THE secret of having happy children is to keep their little minds occupied. For that reason I encourage my youngsters to belong to clubs and cultivate hobbies.
I am a great believer in the Cubs and Brownies and the Scout and Guide movements because they give children something to look forward to after school and are great character-builders.
Another useful hobby is the cultivation of handicrafts. Little girls can be taught to knit and sew and even to mend their own stockings and they can be encouraged to do something for the family and the home, according to their own interests.
The little girl who is artistic can keep the ‘baby record book ‘and the family snapshot album, paint coloured glass ornaments, press flowers of various nations in a book and make bazaar novelties to help the church. I have seen many pretty bedrooms decorated with cut-outs for borders, arranged by the artisuc member of the family.
Another hobby for children is the making of paper beads. All that is needed is a steel knitting needle, a few coloured covers from magazines and a jar of paste. Cut triangular shapes from the coloured paper, twist the broad end round the needle, wind on the triangle and paste down the point. The bead is made.
A little boy can work on a stamp collection or make toys for the younger children, such as a toy cart from an old baking tin with tin lids for wheels. Fix the ‘wheels’ to a bar of wood, fasten this beneath the tin, and add a wooden handle.
Children can derive much amusement from making toys, such as trains and furniture, from empty matchboxes. Match-ends can be saved and used for lessons on subtraction, multiplication and division. They can also be pasted on coloured cardboard to represent ships, houses, gardens and trees.
Small bottles, packets and corks can be saved until there are sufficient to make a toy grocery store for a little girl. One little boy I know decorated a plain parchment lampshade and waste-paper basket with old stamps as gifts for an elder brother.
Don’t worry about the dirt or mess children make when engaged in their hobbies. I never trouble about the dirt on Hugh’s face, hands or knees. It seems to me that dirty faces are a sort of uniform children must put on before they can play happily together. But I make it a rule that they must clear up before going to bed.
Small children should have a part of the home set aside for their exclusive use white they can build, paint, climb and explore and come to no harm. They are happy pushing and pulling large objects about. They hate interference and are happiest sitting in a sand-heap.
I find that children are grand little workers if they are made to feel important and that they are a part of and not apart from the household routine.
In our house each member of the family is responsible for certain jobs. The boy brushes the shoes and sees to the coal and the firewood. The girls make their own beds and their brother’s, tidy the bathroom and help me with the washing-up at week-ends. They each fold their own pyjamas in the mornings. I ensure that there is a fair share-and-share spirit about all they do in the home.
Every Friday I allow the children to have their friends to tea and on Saturday they can go out on their own for the afternoon – they like this freedom and do not abuse the privilege. I noticed that my elder girl was preferring the company of a school friend to that of her sister and brother. I have told my children that they are welcome to bring their friends to the house and that is the attitude I shall adopt always.
I give a kitchen tea now and then to the children’s school friends. They love it! I let them make the salads and it’s fun to watch them arrange the dishes – they learn a lot that way. I have found that the best way to teach a child good table manners is to set an example myself. I am strict, too, about Grace before and after meals, and the children take turns each week to say it.
The best-loved part of my home is the ‘magic cupboard.’ From this cupboard come gifts for good behaviour, special gifts on ‘happy day’ (our name for Sunday, because we are all at home that day) and many pleasant surprises at unexpected times.
I copied this idea from one that my mother had when I was small. Now, when I see something in a shop that I think might be suitable on some future occasion, I buy it and store it away.
Every day ends with story-time. This is our precious half-hour. Around the fire in winter, or sitting on the doorstep in the sun in summer. Each one tells a story and we finish the day with thanksgiving.
I stand behind each of the children as they say their prayers in turn at their bedsides, and my heart is full of thankfulness and gratitude that I am privileged to be the mother of three fine, sturdy children.