They may be Indians, these youngsters, sitting about their council fire. Or Indians again with mighty war canoes to launch as they go forth to battle. Again they may be soldiers, shooting with honest-to-goodness rifles on a standard 50-foot range. Or perhaps in a tenderer mood you will find the children over near the pethouse nursing white rabbits, or puppies, or a cat, or a duck, or a hen – the pets they have accumulated but cannot keep at home.
It’s a great place, the Sebago Club. With what larks for the kiddies! But back of the larks is something greater still: Matt Werner’s creed of his belief in play.
“When school is out and a boy closes his books,” he says, “he is facing and learning the lessons of life. Normal boys are more interested in school games and after-school activities than in textbooks. School is necessary and its lessons are valuable. But the lessons of play are inevitable and probably do more to determine the character of a boy than the knowledge he gets from textbooks at school.” Unassuming, dynamic, his own boyish love of adventure yet untarnished, Matt Werner is a pathfinder in modern education. He is a playtime educator. He doesn’t cram a single fact into the heads of those playing children. He deducts. He draws out the qualities they have in them.
“Two things win freedom for a man,” he says, “Personality and Dollars.”
Dollars the parents of these children have. The characteristics of personality, Werner believes, are developed in playtime contacts. If you would sum up these characteristics in a word, that word is sportsmanship. That is why the highest honor the Sebago Club knows is the sliver cup for sportsmanship, awarded every year by vote of the members to the best sport in the group. The boy who can pitch a curved ball has no more chance to win it than the boy who can hardly throw to first base. It’s not the games you win, it’s the spirit in which you play that counts.
Back to New Rochelle. Those eager boys almost ran away with Matt Werner’s plan, so anxious were they. The father of one of them volunteered to finance it. It was started. It was a success. But back in St. Louis, Percy Werner wanted his family around him. Every family appeal was brought to bear to bring Matt home. Finally he surrendered, turning the club over to his friend, Bill Goodall. And Matt entered Washington University. Probably in the back of his head was the notion that he would rather make a profession of creative play than of collative pouring over musty lawbooks. Before the year was well begun the Sebago Club was launched.
Probably Matt Werner would sum up his experiences in public and private schools something after this fashion:
Credit by reading, writing and arithmetic.
Debit to misunderstanding, suspicion and distrust in relations with his elders; and to the negative and destructive influence on character and personality of regimentation and mechanical routine.
The first rule in the operation of the Sebago Club is to create a positive and implicit trust on the part of the child in the directors of play.
It is evident that Matt Werner was tried as though in a crucible in his own school experiences. He was what educators call “a difficult child.” Alert, eager, avid of experiences, of driving and exhausting energy; independent, logical, but impatient of senseless routine concocted for the mediocre and the stupid; sensitive, but, as judged through the teacher’s eyes by the average, perverse.