HERE AND NOW STORY BOOK
HERE AND NOW STORY BOOK
TWO- TO SEVEN-YEAR-OLDS
Experimental Stories Written for the Children of the City and Country School (formerly the Play School) and the Nursery School of the Bureau of Educational Experiments.
by LUCY SPRAGUE MITCHELL
Illustrated by Hendrik Willem Van Loon
Published by E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc., for PARENTS' INSTITUTE, Inc. Publishers of Parents' Magazine and Approved Publications for Young People 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY, INC.
COPYRIGHT (RENEWAL) 1948 BY LUCY SPRAGUE MITCHELL
All Rights Reserved
Printed in the United States of America
FOREWORD: BY CAROLINE PRATT ix INTRODUCTION 1 Content: Its educational and psychological basis 4 Form: Its patterns in words, sentences and stories 46
Two-Year-Olds: Types to be adjusted to individual children. Content, personal activities, told in motor and sense terms. Form reduced to a succession of few simple patterns. MARNI TAKES A RIDE 73 MARNI GETS DRESSED IN THE MORNING 81
Three-Year-Olds: Content based on enumeration of familiar sense and motor associations and simple familiar chronological sequences. Some attempt to give opportunity for own contribution or for "motor enjoyment." THE ROOM WITH THE WINDOW LOOKING OUT ON THE GARDEN 89 THE MANY HORSE STABLE 99 MY KITTY 105 THE ROOSTER AND THE HENS 109 THE LITTLE HEN AND THE ROOSTER 114
Jingles: MY HORSE, OLD DAN 115 HORSIE GOES JOG-A-JOG 118 AUTO, AUTO 119
Four- and Five-Year-Olds: Content, simple relationships between familiar moving objects, stressing particularly the idea of use. Emphasis on sound. Attempt to make verse patterns carry the significant points in the narrative. HOW SPOT FOUND A HOME 121 THE DINNER HORSES 131 THE GROCERY MAN 137 THE JOURNEY 141 PEDRO'S FEET 147 HOW THE ENGINE LEARNED THE KNOWING SONG 153 THE FOG BOAT STORY 167 HAMMER, SAW, AND PLANE 177 THE ELEPHANT 185 HOW THE ANIMALS MOVE 189 THE SEA-GULL 192 THE FARMER TRIES TO SLEEP 197 WONDERFUL-COW-THAT-NEVER-WAS 203 THINGS THAT LOVED THE LAKE 211 HOW THE SINGING WATER GOT TO THE TUB 219 THE CHILDREN'S NEW DRESSES 229 OLD DAN GETS THE COAL 237
Six- and Seven-Year-Olds: Content, relationships further removed from the personal and immediate and extended to include social significance of simple familiar facts. Longer-span pattern which has become organic with beginning, middle and end. THE SUBWAY CAR 241 BORIS TAKES A WALK AND FINDS MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRAINS 251 BORIS WALKS EVERY WAY IN NEW YORK 267 SPEED 281 FIVE LITTLE BABIES 291 ONCE THE BARN WAS FULL OF HAY 299 THE WIND 309 THE LEAF STORY 315 A LOCOMOTIVE 320 MOON, MOON 322 AUTOMOBILE SONG 323 SILLY WILL 325 EBEN'S COWS 340 THE SKY SCRAPER 353
Our school has always assumed that children are interested in and will work with or give expression to those things which are familiar to them. This is not new: the kindergarten gives domestic life a prominent place with little children. But with the kindergarten the present and familiar is abandoned in most schools and emphasis is placed upon that which is unfamiliar and remote. It is impossible to conceive of children working their own way from the familiar to the unknown unless they develop a method in understanding the familiar which will apply to the unfamiliar as well. This method is the method of art and science—the method of experimentation and inquiry. We can almost say that children are born with it, so soon do they begin to show signs of applying it. As they have been in the past and as they are in the present to a very great extent, schools make no attempt to provide for this method; in fact they take pains to introduce another. They are disposed to set up a rigid program which answers inquiries before they are made and supplies needs before they have been felt.
We try to keep the children upon present day and familiar things until they show by their attack on materials and especially upon information that they are ready to work out into the unknown and unfamiliar. In the matter of stories and verse which fit into such a program we have always felt an almost total void. Whether other schools feel this would depend upon their intentional program. Surely no school would advise giving classical literature without the setting which would make the stories and verse understandable. It is a question whether the fact of desirable literature has not in the past and does not still govern our whole school program more than many educators would be willing to admit. What seems to be more logical is to set up that which is psychologically sound so far as we know it and create if need be a new literature to help support the structure.
In the presence of art, schools have always taken a modest attitude. For some reason or other they seem to think it out of their province. They regard children as potential scientists, professional men and women, captains of industry, but scarcely potential artists. To what school of design, what academy of music, what school of literary production, do our common schools lead? We are not fitting our children to compose, to create, but at our best to appreciate and reproduce.
Mrs. Mitchell as story teller in this new sense of writing stories, rather than merely telling them, is having an influence in the school which has not been altogether unlooked for. The children look upon themselves as composers in language and language thus becomes not merely a useful medium of expression but also an art medium. They regard their own content, gathered by themselves in a perfectly familiar setting as fit for use as art material. That is, just as the children draw and show power to compose with crayons and paints, they use language to compose what they term stories or occasionally, verse. Often these "stories" are a mere rehearsal of experiences, but in so far as they are vivid and have some sort of fitting ending they pass as a childish art expression just as their compositions in drawing do.
So far as content is concerned the school gives the children varied opportunities to know and express what they find in their environment. Mrs. Mitchell finds this content in the school. It is being used, it is even being expressed in language. What she particularly does is to show the possibility of using this same content as art in language. She does this both by writing stories herself and by helping the children to write. The children are not by any means read to, so much as they are encouraged to tell their own stories. These are taken down verbatim by the teachers of the younger groups. Through skilful handling of several of the older groups what the children call "group stories" are produced as well as individual ones.
We hope this book will bring to parents and teachers what it has to us, a new method of approach to literature for little children, and to children the joy our children have in the stories themselves.
The City and Country School July, 1921
HERE AND NOW STORY BOOK
HERE AND NOW STORY BOOK
These stories are experiments,—experiments both in content and in form. They were written because of a deep dissatisfaction felt by a group of people working experimentally in a laboratory school, with the available literature for children. I am publishing them not because I feel they have come through to any particularly noteworthy achievement, but because they indicate a method of work which I believe to be sound where children are concerned. They must always be regarded as experiments, but experiments which have been strictly limited to lines suggested to me by the children themselves. Both the stuff of the stories and the mould in which they are cast are based on suggestions gained directly from children. I have tried to put aside my notions of what was "childlike." I have tried to ignore what I, as an adult, like. I have tried to study children's interests not historically but through their present observations and inquiries, and their sense of form through their spontaneous expressions in language, and to model my own work strictly on these findings. I have forced myself throughout to be deliberate, conscious, for fear I should slip back to adult habits of thought and expression. I can give here only samples of the many stories and questions I have gathered from the children which form the basis of my own stories. Suffice it that my own stories attempt to follow honestly the leads which here and now the children themselves indicate in content and in form, no matter how difficult or strange the going for adult feet.
First, as to the stuff of which the story is made,—the content. I have assumed that anything to which a child gives his spontaneous attention, anything which he questions as he moves around the world, holds appropriate material about which to talk to him either in speech or in writing. I have assumed that the answers to these his spontaneous inquiries should be given always in terms of a relationship which is natural and intelligible at his age and which will help him to order the familiar facts of his own experiences. Thus the answers will themselves lead him on to new inquiries. For they will give him not so much new facts as a new method of attack. I have further assumed that any of this material which by taking on a pattern form can thereby enhance or deepen its intrinsic quality is susceptible of becoming literature. Material which does not lend itself to some sort of intentional design or form, may be good for informational purposes but not for stories as such.
The task, then, is to examine first the things which get the spontaneous attention of a two-year-old, a three-year-old and so up to a seven-year-old; and then to determine what relationships are natural and intelligible at these ages. Obviously to determine the mere subject of attention is not enough. Children of all ages attend to engines. But the two-year-old attends to certain things and the seven-year-old to quite different ones. The relationships through which the two-year-old interprets his observations may make of the engine a gigantic extension of his own energy and movement; whereas the relationships through which the seven-year-old interprets his observations may make of the engine a scientific example of the expansion of steam or of the desire of men to get rapidly from one place to another. What relationship he is relying on we can get only by watching the child's own activities. The second part of the task is to discover what is pattern to the untrained but unspoiled ears, eyes, muscles and minds of the little folk who are to consume the stories. Each part of the task has its peculiar difficulties. But fortunately in each, children do point the way if we have the courage to forget our own adult way and follow theirs.
In looking for content for these stories I followed the general lines of the school for which they were written. The school gives the children the opportunity to explore first their own environment and gradually widens this environment for them along lines of their own inquiries. Consequently I did not seek for material outside the ordinary surroundings of the children. On the contrary, I assumed that in stories as in other educational procedure, the place to begin is the point at which the child has arrived,—to begin and lead out from. With small children this point is still within the "here" and the "now," and so stories must begin with the familiar and the immediate. But also stories must lead children out from the familiar and immediate, for that is the method both of education and of art. Here and now stories mean to me stories which include the children's first-hand experiences as a starting point, not stories which are literally limited to these experiences. Therefore to get my basis for the stories I went to the environment in which a child of each age naturally finds himself and there I watched him. I tried to see what in his home, in his school, in the streets, he seized upon and how he made this his own. I tried to determine what were the relationships he used to order his experiences. Fortunately for the purposes of writing stories I did not have to get behind the baffling eyes and the inscrutable sounds of a small baby. Yet I learned much for understanding the twos by watching even through the first months. What "the great, big, blooming, buzzing confusion" (as James describes it) means to an infant, I fancy we grown-ups will really never know. But I suppose we may be sure that existence is to him largely a stream of sense impressions. Also I suppose we are reasonably safe in saying that whatever the impression that reaches him he tends to translate it into action. At what age a child accomplishes what can be called a "thought" or what these first thoughts are, is surely beyond our present powers to describe. But that his early thoughts have a discernible muscular expression, I fancy we may say. It may well be that thought is merely associative memory as Loeb maintains. It may well be that behaviorists are right and that thought is just "the rhythmic mimetic rehearsal of the first hand experience in motor terms." If the act of thinking is itself motor, its expression is somewhat attenuated in adults. Be that as it may, a small child's expressions are still in unmistakable motor terms. It is obviously through the large muscles that a baby makes his responses. And even a three-year-old can scarcely think "engine" without showing the pull of his muscles and the puff-puffing of exertion. Nor can he observe an object without making some movement towards it. He takes in through his senses; and he interprets through his muscles.
For our present purposes this characteristic has an important bearing. The world pictured for the child must be a world of sounds and smells and tastes and sights and feeling and contacts. Above all his early stories must be of activities and they must be told in motor terms. Often we are tempted to give him reasons in response to his incessant "why?" but when he asks "why?" he really is not searching for reasons at all. A large part of the time he is not even asking a question. He merely enjoys this reciperative form of speech and is indignant if your answer is not what he expects. One of my children enjoyed this antiphonal method of following his own thoughts to such an extent that for a time he told his stories in the form of questions telling me each time what to answer! His questions had a social but no scientific bearing. And even when a three-year-old asks a real question he wants to be answered in terms of action or of sense impressions and not in terms of reasons why. How could it be otherwise since he still thinks with his senses and his muscles and not with that generalizing mechanism which conceives of cause and effect? The next time a three-year-old asks you "why you put on shoes?" see if he likes to be told "Mother wears shoes when she goes out because it is cold and the sidewalks are hard," or if he prefers, "Mother's going to go outdoors and take a big bus to go and buy something:" or "You listen and in a minute you'll hear mother's shoes going pat, pat, pat downstairs and then you'll hear the front door close bang! and mother won't be here any more!" "Why?" really means, "please talk to me!" and naturally he likes to be talked to in terms he can understand which are essentially sensory and motor.
Now what activities are appropriate for the first stories? I think the answer is clear. His, the child's, own! The first activities which a child knows are of course those of his own body movements whether spontaneous or imposed upon him by another. Everything is in terms of himself. Again I think none of us would like to hazard a guess as to when the child comes through to a sharp distinction between himself and other things or other persons. But we are sure, I think, that this distinction is a matter of growth which extends over many years and that at two, three, and even four, it is imperfectly apprehended. We all know how long a child is in acquiring a correct use of the pronouns "me" and "you." And we know that long after he has this language distinction, he still calls everything he likes "mine." "This is my cow, this is my tree!" The only way to persuade him that it is not his is to call it some one else's. Possessed it must be. He knows the world only in personal terms. That is, his early sense of relationship is that of himself to his concrete environment. This later evolves into a sense of relationship between other people and their concrete environment.
At first, then, a child can not transcend himself or his experiences. Nor should he be asked to. A two-year-old's stories must be completely his stories with his own familiar little person moving in his own familiar background. They should vivify and deepen the sense of the one relationship he does feel keenly,—that of himself to something well-known. Now a two-year-old's range of experiences is not large. At least the experiences in which he takes a real part are not many. So his stories must be of his daily routine,—his eating, his dressing, his activities with his toys and his home. These are the things to which he attends: they make up his world. And they must be his very own eating and dressing and home, and not eating and dressing and homes in general. Stories which are not intimately his own, I believe either pass by or strain a two-year-old; and I doubt whether many three-year-olds can participate with pleasure and without strain in any experience which has not been lived through in person. He may of course get pleasure from the sound of the story apart from its meaning much earlier. Just now we are thinking solely of the content. I well remember the struggles of my three-year-old boy to get outside himself and view a baby chicken's career objectively. He checked up each step in my story by this orienting remark, "That the baby chicken in the shell, not me! The baby chicken go scritch-scratch, not me!" Was not this an evident effort to comprehend an extra-personal relationship?
Again just as at first a small child can not get outside himself, so he can not get outside the immediate. At first he can not by himself recall even a simple chronological sequence. He is still in the narrowest, most limiting sense, too entangled in the "here" and the "now." The plot sense emerges slowly. Indeed there is slight plot value in most children's stories up to eight years. Plot is present in embryonic form in the omnipresent personal drama: "Where's baby? Peek-a-boo! There she is!" It can be faintly detected in the pleasure a child has in an actual walk. But the pleasure he derives from the sense of completeness, the sense that a walk or a story has a beginning and a middle and an end, the real plot pleasure, is negligible compared with the pleasure he gets in the action itself. Small children's experiences are and should be pretty much continuous flows of more or less equally important episodes. Their stories should follow their experiences. They should have no climaxes, no sense of completion. The episodes should be put together more like a string of beads than like an organic whole. Almost any section of a child's experience related in simple chronological sequence makes a satisfactory story.
This can be pressed even further. There is another kind of relationship by which little children interpret their environment. It is the early manifestation of the associational process which in our adult life so largely crowds out the sensory and motor appreciation of the world. It runs way back to the baby's pleasure in recognizing things, certainly long before the period of articulate questions. We all retain vestiges of this childlike pleasure in our joyful greeting of a foreign word that is understood or in any new application of an old thought or design. As a child acquires a few words he adds the pleasure of naming,—an extension of the pleasure of recognition. This again develops into the joy of enumerating objects which are grouped together in some close association, usually physical juxtaposition. For instance a two-or three-year-old likes to have every article he ate for breakfast rehearsed or to have every member of the family named at each episode in a story which concerns the group! Earlier he likes to have his five little toes checked off as pigs or merely numbered. This is closely tied up with the child's pattern sense which we shall discuss at length under "Form." Now the pleasure of enumeration, like that of a refrain, is in part at least a pleasure in muscle pattern. My two-year-old daughter composed a song which well illustrates the fascination of enumeration. The refrain "Tick-tock" was borrowed from a song which had been sung to her.
"Tick-tock Marni's nose, Tick-tock Marni's eyes, Tick-tock Marni's mouth, Tick-tock Marni's teeth, Tick-tock Marni's chin, Tick-tock Marni's romper, Tick-tock Marni's stockings, Tick-tock Marni's shoes," etc., etc.
This she sang day after day, enumerating such groups as her clothes, the objects on the mantel and her toys. Walt Whitman has given us glorified enumerations of the most astounding vitality. If some one would only pile up equally vigorous ones for children! But it is not easy for an adult to gather mere sense or motor associations without a plot thread to string them on. The children's response to the two I have attempted in this collection, "Old Dan" and "My Kitty," make me eager to see it tried more commonly.
All this means that the small child's attention and energy are absorbed in developing a technique of observation and control of his immediate surroundings. The functioning of his senses and his muscles engrosses him. Ideally his stories should happen currently along with the experience they relate or the object they reproduce, merely deepening the experience by giving it some pleasurable expression. At first the stories will have to be of this running and partly spontaneous type. But soon a child will like to have the story to recall an experience recently enjoyed. The living over of a walk, a ride, the sight of a horse or a cow, will give him a renewed sense of participation in a pleasurable activity. This is his first venture in vicarious experiences. And he must be helped to it through strong sense and muscular recalls. I have felt that these fairly literal recalls of every day details did deepen his sense of relationships since by himself he cannot recapture these familiar details even in a simple chronological sequence.
But if stories for a two or a three-year-old need to be of himself they must be written especially for him. Those written for another two-year-old may not fit. Consequently the first three stories in this collection are given as types rather than as independent narratives. "Marni Takes a Ride" is so elementary in its substance and its form as to be hardly recognizable as a "story" at all. And yet the appeal is the same as in the more developed narratives. It falls between the embryonic story stage of "Peek-a-boo!" and Marni's second story. It was first told during the actual ride. Repeated later it seemed to give the child a sense of adventure,—an inclusion of and still an extension of herself beyond the "here" and "now" which is the essence of a story. Both of Marni's stories are given as types for a mother to write for her two-year-old; the "Room with the Window in It" (written for the Play School group) is given as a type for a teacher to write for her three-year-old group.
I cannot leave the subject of the "familiar" for children without looking forward a few years. This process of investigating and trying to control his immediate surroundings, this appreciation of the world through his senses and his muscles, does not end when the child has gained some sense of his own self as distinguished from the world,—of the "me" and the "not me,"—or achieved some ability to expand temporarily the "here" and the "now" into the "there" and the "then." The process is a precious one and should not be interrupted and confused by the interjection of remote or impersonal material. He still thinks and feels primarily through his own immediate experiences. If this is interfered with he is left without his natural material for experimentation for he cannot yet experiment easily in the world of the intangible. Moreover to the child the familiar is the interesting. And it remains so I believe through that transition period,—somewhere about seven years,—when the child becomes poignantly aware of the world outside his own immediate experience,—of an order, physical or social, which he does not determine, and so gradually develops a sense of standards of what is to be expected in the world of nature or of his fellows along with a sense of workmanship. It is only the blind eye of the adult that finds the familiar uninteresting. The attempt to amuse children by presenting them with the strange, the bizarre, the unreal, is the unhappy result of this adult blindness. Children do not find the unusual piquant until they are firmly acquainted with the usual; they do not find the preposterous humorous until they have intimate knowledge of ordinary behavior; they do not get the point of alien environments until they are securely oriented in their own. Too often we mistake excitement for genuine interest and give the children stimulus instead of food. The fairy story, the circus, novelty hunting, delight the sophisticated adult; they excite and confuse the child. Red Riding-Hood and circus Indians excite the little child; Cinderella confuses him. Not one clarifies any relationship which will further his efforts to order the world. Nonsense when recognized and enjoyed as such is more than legitimate; it is a part of every one's heritage. But nonsense which is confused with reality is vicious,—the more so because its insinuations are subtle. So far as their content is concerned, it is chiefly as a protest against this confusing presentation of unreality, this substitution of excitement for legitimate interest, that these stories have been written. It is not that a child outgrows the familiar. It is rather that as he matures, he sees new relationships in the old. If our stories would follow his lead, they should not seek for unfamiliar and strange stuff in intrigue him; they should seek to deepen and enrich the relationships by which he is dimly groping to comprehend and to order his familiar world.
But to return to the younger children. Children of four are not nearly so completely ego-centric as those of three. There has seemed to me to be a distinct transition at this age to a more objective way of thinking. A four-year-old does not to the same extent have to be a part of every situation he conceives of. Ordinarily, too, he moves out from his own narrowly personal environment into a slightly wider range of experiences. Now, what in this wider environment gets his spontaneous attention? What does he take from the street life, for instance, to make his own? Surely it is moving things. He is still primarily motor in his interest and expression and remains so certainly up to six years. Engines, boats, wagons with horses, all animals, his own moving self,—these are the things he notices and these are the things he interprets in his play activities. Transportation and animals and himself. Do not these pretty well cover the field of his interests? If conceived of as motor and personal do they not hold all the material a four-or five-year-old needs for stories? If we bring in inanimate unmoving things, we must do with them what he does. We must endow them with life and motion. We need not be afraid of personification. This is the age when anthropomorphism flourishes. The five-year-old is still motor; his conception of cause is still personal. He thinks through his muscles; he personifies in his thought and his play.
Nevertheless there is very real danger in anthropomorphism,—in thus leaving the world of reality. There is danger of confusing the child. We must be sure our personifications are built on relationships which our child can understand and which have an objective validity. We must be sure that a wolf remains a wolf and an engine an engine, though endowed with human speech.
Stories which are offered to small children must be assessed from this two-fold point of view. What relationships are they based on? And in what terms are they told? Fairy stories should not be exempted. We are inclined to accept them uncritically, feeling that they do not cramp a child as does reality. We cling to the idea that children need a fairy world to "cultivate their imaginations." In the folk tales we are intrigued by the past,—by the sense that these embodiments of human experience, having survived the ages, should be exempt from modern analysis. If, however, we do commit the sacrilege of looking at them alongside of our educational principles, I think we find a few precious ones that stand the test. For children under six, however, even these precious few contribute little in content, but much through their matchless form. On the other hand, we find that many of the human experiences which these old tales embody are quite unsuitable for four-and five-year-olds. Cruelty, trickery, economic inequality,—these are experiences which have shaped and shaken adults and alas! still continue to do so. But do we wish to build them into a four-year-old's thinking? Some of these experiences run counter to the trends of thinking we are trying to establish in other ways; some merely confuse them. We seem to identify imagination with gullibility or vague thinking. But surely true imagination is not based on confusion. Imagination is the basis of art. But confused art is a contradiction of terms.
Now, the ordinary fairy tale which is the chief story diet of the four-and five-year-olds, I believe does confuse them; not because it does not stick to reality (for neither do the children) but because it does not deal with the things with which they have had first-hand experience and does not attempt to present or interpret the world according to the relationships which the child himself employs. Rather it gives the child material which he is incapable of handling. Much in these tales is symbolic and means to the adult something quite different from what it bears on its face. And much, I believe, is confused even to the grown-up. Now a confused adult does not make a child! Nor does it ever help a child to give him confusion. When my four-year-old personified a horse for one whole summer, he lived the actual life of a horse as far as he knew it. His bed was always "a stall," his food was always "hay," he always brushed his "mane" and "put on his harness" for breakfast. It was only when real horse information gave out that he supplied experiences from his own life. He was not limited by reality. He was exercising his imagination. This is quite different from the adult mixtures of the animal, the social, and the moral worlds. Does not Cinderella interject a social and economic situation which is both confusing and vicious? Does not Red Riding-Hood in its real ending plunge the child into an inappropriate relationship of death and brutality or in its "happy ending" violate all the laws that can be violated in regard to animal life? Does not "Jack and the Beanstalk" delay a child's rationalizing of the world and leave him longer than is desirable without the beginnings of scientific standards? The growth of the sense of reality is a growth of the sense of relations. From the time when the child begins to relate isolated experiences, when he groups together associations, when he begins to note the sequence, the order of things, from this time he is beginning to think scientifically. It is preeminently the function of education to further the growth of the sense of reality, to give the child the sense of relationship between facts, material or social: that is, to further scientific conceptions. Stories, if they are to be a part of an educational process, must also further the growth of the sense of reality, must help the child to interpret the relationships in the world around him and help him to develop a scientific process of thinking. It is not important that he know this or that particular fact; it is important that he be able to fit any particular fact into a rational scheme of thought. Accordingly, the relationships which a story clarifies are of much greater import than the facts it gives. All this, of course, concerns the content of stories—the intentional material it presents to the child and has nothing to do with the pleasure of the presentation,—the relish which comes from the form of the story. I do not wish this to be interpreted to mean that I think all fairy stories forever harmful. From the beginning innocuous tales like the "Gingerbread Man" should be given for the pattern as should the "Old Woman and Her Pig." Moreover, after a child is somewhat oriented in the physical and social world, say at six or seven,—I think he can stand a good deal of straight fairy lore. It will sweep him with it. He will relish the flight the more for having had his feet on the ground. But for brutal tales like Red Riding-Hood or for sentimental ones like Cinderella I find no place in any child's world. Obviously, fairy stories cannot be lumped and rejected en masse. I am merely pleading not to have them accepted en masse on the ground that they "have survived the ages" and "cultivate the imagination." For a child's imagination, since it is his native endowment, will surely flourish if he is given freedom for expression, without calling upon the stimulus of adult fancies. It is only the jaded adult mind, afraid to trust to the children's own fresh springs of imagination, that feels for children the need of the stimulus of magic.
The whole question of myths and sagas together with the function of personification must be taken up with the older children. For the present we are still concerned with four-and five-year-olds. Two sets of stories told by four-and five-year-old children in the school seem to me to show what emphasizing unrealities may do at this age. The first child in each set is thinking disjunctively; the second has his facts organized into definite relationships. Can one think that the second child enjoyed his ordered world less than the first enjoyed his confusion?
TWO STORIES BY FOUR-YEAR-OLDS
Once there was a table and he was taking a walk and he fell into a pond of water and an alligator bit him and then he came up out of the pond of water and he stepped into a trap that some hunters had set for him, and turned a somersault on his nose.
* * *
There was a new engine and it didn't have any headlight—its light wasn't open in its headlight so its engineer went and put some fire in the wires and made a light. And then it saw a lot of other engines on the track in front of it. So when it wanted to puff smoke and go fast it told its engineer and he put some coal in the coal car. And then the other engines told their engineers to put coal in their coal cars and then they all could go.
(The child then played a song by a "'lectric" engine on the piano and tried to write the notes.)
TWO STORIES BY FIVE-YEAR-OLDS
Once upon a time there was a clown and the clown jumped on the bed and the bed jumped on the cup. Then the clown took a pencil and drawed on his face. And the clown said, "Oh, I guess I'll sit in a rocking chair." So the rocking chair said, "Ha! ha!" and it tumbled away. Then a little pig came along and he said, "Could you throw me up and throw an apple down?" So the clown threw him so far that he was dead. He was on the track.
* * *
There was a big factory where all the men made engines. And one man made a smoke stack. And one man made a tender. And one man made a cab. And one man made a bell. And one man made a wheel. And then another man came and put them all together and made a great big engine. And this man said, "We haven't any tracks!" And then a man came and made the tracks. And then another man said, "We haven't any station!" So many men came and built a big station. And they said, "Let's have the station in Washington Square." So they pulled down the Arch and they pulled up all the sidewalks. And they built a big station. And they left all the houses; for where would we live else?
(In a sequel he says: So they knocked down the Arch and chopped up all the pieces. And they chopped all around the trees but they didn't chop them down because they looked so pretty with our station!)
I am far from meaning that five-year-olds should be confined to their literal experiences. They have made considerable progress in separating themselves from their environment though at times they seem still to think of the things around them more or less as extensions of themselves. Their inquiries still emanate from their own personal experiences; but they do not end there. A child of this age has a genuine curiosity about where things come from and where they go to. "What's it for?" indeed, implies a dim conception beyond the "here" and the "now," a conception which his stories should help him to clarify. If we try to escape the pitfall of "fairy stories,"—abandoning a child in unrealities,—we must not fall into the opposite pitfall and continue the easy habit of merely recounting a series of events, neither significant in themselves nor, as in the earlier years, significant because they are personal experiences. "Arabella and Araminta" and their like give a five-year-old no real food. They are saved, if saved they are, not by their content, but by a daring and skilful use of repetition and of sound quality. No, our stories must add something to the children's knowledge and must take them beyond the "here" and the "now." But this "something," as I have already said, is not so much new information as it is a new relationship among already familiar facts.
In each of the stories for four-and five-year-olds I have attempted to clarify known facts by showing them in a relationship a little beyond the children's own experience. All the stories came from definite inquiries raised by some child. They attempt to answer these inquiries and to raise others. "How the Engine Learned the Knowing Song," "The Fog Boat Story," "Hammer and Saw and Plane," "How the Singing Water Gets to the Tub," "Things That Loved the Lake," "The Children's New Dresses," "How Animals Move,"—all are based on definite relationships, largely physical, between simple physical facts.
Interest in these relationships,—inquiries which hold the germ of physical science, continue and increase with each year. In addition, a little later, children seem to begin questioning things social and to be ready for the simpler social relationships which underlie and determine the physical world of their acquaintance. "What's it for?" still dominates, but a six-year-old is on the way to becoming a conscious member of society. He now likes his answers to be in human terms. He takes readily to such conceptions as congestion as the cause for subways and elevated trains; the desire for speed as the cause of change in transportation; the dependence of man on other living things,—all of which I have made the bases of stories. To the children the material in "The Subway Car," "Speed," "Silly Will," is familiar; the relationships in which it appears are new.
Somewhere about seven years, there seems to be another transition period. Psychologists, whether in or out of schools, generally agree in this. Children of this age are acquiring a sense of social values,—a consciousness of others as sharply distinguished from themselves. They are also acquiring a sense of workmanship, of technique,—of things as sharply distinguished from themselves. They seek information in and for itself,—not merely in its immediate application to themselves. Their inquiries take on the character of "how?" This means, does it not, that the children have oriented themselves in their narrow personal world and that they are reaching out for experience in larger fields? It means that the "not-me" which was so shadowy in the earlier years has gained in social and in physical significance. And this again means that opportunity for exploration in ever-widening circles should be given. Stories should follow this general trend and open up the relationships in larger and larger environments until at last a child is capable of seeing relationships for himself and of regarding the whole world in its infinite physical and social complexity, as his own environment.
Probably the first extra-personal excursions should be into alien scenes or experiences which lead back or contribute directly to their old familiar world. Stories of unknown raw material which turn into well-known products are of this type,—cattle raising in Texas, dairy farms in New England, lumbering in Minnesota, sheep raising in California. It is a happy coincidence that raw materials are often produced under semi-primitive conditions, so that a vicarious participation in their production gives to children something of that thrilling contact with the elemental that does the life of primitive men, and this without sending them into the remote and, for modern children, "unnatural" world of unmodified nature. The danger here is that the story will be sacrificed to the information. Indeed it can hardly be otherwise, if the aim is to give an adequate picture of some process of production. This, of course, is a legitimate aim,—but for the encyclopedia, not for the story. What I have in mind is a dramatic situation which has this process as a background, so that the child becomes interested in the process because of the part it plays in the drama just as he would if the process were a background in his own life. I am thinking of the opportunities which these comparatively primitive situations give for adventure rather than for the detailed elucidation of a process of production.
It is the peculiar function of a story to raise inquiries, not to give instruction. A story must stimulate not merely inform. This is the trouble with our "informational literature" for children, of which very little is worthy of the name. Indeed, I am not sure it is not a contradiction of terms. It is frankly didactic. It aims to make clear certain facts, not to stimulate thought. It assumes that if a child swallows a fact it must nourish him. To give the child material with which to experiment,—this lies outside its present range. Reaction from the unloveliness of this didactic writing has produced a distressing result. The misunderstood and misapplied educational principle that children's work should interest them has developed a new species of story,—a sort of pseudo-literary thing in which the medicinal facts are concealed by various sugar-coating devices. Children will take this sort of story,—what will their eager little minds not take? And like encyclopedias and other books of reference this type has its place in a child's world. But it should never be confused with literature.
Literature must give a sense of adventure. This sense of adventure, of excursion into the unknown, must be furnished to children of every age. As I have said before, I think "Peek-a-boo, there's the baby!" is the elementary expression of this love of adventure. The baby disappears into the unknown vastness behind the handkerchief and to her, her reappearance is a thrilling experience. Children's stories,—as indeed all stories,—have been largely founded on this. The "Prudy" and "Dotty Dimple" books though keyed so low in the scale seem adventurous because of the meagre background of their young readers. But children of the age we are considering,—who have left the narrowly personal and predominantly play period demand something higher in the scale of adventure. To them are offered the great variety of tales of adventure and danger of which the boy scout is the latest example. Every child in reading these becomes a hero. And every child (and grown-up) enjoys being a hero. Higher still comes "Kidnapped" and so up to Stanley Weyman and "The Three Musketeers" which differ in their art, not in their appeal.
Now is it not possible to give children these adventurous excursions which they crave and should have, without so much killing of animals or men, and so many blood-thirsty excitements, and so much fake heroism? What relationships do such tales interpret? What truths do they give a child upon which to base his thinking? The relation of life to life is a delicate and difficult thing to interpret. But surely we can do better at an interpretation than tales of hunting, of impossible heroisms, and of war. Or at least, we can protest against having these almost the sole interpretations of adventure which are offered to children. The world of industry holds possibilities for adventure as thrilling as the world of high-colored romance. We must look with fresh eyes to see it. When once we see it, we shall be able to give the children a new type of the "story of adventure." Of all the experiments which the stories in this collection represent, this attempt to find and picture the romance and adventure in our world here and now, I consider the most important and difficult. In such stories as "Boris" and "Eben's Cows" and "The Sky Scraper," I have made experimental attempts to give children a sense of adventure by presenting social relations in this new way.
The cultured world has yet another answer to the question, "How shall we give our children adventure?" It points to the wealth of classical myths, of Iliads, sagas, of fairy-stories which are practically folk-lore, semi-magic, semi-allegorical, semi-moral tales which express the ideals and experiences of a different and younger world than ours of today. And it replies, "Give them these." It feels in the sternness of saga stuff and in the humanity of folk-lore, a validity and a dignity and a simplicity which seem to make them suitable for children. These tales tell of beliefs of folk less experienced than we: we have outgrown them. They must be suited to the less experienced: give them to children. Thus runs the common argument. And so we find Hawthorne's "Tanglewood Tales," AEsop's "Fables," various Indian myths and Celtic legends, and even the "Niebelungen Lied" often given to quite young children. But do we find this reasoning valid when we examine these tales free from the glamour which adult sophistication casts around them? Remember we are thinking now of children in that delicate seven-to eight-year-old transition period. I have already told how I believe these children are but just beginning to have conceptions of laws,—social and physical. They are groping their way, regimenting their experiences, seeing dim generalizations and abstractions. But they are not firmly oriented. They are beginners in the world of physical or social science and can be easily side-tracked or confused. A child of twelve or even ten is quite a different creature, often with clear if not articulate conceptions of the make-up of the physical and human world. He has something to measure against, some standards to cling to. But we are talking about children still in the early plastic stages of standards who will take the relationships we offer them through stories and build them into the very fabric of their thinking.
Now, how much of the classical literature follows the lead of the children's own inquiries? How much of it stimulates fruitful inquiries? What are the relationships which sagas, myths and folk-lore interpret? And what are the interpretations? This is a vast question and can be answered only briefly with the full consciousness that there is much lumping of dissimilar material with resulting injustices and superficiality. Also there is no attempt to use the words "myth," "saga" and "folk-lore" in technical senses.[A] I have merely taken the dominant characteristic of any piece of literature as determining its class.
[A] For a clear exposition of this field of literature for children see "Literature in the Elementary School," by Porter Lander MacClintock, University of Chicago Press, 1907.
Myths, properly, are slow-wrought beliefs which embody a people's effort to understand their relations to the great unknown. They are essentially religious, symbolic, mystic, subtle, full of fears and propitiations, involved, often based on the forgotten,—altogether unlike in their approach to the ingenuous and confident child. They are full of the struggle of life. Hardly before the involved introspections and theories of adolescence can we expect the real beauty and poignancy of a genuine myth to be even dimly understood. And why offer the shell without the spirit? It is likely to remain a shell forever if we do. And indeed, such an empty thing to most of us is the great myth of Prometheus or of the Garden of Eden.
But sagas! Are they not of exactly the heroic stuff for little children? In essence the relationships with which they deal are human,—social. The story of Siegfried, of Achilles, of Abraham,—these are great sagas. Each is a tremendous picture of a human experience, the first two under heroic, enlarged conditions, the last under a human culture picturesquely different from our own. But even as straight tales of adventure they do not carry for little children. The environment is too remote, the world to be conquered too unknown to carry a convincing sense of heroism to small children. The same is true of the heroic tales of romance,—of Arthur and all the legends which cluster around his name. Magic, the children will get from these tales but little else. But if the tales should succeed in taking a child with them in their strange exploits into a strange land, they would surely fail to take him into the turgid human drama they picture. And as surely we should wish them to fail. The sagas, like most genuine folk-lore deal with the great elemental human facts, life and death, love, sexual passion and its consequences, marriage, motherhood, fatherhood. We grasp at them for our children, I believe, just because they deal with these fundamental things,—the very things we are afraid of unless they come to us concealed in strange clothing. But what kind of a foundation for interpreting these great elemental facts will the stories of Achilles and Briseus, of Jason and Medea, Pluto and Proserpina, of Guinevere and Launcelot make? What do we expect a child to get from these pictures of sexual passion on the part of the man,—even though a god,—and of social dependence of woman? Do Greek draperies make prostitution suitable for children? Does the glamour of chivalry explain illicit love? Most parents and schools who unhesitatingly hand over these social pictures to their children have never tried,—and neither care nor dare to try,—to face these elemental facts with their children. Can we really wish to avoid a frank statement of the positive in sex relations, of the facts of parenthood, of the institution of marriage, of the mutual companionship between man and woman, and give the negative, the unfulfilled, the distorted? This is preposterous and no one would uphold it. It must be the beauty of the tale, and not the significance we are after. But are these tales beautiful except as we endow them with the subtleties of a classical civilization, as we read into them piquant contrasts of a sensitive, expressive race still primitive in its social thinking and social habits,—that elusive thing which we mean by "Greek"? And can children get this without its background, particularly as they have yet no social background in their own world to hold it up against? And can children do any better with the perplexing ideals of the chivalrous knight swept by a human passion?
And in the same way can a child really get the beauty of Siegfried? What can he make out of the incestuous love of Siegmund and Sieglinda? And of Siegfried's naive passion on his first glimpse of a woman? What do we want him to make of it? Is that the way we wish to introduce him to sex? And as for the rest, the allegory of the ring itself, the sword, the dragon's blood, what do little children get from this except the excitement of magic? What we get because of what we have to put into it, is a different matter and should never be confused with the straight question of what children get. Outgrown adult thinking in social matters is no more suitable to children than outgrown thinking on physical facts. We do not teach that the world is flat because grown-ups once believed it was. We are not afraid of a round earth so we tell the truth about it. But we come near to teaching "spontaneous generation" with our endless evasions. We are afraid of a reproducing world, and so we fall back on curious mixtures of sex fables,—on storks and fairy godmothers and leave the mysteries of sex to be interpreted by Achilles and Siegfried and Guinevere! To emasculate these tales is to insult them,—to strip them of their significance and individuality. Is it not wiser to wait until children will not be confused by all their straight vigor and beauty?
There is other folk-lore less gripping in its human intensity. Through this may not children safely gain their needed adventures? And here we come again to the real "Maerchen,"—the fairy tales. They take us into a lovely world of unreality where magic and luck hold sway and where the child is safe from human problems and from scientific laws alike. I have already said in talking of the younger children that I feel it unsafe to loose a child in this unsubstantial world before he is fairly well grounded in a sense of reality. Once he has his bearings there is a good deal he will enjoy without confusion. The common defense that the mystery of fairy tales answers to a legitimate need in children, I believe holds good for children of six or seven, or even five, who have had opportunities for rational experiences. We all know how children revel in a secret. They like to live in a world of surprises. To give the children this sense of mystery I do not believe it is at all necessary to turn to vicious tales of giants, of ogres, and Bluebeards, or to the no less vicious pictures of the beautiful princess and the wicked stepmother. Even after rejecting the brutal and sentimental we have a good deal left,—a good deal that is intrinsically amusing as in "The Musicians of Bremen" or "Prudent Hans" or charming as in "Briar Rose." Symbolic or primitive attempts to explain the physical world,—as in the Indian legend of "Tavwots" I have never found held great appeal for the modern six- or seven-year-old scientists. Also the burden of symbolic morality rests on a good many of the traditional tales which usually neither adds nor detracts for the child and satisfies an adult yearning. Allegories like AEsop's "Fables" and "The Lion of Androcles" have a certain right to a hearing because of their historic prestige, apart from any reform they may accomplish in the way of character building. And in our own day many animals have achieved what I believe is a permanent place in child literature. "The Elephant's Child," the wild creatures of the "Jungle Book," "Raggylug" and even the little mole in the "Wind in the Willows,"—these are animals to trust any child with. Yet even in these exquisitely drawn tales, I doubt if children enjoy what we adults wish them to enjoy either in content or in form. And I doubt if we should accept even some of Kipling's matchless tales if the faultless form did not intrigue us and make us oblivious of the content.
It is just here that most of us fail to be discriminating. Most of the classical literature, most of the legends, or the folk tales that I have been discussing have a compelling charm through their form. But unfortunately that does not make their content suitable! Their place in the world's thinking and feeling and their transcription into their present forms by really great artists give them a permanent place in the world's literature. This I do not question. It is partly because I believe this so intensely that I wish them kept for fuller appreciation. It is as formative factors in a young child's thinking that I am afraid of them. Neither am I afraid of all of them. There are some old conceptions of life and death and human relations which the race has not outgrown, perhaps never will outgrow. The mystery and pathos of the Pied Piper, the humor of Prudent Hans, the cleverness of the boy David, the heroism of the little Dutch boy stopping the hole in the dyke, the love of the Queer Little Baker, and the greed and grief of Midas are eternal. In spite of these and many more, I maintain that for the most part, myths, sagas, folk-lore depend for their significance and beauty alike upon a grasp of present social values which a young child cannot have and that our first attention should be to give him those values in terms intelligible to him. After we have done that he is safe. It matters little what we give him so long as it is good: for he will have standards by which to judge our offerings for himself.
Yet after all is said and done, we may be reduced to giving children some of the stories we think inappropriate, for lack of something better. But a recognition of the need may evoke a great writer for children. I maintain we have never had one of the first order. The best books that we have for children are throw-offs from artists primarily concerned with adults,—Kipling and Stevenson stand in this group,—or child versions of adult literature,—from Charles and Mary Lamb down. The world has yet to see a genuinely great creator whose real vision is for children. When children have their Psalmist, their Shakespeare, their Keats, they will not be offered diluted adult literature.
So after we have gathered what we can from the world's store for children of this seven-to-eight-year old period I think we shall find many unfilled gaps. Most attempts at humor, for instance, are on the level of the comic sheet of the Sunday supplement or the circus. There is little except a few of the "drolls" which give the child pure fun unmixed with excitement or confusion. Even "Alice in Wonderland" when first read to a six-year-old who was used to rational thinking and talking was pronounced "Too funny!" This same boy, however, went back to Alice again and again. He always relished such bits as:
"Speak roughly to your little boy, And beat him when he sneezes, He only does it to annoy Because he knows it teases."
No child's world is complete without humor. And children have a sense of the preposterous, the inappropriate all their own. Lewis Carroll and a few others have occasionally found it. Still, I think much remains to be done in the way of studying the things that children themselves find amusing. This is true for the younger ones as well. I give several younger children's stories which appeared both to the tellers and their audiences to be convulsing. The humor is strangely physical and amazingly simple. And it is all fresh.
STORIES BY FOUR-YEAR-OLDS
I dreamed I was asleep in a tomato and just scrambled around until I'd eaten it up.
* * *
Once there was a cow and he was in a wagon and he jumped over the wagon's edge.
* * *
Sesame the Cat
She lived with a nice man, a candy man, and she was at the gate watching the cattle go by and the men were digging under some caramel bricks and he called Sesame the Cat and she came banging and almost jumped on the man's head. She jumped like a merry balloon. Oh, he got angry!
* * *
STORY BY FIVE-YEAR-OLD
Once there was a fly. And he went out walking on a little boy's face. He came to a kind of a soft hump. "What is this?" thought the fly. "Oh, I guess it's the little boy's eye!" Then he came to a lot of kind of wiggly things that went down with him. "What is this?" thought the fly. "Oh, I guess it's the little boy's hair!" Then he slipped and fell into a deep hole. It was the little boy's ear. And he couldn't get out. He tried and he tried. But he staid there until the little boy's ear got all sore!
* * *
STORIES BY SIX-YEAR-OLDS
Once upon a time there was a fox and a skunk, and the fox was walking down the path with a lot of prickly bushes on the side of the path. Then he saw a skunk coming along. He said, "Will you let me throw my little bag of perfume on you?" And then she (it was a lady fox) she backed and backed and backed and backed and backed and backed, and she backed so far she backed into the bushes, and she got her skirt torn on the prickly bushes.
* * *
Once upon a time there was a boy and the boy was awfully funny. And one day the boy went to the store to buy some eggs and he got the eggs and ran so fast with the eggs home,—he stumbled and broke the eggs. So he took the eggs, and took the shell and fixed it like the same egg. And he walked off slowly to his home. And his mother was going to beat the eggs and she just opened the shell and no egg was there, and she couldn't make no cake that night.
There is still another kind of story which I believe children of this transition period and a little older seek and for the most part seek in vain. These children are beginning to generalize, to marshal their facts and experiences along lines which in their later developments we call "laws." They like these wide-spreading conceptions which order the world for them. But they cannot always take them as bald scientific statements. Moreover there are certain general truths which tie together isolated familiar facts which can be most simply pictured through some device such as personification,—for at this age personification is recognized and enjoyed as a device and not, as in earlier years, as a necessary expression of thought. This uniting bond, this underlying relation may be a physical law like the dependence of life on life; it may be a social law like the division of labor in modern industry. Any dramatic statement of these laws is a simplification as is a diagram or map. And like a diagram or map, it is in a way artificial since it gives weight to one element at the expense of the others. But again like the diagram or map, the thing it shows is a fact, a fact which is more readily grasped by this artificial device than by bald statement. Maps do not take the place of photographs, nevertheless they have their own peculiar place in making intelligible the make-up of the physical world. In the same way, personification does not take the place of science. Nevertheless it has its own peculiar place in making clear to the child some simplifying principle,—physical or social,—which unifies his multitudinous experiences. So long as personification elucidates a true, a scientific principle, so long as it is not pressed to tortuous lengths which actually give false impressions, so long as it is kept within the bounds of aesthetic decency, so long as it is recognized as a play device and does not confuse a child's thinking,—so long as it is justified. No more. It is a useful intellectual tool and a charming device for play. Kipling is preeminently the master here. It is a dangerous tool in lesser hands. Yet I have dared to use it and without scruple in "Speed," in "Once the Barn was Full of Hay" and in "Silly Will." Here again I feel sure that study of children's questions and stories would bring rich suggestions as to how to fill this large gap in their present literature.
Gaps there are, and many and large ones. Still, taken all in all, the field for the seven- to eight-year-old transition period is not as completely barren as the field for the earlier years. For these children are evolving from the stage where they need "Here and Now" stories. They are beginning to take on adult modes of thought and to appreciate and understand the peculiar language which adults use no matter how young a child they address! So much for the content of children's stories. And at best the content is but half.
If content is but half, form is the other half of stories and not the easier half, either. Every story, to be worthy of the name, must have a pattern, a pattern which is both pleasing and comprehensible. This design, this composition, this pattern, whether it be of a story as a whole or of a sentence or a phrase, is as essential to a piece of writing as is the design or composition to a picture. It satisfies the emotional need of the child which is as essential in real education as is the intellectual. Without this design, language remains on the utilitarian level,—where, to be sure, we usually find it in modern days.
Now what kind of pattern is adapted to a small child,—say a three-year-old? What kind does he like? More, what kind can he perceive? Herein the expression as fatally as in the content has the adult shaped the mould to his own liking. Or rather, the case is even worse. The adult more often than not has presented his stories and verse to children in forms which the children could not like because they literally could not hear them! The pattern, as such, did not exist for them. But what have we to guide us in creating suitable patterns for these little children who can help us neither by analysis nor by articulate remonstrance? We have two sources of help and both of them come straight from the children. The first are the children's own spontaneous art forms; the second are the story and verse patterns which make an almost universal appeal to little children. Even a superficial study of these two sources,—and where shall we find a thorough study?—suggests two fundamental principles. They sound obvious and perhaps they are. But how often is the obvious ignored in the treatment of children! The first is that the individual units whether ideas, sentences or phrases must be simple. The second is that these simple units must be put close together.
As the quickest and most eloquent exemplification of both these principles I give four stories. The first was told by a little girl of twenty-two months, a singularly articulate little person,—as she looked at the blank wall where had hung a picture of a baby (she supposed her little brother), a cow and a donkey. The second was a story told by a little girl of two and a half after a summer on the seashore. The third was achieved by a boy of three,—a child, in general, unsensitive to music. The fourth was told in school by a four-year-old girl.
STORY BY TWENTY-TWO-MONTHS-OLD CHILD
Where cow? Where donk? Where little Aa?
Cow gone away! Donk gone away! Little Aa gone away!
Like cow! Like donk! Like little Aa!
Come back cow! Come back donk! Come back little Aa!
STORY BY TWO-AND-A-HALF-YEAR-OLD
I fell in water. Man fell in water. John fell in water. For' fell in water. Aunt Carrie fell in water.
I pull boat out. Man pull boat out. John pull boat out. For' pull boat out. Aunt Carrie pull boat out.
I go in that boat. Man go in that boat. John go in that boat. For' go in that boat. Aunt Carrie go in that boat.
STORY BY THREE-YEAR-OLD
And father went down, down, down into the hole And the bull-frog, he went up, up, up into the sky! And then the bull-frog, he went down, down, down into the hole And then father, he went up, up, up, way into the sky! And then the bull-frog he went down, down, down into the hole And up, up into the sky! And then he went down into the hole And up into the sky! And he went down and up and down and up And down and up and down and up And down and up and down and up And down and up And down and up And down and up Down and up—— (to wordless song.)
STORY BY A FOUR-YEAR-OLD
Baby Bye, Baby Bye Here's a fly You'd better be careful Else he will sting you And here's a spider too. And if you hurt him he will sting you And don't you hurt him And his pattern on the wall.
Certainly all have form,—spontaneous native art form. Indeed they strongly suggest that to the child, the pleasure lay in the form rather than in the content. The patterns of the first two are somewhat alike,—variations of a simple statement. In content the younger child keeps her attention on one point, so to speak, while the older child allows a slight movement like an embryonic narrative. The pattern of the three-year-old's is considerably more complex. The phrases shorten, the tempo quickens, until the whole swings off into wordless melody. The fourth probably started from some remembered lullaby but quickly became the child's own. I give two more examples of stories. In the first, does not this five-year-old girl give us her vivid impressions in marvelously simple sense and motor terms? And does not the six-year-old boy in the second show that imagination can spring from real experiences?
STORIES BY FIVE-YEAR-OLDS
I am going to tell you a story about when I went to Falmouth with my mother. We had to go all night on the train and this is the way it sounded, (moving her hand on the table and intoning in different keys) thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, NEW ARK! thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, thum, FALMOUTH! And then we got off and we took a trolley car and the trolley car went clipperty, clipperty, clipperty, zip, zip. And another trolley car came in the other direction (again with hands) and one came along saying clipperty, clipperty, clipperty, zip, zip and the other came along saying clipperty, clipperty, clipperty, zip, zip, zip, BANG! And they hit in the middle and they got stuck and they tried to pull them apart and they stuck and they stuck and they stuck and finally they got them apart and then we went again. And when we got off we had to take a subway and the subway went rockety-rockety-rockety-rock. You know a subway makes a terrible noise! It made a terrible noise it sounded like rockety-rockety-rockety-rockety-rock.
And at last we got there and when we came up in the streets of Falmouth it was so still that I didn't know what to do. You know the streets of Falmouth are just so terribly quiet and then we had to walk millions and millions of miles almost to get to our little cottage. And when we got there I put on my bathing suit and I went in bathing and I shivered just like this because it was a rainy day, the day I went to Falmouth with my mother.
The Talk of the Brook
O brook, O brook, that sings so loud, O brook, O brook, that goes all day, O brook, O brook, that goes all night And forever. Splashes and waves, girls and boys are playing with You and in you. Some with shoes off and some with shoes on, And some are crying because they fell in you. O brook, O brook, have you an end ever? Or do you go forever?
Technically in all these stories the child exemplifies the two rules. He attends to but one thing at a time. And his steps from one point to the next are short and clear.
When we look at the forms which have been presented to children with these their spontaneous patterns fresh in mind, we can see, I think, why Mother Goose has been taken as a child's own and Eugene Field and even Stevenson rejected as unintelligible. I do not believe there is anything in the content of Mother Goose to win the child. I believe it is the form that makes the appeal. Vachel Lindsay, whose daring play with words has made him an object of suspicion to the reluctant of mind, has given us one poem in pattern singularly like the children's own and in content full of interest and charm. Again I give examples as the quickest of arguments. And I give them in verse where the form is more obvious and can be shown in briefer space than in stories.
Jack and Jill Went up the hill To fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down And broke his crown And Jill came tumbling after.
TIME TO RISE
A birdie with a yellow bill Hopped upon the window sill, Cocked his shining eye and said: "Ain't you shamed, you sleepy head?"
THE LITTLE TURTLE
(A recitation for Martha Wakefield, three years old)
There was a little turtle. He lived in a box. He swam in a puddle. He climbed on the rocks.
He snapped at a musquito. He snapped at a flea. He snapped at a minnow. And he snapped at me.
He caught the musquito. He caught the flea. He caught the minnow. But he didn't catch me.
From THE DINKEY-BIRD
So when the children shout and scamper And make merry all the day, When there's naught to put a damper To the ardor of their play; When I hear their laughter ringing, Then I'm sure as sure can be That the Dinkey-bird is singing In the amfalula tree.
Of the two "Jack and Jill" and "Birdie with the Yellow Bill," surely Stevenson's is the more charming to the adult ear. But when I have read it to three-year-olds, I have felt that they were lost. They could not sustain the long grammatical suspense, could not carry over "A birdie" from the first line to the conclusion and so actually did not know who was saying "Ain't you shamed, you sleepy-head!" Mother Goose repeats her subject. The span to carry is two phrases in Mother Goose as against four in Stevenson. The Vachel Lindsay I have found is as easily remembered and as much enjoyed as Mother Goose, though it is a pity it is about an unfamiliar animal. As for the Dinkey-bird even a seven-year-old can hardly hear the rhyme even if intellectually he could follow the adult vocabulary and the complicated sentence with its long postponed subject.
It is the same with stories. The classic tales which have held small children,—"The Gingerbread Man," "The Three Little Pigs," "Goldylocks,"—have patterns so obvious and so simple that they cannot be missed. In "The Gingerbread Man" the pattern is one of increasing additions. It belongs to the aptly called "cumulative" tales. The refrains act like sign-posts to help the child to mark the progress. This is simply a skilful way of making the continuity close, of showing the ladder rungs for the child's feet. I venture to say that any good story-teller consciously or unconsciously puts up sign-posts to help the children. If he is skilful, he makes a pattern of them so that they are not merely intellectually helpful but charming as well. So Kipling in his "Just So Stories" uses his sign-posts,—which are sometimes words, sometimes phrases, sometimes situations,—in such a way that they ring musically and give a pleasant sense of pattern even to children too young to find them intellectually helpful.
In other words, the little child is not equipped psychologically to hear complicated units. I wish some one could determine how the average four-year-old hears the harmony of a chord on the piano. Is it much except confusion? In the same way, he is not equipped to leap a span between units. I wish some one would determine the four-year-old's memory span for rhymes, for instance. The involutions, the suggestiveness so attractive to adult ears, he cannot hear. Even an adult ear, untutored, can scarcely hear the intermingling rhythms and overlapping rhymes which blend like overtones of a chord in such verse as Patmore's Ode "The Toys." I feel sure the small child cannot hear complexities; he cannot leap gaps. And so he cannot understand when even simple ideas are given in complex and discontinuous form. This explains his notorious love of repetition. Repetition is the simplest of patterns, simple enough to be enjoyed as pattern. I have found that almost any simple phrase of music or words repeated slowly and with a kind of ceremonious attention, enthralls a year-old child. If the unit is simple enough to be remembered he will inevitably enjoy recognizing it as it recurs and recurs. This is the embryonic pattern sense.
This pattern enjoyment too is motor in its basis. His early repetitions of sounds are probably largely pleasure in muscle patterns. We all know that a child uses first his large muscles,—arm, leg and back,—and that he early enjoys any regular recurrent use of these muscles. So at the time when the vocal muscles tend to become his means of expression, he enjoys repeating the same sounds over and over. And soon he gets enjoyment from listening to repetitions or rhythmic language,—a vicarious motor enjoyment. Surely it is important that stories should furnish him this exercise and pleasure. Three- and four-year-olds will enjoy a positively astounding amount of repetition. In the Arabella and Araminta stories a large proportion of the sentences are given in duplicate by the simple device of having twins who do and say the same things and by telling the remarks and actions of each. The selection quoted is repeated entire four times, the variation being only in the flower picked:
And Arabella picked a poppy, and Araminta picked a poppy, and Arabella picked a poppy, and Araminta picked a poppy, and Arabella picked a poppy, and Araminta picked a poppy, and Arabella picked a poppy, and Araminta picked a poppy, and Arabella picked a poppy, and Araminta picked a poppy, until they each had a great big bunch (I should say a very large bunch), and then they ran back to the house.
Arabella got a glass and put her poppies in it, and Araminta got a glass and put her poppies in it.
And Arabella clapped her hands and danced around the table. And Araminta clapped her hands and danced around the table.
Adult ears repudiate anything as obvious as this; they still, however, enjoy a ballad refrain.
Just as small children cannot hear complications, so they cannot grasp details if the movement is swift. We must give time for a child's slow reactions. We usually fail to do this in ordinary social situations and are often surprised to hear our three-year-old say "good-bye" long after the front door is closed and our guest well on his way down the street. In stories we must take a leisurely pace. We must also read very slowly allowing ample time for a child to give the full motor expression to his thought for the art of abbreviation he has not yet learned.
It is not enough to recognize that since a child attends to but one thing at a time the units must be simple. Here in the form as in the content, must the motor quality of a child's thinking be held constantly in mind. In trying to find the general subject matter appropriate for little children I said that they think through their muscles. This motor expression of small children has its direct application in the concrete method of telling of any happening. The story child who is experiencing, should go through the essential muscular performances which the real listening child would go through if he were actually experiencing himself. For he thinks through these muscular expressions. As an example, when a group of four-year-olds heard a story about a little boy who saw the elevated train approach and pass above him, they thought the child might have been run over. The words "up" and "above" and "overhead" had been used but the children failed to get the idea of "upness." Unquestionably they would have understood if I had made the little boy throw back his head and look up. Small children act with big gestures and with big muscles. And they think through the same mechanisms.
These two principles, simplicity and continuity, apply concretely to sentence and phrase structure as well. The effort to obtain continuity for the child explains the colloquial "The little boy who lived in this house, he did so and so——" You help your child back to the subject, "the little boy" by the grammatically redundant "he" after his mind has gone off on "this house." This same need for continuity also explains why a child's own stories are characteristically one continuous sentence strung together with "ands" and "thens" and "buts." He sees and hears and consequently thinks in a simple, rhythmic, continuous flow. If we would have him see and hear and think with us, we must give him his stories and verse in simple units closely and obviously linked together.
But after all is said and done, why should we give children stories at all? Is it to instruct and so should we pay attention to the content? Is it to delight and so should we pay attention to the form? Both things, information and relish, have their place in justifying stories for children. But both to my mind are of minor importance compared to a third and quite different thing,—and this is to get children to create stories of their own, to play with words. "To get" is an unhappy phrase for it suggests that children must be coaxed to the task. This I do not believe though I cannot prove it. I do believe that children play with words naturally and spontaneously just as they play with any material that comes to their creative hands. And further I believe,—though this too I cannot prove,—that we adults kill this play with words just as we kill their creative play with most things. Most of us have forgotten how to play with anything, most of all with words. We are utilitarian, we are executive, we are didactic, we are earth-tied, we are hopelessly adult! Actually children use their ears and noses and fingers much more than do we adults. Our stories rely mainly upon visual recalls. We forget to listen even to birds whose message is pure melody. And how many of us hear the city sounds which surround us, the characteristic whirr of revolving wheels, the vibrating rhythm of horses' feet, the crunch of footsteps in the snow? Noises we hear, the warning shriek of the fire engine or the honk! honk! of the automobile. But the subtler, finer reverberations we are not sensitive to. Yet little children love to listen and develop another method of sensing and appreciating their world by this pleasurable use of their hearing. It surely is an unused opportunity for story-tellers. I have tried to use it in "Pedro's Feet" which is an attempt to give them an ordinary story by means of sounds. And even less than to city sounds do we listen for the cadences in language. We listen only for the meaning and forget the sensuous delight of sound.
But happily children are not so determined to wring a meaning out of every sight and every sound. Children play. Play is a child's own technique. Through it he seizes the strange unknown world around him and fashions it into his very own. He recreates through play. And through creating, he learns and he enjoys.
There is no better play material in the world than words. They surround us, go with us through our work-a-day tasks, their sound is always in our ears, their rhythms on our tongue. Why do we leave it to special occasions and to special people to use these common things as precious play material? Because we are grown-ups and have closed our ears and our eyes that we may not be distracted from our plodding ways! But when we turn to the children, to hearing and seeing children, to whom all the world is as play material, who think and feel through play, can we not then drop our adult utilitarian speech and listen and watch for the patterns of words and ideas? Can we not care for the way we say things to them and not merely what we say? Can we not speak in rhythm, in pleasing sounds, even in song for the mere sensuous delight it gives us and them, even though it adds nothing to the content of our remark? If we can, I feel sure children will not lose their native use of words: more, I think those of six and seven and eight who have lost it in part,—and their stories show they have,—will win back to their spontaneous joy in the play of words. This is the ultimate test of stories and verse,—whether they help children to retain their native gift of play with language and with thought.
In the City and Country School where my experiments in language have been carried on, we have not gone far enough to offer convincing proof along these lines. But I submit two stories told by a six-year-old class which are at least suggestive. The first is the best story told to me by any member of the class before any effort had been made to get the children to listen to the sound of their words or to think of their ideas as all pointing in one direction and giving a single impression. The second was told by the class as a whole while looking at Willebeek Le Mair's illustration of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." They said the picture made them feel sleepy and that they would say only things that made them sleepy and use only words that made them sleepy. Between the two stories I had met with them seven times. I had read them sounding and rhythmic verse. They had become interested in the sound of language apart from its meaning. They had become interested in the sound of the rain and the fire. They were thinking through their ears. Am I mistaken in believing this shows in their language and in their thought?
STORY BY A SIX-YEAR-OLD
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Peter and a little boy named Boris. And Peter took him out for a walk and took him all around school. Then I took him out to my house and saw all my play things. And then I took him to Central Park and showed him sea lions and the giraffe and the elephant and I showed how they eat by their trunks. And he thought it was queer. And he said he was afraid of animals and so I took him home. I told him to tell his mother about it and his mother said, "You want to go for another walk?" and he said, "Yes, but not where the wild animals are." I said, "Do you want to go to Central Park?" and he said, "Yes." You see he got fooled! He didn't know about the wild animals.
JOINT STORY BY SIX-YEAR-OLD CLASS
I like it when the boy and the girl look at the sky. They look at the trees and they are sleepy. It is dark outside. It is night and the sky is dark blue. And it is kind of whitish and the trees are next to the blue sky. The bright evening star is out. The star is so far up in the sky that you can hardly see it. The children are looking at the sky before they go to bed and they are praying to God. They have their nightgowns on. The bed is all nice so they couldn't have just got up. The clothes are hanging on the bed. They sleep in their own bed together. When they go to bed they have their door closed.
"The Leaf Story" and "The Wind Story" I have incorporated with my stories, though they are almost entirely the work of children. In both cases the organization is beyond the children. But the content and the phraseology bear their unmistakable imprint. The same is true of "The Sea Gull."
Because of the pattern, the play aspect of language, I believe in written stories even for very little ones. If we loved our language better and played with its sound in our ordinary speech, perhaps stories for two- and three-year-olds would not be needed. But as it is, we need to present them with something more intentional, more thought out than is possible with most of us in a story told. If the patterns of our ideas or of our speech are to have charm, if they are to fit the occasion with nicety, if they are to flow easily and are to be continuous enough to be comprehended by little children, they will need careful attention,—attention that cannot be given under the emergency of telling a story, not, at least, by the uninspired of us. Inevitably, with our utilitarian tendencies, we shall be drawn off to an undue regard of the content to the neglect of the expression. And yet, for very little children, there is unquestionably something lost by the formality and fixity of a written story. A story told has more spontaneity, allows more leeway to include the chance happenings or remarks of the children; it can be more intimately personal, more adapted to the particular occasion and to the particular child. Perhaps some time we shall achieve a fortunate compromise, a stepping stone between the story told and the story read. Perhaps we shall work out happy or characteristic phrases about familiar things,—little personal things about the clothes and habits of each child, general familiar things like autos and wagons and horses on the street, coal going down the hole in the sidewalk, the squabbling of sparrows in the dirt, the drift of snow on the roofs,—perhaps we shall learn to use such thought-out phrases or refrains like blocks for building many stories. If we could work out some such technique as this, we could keep the intimacy, the flexibility, the waywardness of the spoken story and still give the children the charm of careful thinking and careful phrasing. Many such phrases have been fashioned by people sensitive to the quality of sound. Every nursery has had its rooster crow: