PERSONAL WORK WITH CHILDREN
"The whole secret of success is really to be in sympathy with children, quick to see their needs and to look at things from their point of view; but above all to have a genuine, common-sense love for them." This point of view is expressed in the following paper on Personal work with children, read by Miss Rosina Gymer before the Ohio Library Association annual meeting in 1905. Rosina Charter Gymer was born in Cleveland, Ohio; received a special certificate from the Training School for Children's Librarians in 1904; was children's librarian in the Cleveland Public Library from 1904 to 1907; supervisor of children's work in small branches from 1907 to 1910, and since that time has been a branch librarian.
Work with children is so large in its scope and so rich in its possibilities that we shall only consider work in the library proper, passing over home visiting, school visiting and cooperation with social settlements and like institutions, all of which, however, are of the greatest importance to the work as a whole.
Work with children may be grouped under three heads-- that with girls, that with boys and that with little children. While in each group the work differs in nearly every point, one point they have in common--the choosing of fiction according to the individual child, boy or girl; the choosing of classed books for the book itself. In giving fiction, the child must be known as well as the book, his character and needs, for it is on the character that fiction has most influence. In classed books, on the other hand, the book is the thing to know, for if a child wants to know something about electricity or carpentry, he is not being influenced so much in character as in education. If the book is not as good as some other, it will not injure him especially as to morals and character, but of course he should have the very best you can give him that he can mentally understand. Girls almost always become interested in books through the personality of the children's worker. While it is very desirable to use this regard as a means of influencing their reading, care must be taken to guard against a merely sentimental attitude on the part of the girls toward the worker. As a rule, girls want stories about people, other girls, school stories and so forth, and will take a book that you say is a good one without looking into it. If she likes it she will come to you to select another, and in this way you can lead her from pure fiction to historical fiction and biography and so on up to good literature, all through, at the first, knowing a book that would please and attract her. This is done, in great measure, through the girl's liking for the worker and also through her interest in people rather than things.
Boys, on the other hand, are not so much interested in people as in things, and when they ask for a book it is usually on some specific subject--electricity, carpentry, how to raise pigeons, how to take care of dogs. When the book is given them they usually examine it pretty thoroughly to see whether or not it is what they want or can use. To know what book will give the boy what he wants to know and in the most interesting way is to gain that boy's confidence. To sum up: Boys like you through the books you give them, while girls learn to like good books through their liking for you. The result is the same in either case--the personal influence of the worker with the children.
The problem of managing children is much the same everywhere. Wherever they are there are sure to be some restless and disobedient boys and girls whose confidence and good will must be gained. A willing obedience must be sought for untiringly. The children's worker must be for and not against the child. To win is far better than to compel. Conquering may do for those who are expected to remain as enemies, but friends are won. While a display of authority should be avoided, a firm attitude must at times be taken, but it should be an attitude of friendship and fairness. If a loss to the child of some coveted pleasure can be made to follow his fault it is an effectual punishment. For instance, if a boy never misses the story and yet his general behavior in the library leaves a good deal to be desired, do not allow him to attend the story hour for one or two weeks. In extreme cases the plan of not allowing the boys to come to the library for a number of days or weeks has been tried with good results.
An endeavor should be made so far as possible to follow the inclinations of children. Every boy likes the idea of belonging to a club and if advantage is taken of this fact it will prove a great help in discipline. When a gang of boys comes to the library night after night, apparently for no reason except to make trouble, the best solution of the problem is to form them into a reading circle or club. They usually prefer to call themselves a club. A good plan in starting is to ask three or four of the troublesome boys if they would like to come on a certain evening and hear a story read. An interesting story is selected, carefully read and cut if too long, and at the end of the evening the boys are invited to bring some of their friends with them next time. It is well to begin in this small way and thus avoid the mistake of having too many boys at the start or of getting boys of different gangs in the same club, for this will always cause trouble. Seven o'clock is a good time for them to meet. If the hour is later the boys who come early get restless and it is difficult for them to fix their attention. It is better to take the boys to a separate room as their attention is easily distracted from the reading by people passing back end forth. It is a great effort for boys with, one might say, wholly untrained minds to concentrate for any length of time, and it is well not to ask them for more than half an hour at first. Unless the selection holds their interest they will disappear one after another, for they simply refuse to be bored. For this reason, begin with popular subjects, such as animal stories, Indian stories, fire stories, railroad stories, gradually leading them on to more solid reading. That this can be done was proved by the boys' attention to Sven Hedin's account of his search for water in his Through Asia. The incident is most graphically told of the repeated disappointments, of the sufferings of the caravan and the dropping out of one after another until only the author is left staggering across the sand hills in his search for the precious water. The boys listened breathlessly until one boy finally burst out, Ain't they never going to find no water?
Very often the subject of the next evening's reading is determined by the boys themselves who, if they have been particularly interested, will ask for another story "just like that only different." If possible, have good illustrated books to show them on the subject of the evening's reading. This serves two purposes --it fixes the awakened interest of the boys and it also prevents the rush for the door they are apt to make to work off the accumulated energy of the hour of physical inactivity. In libraries where there are few assistants it ought not to be difficult to find some young man or woman interested in work of this sort to come and read to the boys once or twice a week, but the same person should have the club regularly.
Work with little children is important because in a year or two they are going to be readers, and yet they are a problem to the busy librarian from the fact that they require a good deal of attention. Perhaps the best plan is to set a time for them to come to the library, say Saturday morning at ten, when they can feel that the children's worker is all their own. They like to be read to, but they love to hear stories told. Telling stories to them is a great pleasure to the story-teller, because of their responsiveness, their readiness to enjoy. But besides the enjoyment of the children there is something far higher to work for--the development of the moral sense. The virtues of obedience, kindness, courage and unselfishness are set forth over and over again in the fairy tale. The story East o' the sun and west o' the moon, is nothing but a beautiful lesson in obedience, The king of the golden river in unselfishness, Diamonds and toads, kindness-- and many others could be named, all with a lesson to be learned. Little children love repetition and when a story pleases them ask for it again and again. They do not see the lesson all at once, but little by little it sinks into their hearts and becomes a part of their very life. This is where the fairy tale, properly and judiciously used, does its great work. Be most careful to give children stories that are wholly worthy of their admiration. Know your story thoroughly and in telling it present strong, clear pictures. Tell the story in such a way that the child's heart swells within him and he says, I can do that, I could be as brave as that.
But let not the children's worker labor under the delusion that when she closes the door of the library her work is finished. On the contrary, another phase of it is only beginning, for she is constantly meeting the children on the street, in the stores, in fact almost everywhere she goes, and it behooves her to be on the watch for friendly smiles, to listen with interest when Johnny tells her that Mary is coming out of the hospital tomorrow, or when Mike calls across the street, Did you know Willie was pinched again? to make a note of it and take pains to find out whether Willie is paroled under good behavior or whether he has been sent to a boys' reformatory school; or, when she is waiting for a street car and a newsboy rushes up and says he can't get his books back in time and will she renew them for him, the children's worker takes his library number and renews the books when she returns to the library.
If the worker is at all earnest in her work she can not help but have her heart wrung time and again by the sufferings of the children of the poor. Not that they complain--they take it all as a matter of course, but by some unconscious remark they quite often throw an almost blinding light on their home conditions showing that family life for a good many of them is anything but easy and pleasant. Children of the poor often have responsibilities far beyond their years, and the library with its books, pictures, flowers and story-telling means much more to them than to a child who has all these at home. One little girl about 10 years old came one afternoon and was so disappointed to find there was to be no story. On being told to come at ten o'clock next morning, she said: What, do you think I can get here at ten o'clock with four kids to dress! As first heard, funny; but after all showing a pathetic side, a childhood without childhood's freedom from care.
The whole secret of success is really to be in sympathy with children, quick to see their needs and to look at things from their point of view; but above all to have a genuine, common sense love for them so that we may feel as did the little girl who missed one of the assistants, and asking for her was told that she was taking a vacation. I love her, said the child, and then, fearing she had hurt the feelings of the one to whom she was speaking added, I love all the library teachers, 'cos we're all childs of God.