In 1935, part of my assignment at Christian College was to teach one class, "Plays and Games," for prospective recreation professionals.
Our textbook was "Philosophy of Recreation" by J.B. Nash. Nash advocated, planned and supervised recreation - hobbies, music, dance, art, drama, fun games and more - as important in shaping young lives in positive ways.
I was happy to have a few Columbia students in my class.
Because I was active on several teams - swimming, baseball, donkey baseball and archery activities -locally, I was employed as a summer playground leader at Eugene Field School.
It was Columbia’s first attempt at recreation for children when schools were not in session.
There was almost no money available for this experiment; our checks - $50 per month - came from the small surplus in the Water and Light Department. We were two leaders - a woman and a man - at each of four schools’ playgrounds: Field, Ridgeway, Douglass and Grant. We volunteered to beg for scraps of cloth, wood, leather, etc. in our mornings.
Playgrounds were staffed from noon until dark five days a week.
Instead of fun for fun’s sake, Nash’s textbook taught that organized games enrich lives by introducing team play, fairness, good health, obedience and other positive attributes into the lives of the players.
He said, "The excitement of accomplishments on the playing field, in the water, at a craft table, on stage or in competitive athletics far outranks the excitement of shooting fireworks out of season, painting obscene words on public buildings or dumping garbage cans in alleys at night."
Together the students and I charted the needs, interests and abilities of people of all ages. We worked out positive ways to fulfill those needs and interests with active fun and games. I also assigned a tough, out-of-class project: Each student was to make a ship and install it in a glass bottle!
It sounded like fun. I provided bottles of several shapes and invited students to come to my office when they were frustrated.
It was a new challenge without detailed instructions; they soon understood the full meaning of the word "bottleneck."
They had to stay calm in adversity and to improvise tools. Patience was the only thing that would dry wet glue inside a bottle.
Each stage in the construction required problem-solving and the ability to maintain emotional balance. Some cried! Some asked me to help at the most difficult tasks, but most were determined to do the project on their own. I was happy about that!
I survived that project and recall having 27 ships in bottles on my desk at the end of that first semester! I dropped one completed project on a tile floor and shattered it.
It was a good lesson for me! I never carried too many in one load after that.
I hurriedly got a similar bottle and installed the ship; it took several days and a fair amount of frustration to replace it before I told the student what happened.
Working with people, not unlike putting a handmade ship in a glass bottle, poses seemingly impossible frustrations. It tries the leader’s patience. Suddenly the "ship" falls into its proper place, the threads are pulled, drops of glue are added and air dries the glue. A cork closes the bottle.
Someone sees the bottle and says, "I know. You bought the ship and blew the bottle around it!"
You smile and say, "Sorry. Not so!"