantages of the town and city can be brought to the rural community, but only when country people come to appreciate and develop those forms of play and recreation which are possible and adapted to their conditions, and when they are willing to afford ample facilities and opportunity for the play of their children, will the lure of the city be checked. With such a changed attitude the rural community need have no fear of the competition of the city. It may not be able to have as fine commercial amusements, but it can have the best sort of play and recreation at small cost, for which the cities incur large expense.

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There is a peculiar need for a better understanding of the place of play and recreation in the open country at the present time. Formerly large families gave better opportunity for the children of one family to play together, and there were more children of similar ages at the district school of the neighborhood. To-day with farms farther apart and fewer children, farm children do not have sufficient opportunity to play together in groups. The better opportunity for group play and team games is one of the advantages of the consolidated school which has been too little appreciated.

We have seen that one of the obvious necessities for the economic progress of agriculture is that its business be conducted on a coöperative basis. The chief obstacle to coöperation is the individualism of the farmer. The training of boys and girls in team games, in which they learn loyalty to the group and to subordinate themselves to the winning of the team, will do much to change this attitude. Boys who play baseball and basketball together, who are associated in boy scouts and agricultural clubs, will be much quicker to coöperate, for they grow up with an attitude of loyalty to the team group as well as to their own family.

Again, the awkwardness and self-consciousness of the country youth in comparison with his city cousin is due to no inherent inferiority, for in a few years he often out-strips him, but it is the direct result of his lack of social contacts. Personality develops through social life, through the give and take of one personality with another, through imitation, and the acquirement of a natural ease of association with others. The country boy and girl who has had the advantage of association with larger groups in the consolidated school or high school tends to become quite the social equal of the city child.

Heretofore many people, and particularly farm people, have regarded play and recreation for adults as more or less frivolous or unnecessary, while for children play has been used as an award for good conduct or hard work, but it has by no means been deemed a necessary phase of the child's life. If Johnnie does all his chores or if Mary washes the dishes and dusts the furniture faithfully, the opportunity for play is held up as a reward for services rendered; but that time for play and proper kinds of play are essential for a child's education has only recently been established by the students of child psychology and is not, as yet, generally appreciated either by parents or teachers.

It is often said that this is the "age of the child," in that our civilization is more largely shaped by a desire to give our children the best possible advantages. We have come to appreciate, thanks to the insight of such philosophers as John Fiske,[58] that the advancement of the human race has been very largely due to the prolongation of the period of infancy. Ordinarily we think of play as an attribute of childhood, but as an incident rather than as a fundamental reason for the prolongation of childhood. Most modern students of child psychology, however, will take the view of Karl Gross,[59] an authority on the play of man and animals, who says: "Children do not play because they are young; they are young in order that they may play." Play is a normal process of the child's growth through spontaneous activity. Joseph Lee, the president of the Playground and Recreation Association of America, goes so far as to say: "Play is thus the essential part of education. It is nature's prescribed course. School is invaluable in forming the child to meet actual social opportunities and conditions. Without the school, he will not grow up to fit our institutions. Without play he will not grow up at all.[60]

I do not mean that a child should have no responsibilities, for that is the misfortune of the city child, but it is important to recognize the truth of old adage that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," which modern psychology has given a scientific basis. One of the most fundamental needs for the promotion of play in rural communities is to secure a new attitude toward it on the part of many parents. Too frequently--and alas, often from necessity--children are compelled to do too much farm labor. Agriculture is still a family industry, and very often on the poorer farms the older children seem to be considered chiefly as an economic asset. Overwork and little or no time to satisfy the innate tendency of children to play, inevitably produces a dislike of farm life and is one of the most obvious reasons why many of them leave the farm as soon as possible.

Many parents have forgotten how to play and have lost the "feel" of it. It is important for them to play themselves in order to appreciate the needs of their children, and to have a real sympathy with them. Picnics, play festivals, and sociables, at which every one is compelled to "get into the game," are valuable for this purpose. Many a man recovers his youth in a picnic baseball game. Others have never had much play in their own lives and do not appreciate its value for the best development of their children. Play festivals or demonstrations and local athletic meets in which their children participate may appeal to their parental pride. Furthermore, when such play days are community affairs, they give the sanction of public opinion to the games played and to those participating in them. The play idea is popularized.

_Play in the Home._--Although the small family does not furnish opportunity for group games, which are necessary for the satisfaction both of children and adults, yet the movement for better play facilities for the community should not overlook the fact that the home is the fundamental social institution of rural life and that play and recreation in the home are essential to its success and happiness. Home games bind the family together, and parents who play with their children find it much easier to secure and maintain their confidence. The community may well give attention to the encouragement of games and play in the homes as well as in the community gatherings. We need a definite movement on the part of pastors, teachers, and especially by such organizations as granges and farm and home bureaus for the promotion of play by young and old in the farm home.

_Influence of the Automobile._--One of the values of the automobile is that by its use many a farmer has been given a new realization of the value of recreation. The new desire for recreation thus created is a great gain for farm life. There is no reason why the farmer and his family should not have as much enjoyment of life as town and city people, and if they cannot, then only the poorer class of people will remain on the farms. Occasionally one hears a commercial salesman or some city business man decrying the effect of automobiles on farmers, claiming that they are neglecting their work while chasing around the country having a good time. Doubtless in occasional instances this is as true of the farmer as it is of the townsman, but such farmers will soon come to their senses or get off the farm, and even were there a general tendency of this sort in some communities it must be regarded as the temporary excitement of a new experience. On the other hand, the breaking down of the old stolidity which dominated many a farmer who had become so accustomed to work day in and day out that he was hardly happy when he had a chance for recreation, and the creation of a wholesome desire for a larger experience and more association with others, is one of the largest gains in country life and will not only raise the standards of living, but will be a potent incentive for better agricultural methods. There can be no progress without a certain amount of dissatisfaction. Contentedness has its virtues, but it may degenerate into inertia and the death of all desire for better life.

On the other hand, the automobile and trolley have made it possible for farm people to easily reach the towns and there attend movies and other commercial amusements and to take part in the social life of the town and city. This may weaken the social life of the rural community, and it also tends to make rural people imitate the forms of play, recreation, and social life of the city, which are not necessarily best suited to rural life. When rural people come to appreciate that those forms of play and recreation which are native or are adapted to the country have many advantages over those of their city cousins, and in many ways may have higher values and satisfactions, they will give more heed to developing those which are most suitable for their enjoyment. Because various kinds of expensive play apparatus are desirable for the small playground of the city, which is crowded with hundreds of children, is no reason why similar apparatus should be thought necessary for the school-yard of the rural school. Many of the present tendencies of recreation in cities are but revivals of rural customs which are receiving new recognition because they appeal to that which is innate in human nature. What is community singing but a variation of the old-fashioned singing school? Folk-dancing originated in the country as an expression of the activities of every-day life, and should be encouraged everywhere. Dramatics and pageantry are native to the countryside. The fair and festival are rural institutions.

_Commercial Amusements; Moving Pictures._--A certain form of recreation may be secured through amusements which involve mere passive participation upon the part of the spectators, as in various entertainments, dramatics, etc. As long as those giving the entertainment are local people, friends or relatives, the audience takes a more or less sympathetic part in the performance and is not actuated solely by the desire to purchase pleasurable sensations as is the case with commercial amusements. I mean by commercial amusements those which are operated solely for profit, whose advantages the individual purchases for his own pleasure rather than with any idea of participating in a group activity. Commercial amusements have their place and may be of great benefit, but they are largely an individualistic form of enjoyment and tend to make the spectator increasingly dependent upon passive pleasurable sensations, and do not have the social value of those forms of play in which one actively participates as a member of a group.

Although commercial amusements have these limitations, yet they have very real values which might be secured for many rural communities if they were operated on a coöperative basis by the people themselves rather than merely for profit by an individual. Motion pictures are now the most popular form of commercial amusement and have unlimited possibilities when operated for the good of the community rather than for profit alone. It is now possible to secure relatively cheap projection outfits and electric plants, so that many small communities are now operating their own motion picture shows. In many places this is one of the leading attractions at the community building and is a source of revenue for its maintenance. In such places the motion picture entertainment is becoming a sort of family affair, and when it can be so operated as to secure the attendance of the family as a group the objectionable features will soon disappear. Indeed, there is a well-organized effort on the part of certain motion picture firms to supply films for just this type of entertainments. Moreover, the picture show may possibly be supplemented with other features which will make a more attractive evening's entertainment, especially in small places where it is practicable to operate but one show during an evening. During the war community singing was tried at the opening and between reels in many movie houses with conspicuous success, and should be encouraged wherever suitable leadership can be secured. The speeches of the "four-minute" men were also an innovation which might well be tried further in a modified form. Would not a four-minute speech on some current topic by a live speaker, given in an uncontroversial manner, be a welcome feature of the movie show between reels, and an effective means of educating public opinion? The community orchestra or community band might well receive encouragement and financial aid by occasional programs at the community movies.

_Dramatics and Pageantry._--In the last few years amateur dramatics have become increasingly popular in rural communities. The "little country theater" idea has caught the attention of rural people, and seems destined in one form or another to become a rural institution. Amateur dramatics are one of the most enjoyable and wholesome forms of recreation. The actors not only have a deal of fun as well as hard work, but real acting involves putting one's self into the part and gaining an understanding of various types of people and social situations which is a most liberal education. The audience, on the other hand, takes a particular interest in the acting of its children, friends, and relatives, and it enters into the spirit of the play much more fully than when seeing professional actors. The amateur dramatic club tends to become a community organization in which the people have a real pride and for which they develop a loyalty which affords it a peculiar opportunity and responsibility for portraying various problems and phases of life, giving not only enjoyment but a finer and deeper appreciation of human relationships.

For special occasions the historical pageant is not only a most delightful entertainment but is one of the best means of arousing community pride and spirit. The pageant grips both actors and audience with a common loyalty to their forefathers. Such an historical picture of the development of a community brings to its people an appreciation of their common heritage and they come to a new realization of their present comforts and their responsibility for the community's future. All sorts and conditions of people will work together in a pageant and enjoy the association. Any rural community which really makes up its mind to do so can produce an historical pageant of its own, which will give new meaning and inspiration to the common life.[61]

_Play in the School._--The school is commencing to realize the importance of play as a phase of education, but in many cases the one-room country school has too few children of the same age to make it possible for them to play together with much satisfaction. School consolidation is essential for better play. The grounds of most one-room schools are ill-adapted to play and it is not always practicable to have sufficient land attached to them for a suitable playground. It has been assumed that children know how to play, but such is by no means always the case. They have the desire to play, but if they have not had opportunity to play with others, the forms of their play may be very limited. Herein is the opportunity for supervision by the teacher, who may teach them new plays and games, may uphold the code of play, and may see that all have opportunity to participate. Obviously the teachers themselves need training for this which they have not had in the past. New York State has provided that any school district or combination of several school districts may employ a supervisor of physical training, towards whose salary the state will contribute half up to $600 per annum, who will assist the teachers in developing physical training and play in their schools. Similar plans are being adopted in other states. Maryland has a state-wide athletic league organized by counties. The children of each school are given physical tests, and recognition by buttons and medals is given for the attainment of definite standards of physical development and prowess, graduated according to age and sex. Athletic meets are held by the schools of each county, and the winners then compete in a state-wide meet.[62]

In many parts of the country the schools of a community, township, or county are now holding play days or play festivals, with which is usually a picnic, at which children and parents from the whole countryside get together for a day of real recreation, and which have a large influence in winning the support of their patrons for the play activities fostered by the schools.[63]

_Boys' and Girls' Organizations._--Probably a larger impetus to the best types of play for country boys and girls has been given by such organizations as the Young Men's Christian Association, the Young Women's Christian Association, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Camp Fire Girls, and the Boys' and Girls' Clubs fostered by the extension departments of the state agricultural colleges and the U. S. Department of Agriculture, than by any other agencies. Each of these organizations has a program of children's activities involving both recreation and education, as well as a definite effort for character building. They are invaluable allies of the home, the school, and the church, for they are the boys' and girls' own organizations and meet their desire for group activities. Just which one or how many of them are needed in any one community is a local problem, and it is impracticable to here attempt any evaluation of their particular advantages. Suffice it to say that every rural community which can find suitable leadership should have such an organization of boys or girls, and will find the assistance of the state and national headquarters of these movements of the greatest help in the development of a local program of play and recreation.[64]

_The Church and Play._--We have already noted (page 133) a changing attitude on the part of the rural church toward play and recreation.[65] In the past it has too often been simply a negative condemnation of the so-called "worldly amusements," with no effort to understand the normal cravings of human nature which they satisfy or to furnish any satisfactory substitute for them. It is true that socials of the older classes in the Sunday school and of the young people's societies have done much for the sociable life of the country, but very often they have failed to interest those who would be most benefited by them. Recently, however, church leaders are actively encouraging rural churches to develop such programs of play and recreation as may be necessary to meet the needs of their communities. The Sunday schools are organizing baseball teams and baseball leagues, and are promoting "through-the-week" activities of organized classes. A majority of the troops of Boy Scouts are affiliated with churches, and scouting is becoming a recognized means for the direction of the church's recreational work for boys.

Just how far the rural church should go in affording facilities for play and recreation, is a local problem and it is difficult to generalize as to the duty of the church in this field. If there is but one church in the community, or there is a community church, and other agencies are lacking, it may be highly desirable for the church which has suitable rooms to equip one as a play room, or to establish a play ground for the children, or to organize a dramatic club. But where there is more than one church in a community, it is obviously difficult to organize recreational work on sectarian lines. In some instances the churches are pooling their interests in the support of a common recreational program. Some of those who most keenly feel the responsibility for the leadership of the church in this field, even go so far as to claim that on account of the moral values involved in the play of its people, play and recreation should be chiefly directed by and centered in the church. There is no question but that the church which does not give attention to this aspect of life and does not have some recreational and social features among its activities will fail to meet the needs of its people, but whether the church can compete with the school, the community building, and independent social organizations, or whether it should seek to do so, is hardly a debatable question. The play and recreational life of most rural communities inevitably crosses church lines, and it is well for the community that it does. People may differ on religion and yet enjoy playing together. So the church may lead and promote better means for play and recreation, but whenever it attempts domination or control it will prejudice its position and will be unable to accomplish its objective.

_Community Buildings._--The larger appreciation of the importance of play and recreation in rural life has brought attention to the lack of physical equipment. Every rural community needs a playground large enough to include a good baseball diamond and a basketball court, and a building where indoor sports, gymnasium work and basketball games can be held.

On account of the lack of such facilities many cities have bought playgrounds upon which have been erected special buildings containing gymnasiums, game and club rooms, and often a branch library, which have become known as "social centers." The "social center idea" has spread to the country, for which various forms of social centers have been advocated. Any building which is available for such purposes to the whole community--the school, church, or grange hall--may become a social center if suitable arrangements are made for its operation as such. The U. S. Bureau of Education has urged that every school shall be made a social center, and as far as this is possible, it is most desirable. What can be accomplished through the country school is well shown in the work of Mrs. Marie Turner Harvey in the Porter School at Kirksville, Missouri.[66] But the district school will, at best, be only the social center of a neighborhood, and in many cases its district is too small for successful play or social life. Furthermore, the average one-room school is ill-adapted in architecture or equipment for social purposes. The consolidated school or village high school may well be made a social center as far as it is possible for it to so function and new schools should be, and are being, constructed with this in view. The school building and the school playground are naturally the best places for centering the play activities of the children, especially where physical training or play supervisors are employed by the schools. It is a question, however, whether those over school age will use the school for social purposes as freely as some other building, unless the general policy and management of the use of the building for community purposes is in the hands of a community organization formed for that purpose.

Where there is but one church in a community, which is practically a community church, the church building or church house may be utilized as a social center, and the erection of community buildings by such churches is now being advocated. In some cases such a community building attached to a church may be a means of meeting the need; but in other communities affiliation with the church may not be advantageous. Where there is more than one church, the churches may join in the operation of a community building, but in that case all of the churches must be included or it will not have the support of the whole community--it will not be a real _community_ building.

Many grange buildings are now used but once in a fortnight or so for grange meetings, and remain idle the rest of the time. May it not be possible to devise some equitable and satisfactory arrangement whereby they may be made available for the constant use of all the people as community buildings and still reserve them to the grange for its use at such times as it desires? The average rural community cannot afford to tie up so much capital in buildings which are so infrequently used.

In any event, the auspices under which a community building is to be operated and the possibility of securing the united support of the whole community for it are essential if it is to be permanently successful as a "community home."

Because of the limitations of school, church, and grange hall, many communities are now planning to erect "community buildings"[67] in which all the "leisure-time activities" of the whole community may be centered. The community building will usually include an auditorium with stage for entertainments and dramatics, which is often used for a gymnasium or basketball, a kitchen and dining room, a game room, possibly a library room, and such other features as may be practicable. In older communities there are often more buildings than are being used. Unused churches may well be converted to community buildings with relatively small expense. The advent of prohibition and good roads has driven many village hotels out of business and their buildings are in some cases suitable for conversion into community buildings and may be purchased at much below cost. Some sort of organization must be the owner of a community building and assure its support, and it would seem that if the building is to be truly a community affair it should be operated by the community as such. In some states legislation has been passed permitting the township, or any voluntary tax district, to erect and operate a community building, and many such buildings are in successful operation. In other cases, it will be desirable to form some sort of community organization, which is open to all members of the community and which represents all of the organizations and interests which may use the building, for its erection and control.

Thus rural play and recreation which formerly centered in the neighborhood, is now being organized on a community basis, and the increased interest in adequate facilities for play and recreation is, in last analysis, an effort of the rural community to defend its integrity against the lure of its people by the city. Just as in their economic life and in their educational system rural people are compelled to act together as a community if they are to compete with the advancing standards of the city, so play and recreation is also becoming a concern of the whole community.

Footnotes:

[58] See his "The Meaning of Infancy."

[59] "The Play of Man." Translated by Elizabeth L. Baldwin. New York, 1901.

[60] "Play in Education."

[61] See Abigail F. Halsey, The Historical Pageant in the Rural Community. N. Y. State College of Agriculture, Cornell Extension Bulletin, 54. June, 1922.

[62] See Official Handbook of the Public Athletic League, Baltimore, Md. Edited by William Burdick, M.D. Spalding Athletic Library, New York, American Sports Publishing Co.

[63] See Galpin and Weisman, "Play Days in Rural Schools," Circular 118, Exten. Div. of the College of Agr., Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison.

[64] National headquarters are as follows: Y. M. C. A., County Work, 347 Madison Ave., New York; Y. W. C. A., Country Dept., 600 Lexington Ave., New York; Boy Scouts of America, Fifth Ave. Bldg., New York; Girl Scouts, Inc., 189 Lexington Ave., New York; The Camp Fire Girls of America, 128 E. 28th St., New York; Boys' and Girls' Club Work (in agriculture and home economics), States Relations Service, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D. C., or the extension department of any state agricultural college.

[65] The best discussion of this topic is Henry A. Atkinson's "The Church and the Peoples Play." Boston, Pilgrim Press, 1915.

[66] See Evelyn Dewey, "New Schools for Old." New York.

[67] See Farmers' Bulletins 825, 1173 and 1192, U. S. Department of Agriculture, by W. C. Nason, on Rural Community Buildings.