May 21, 2011

Lessons from Rollo

Rollo is a six year old boy whom Jacob Abbott wrote about in the 19th century. We have been reading one of the stories about him, Rollo at Work. I purchased it from Yesterday’s classics but it can be found at Project Gutenberg for free.

Rollo through various episodes in his everyday life is learning the great difference between ‘work’ and ‘play.’ It is just the right book for my oldest son who is 7 years old to hear. Rollo and Max are typical boys, loving life, loving amusement, and loving play. They desire to do work, but have not yet been trained to know how to go about it so as to succeed. Some ideas they have make work harder, some ideas lead them away from work and back to play. In this little set of stories Max is learning some very valuable things. Max is learning to distinguish between work and play. What is work, and when is it time to work. What is play and when is it time to play.

In the first chapter, ‘Labor Lost’ Rollo is excited to tell his father that he wants to work and is a good worker. So His father gives him a job to pick up wood chips behind the house and put them into a bin or to stack some wood in the barn. Here is how Rollo went about it.

“Rollo sat down on the chips, and began picking them up, all around him, and throwing them into his basket. He soon filled it up, and then lugged it in, emptied it into the chip-bin, and then returned, and began to fill it again.
He had not got his basket more than half full the second time, before he came upon some very large chips, which were so square and flat, that he thought they would be good to build houses with. He thought he would just try them a little, and began to stand them up in such a manner as to make the four walls of a house. He found, however, an unexpected difficulty; for although the chips were large and square, yet the edges were so sharp that they would not stand up very well.
Some time was spent in trying experiments with them in various ways; but he could not succeed very well; so he began again industriously to put them into his basket.
When he got the basket nearly full, the second time, he thought he was tired and that it would be a good plan to take a little time for rest; and he would go and see Jonas a little while.
Now his various interruptions and delays, his conversation with his mother, the delay in getting the basket, and his house-building, had occupied considerable time; so that, when he went back to Jonas, it was full half an hour from the time when he left him; and he found that Jonas had finished mending the wheelbarrow, and had put it in its place, and was just going away himself into the field.
“Well, Rollo,” said he, “How do you get along with your work?”
“O, very well,” said Rollo; “I have been picking up chips all the time since I went away from you.”
Rollo did not mean to tell a falsehood. But he was not aware how much of his time he had idled away.
“And how many have you got in?” said Jonas.
“Guess,” said Rollo.
“Six baskets full,” said Jonas.
“No,” said Rollo.
“No; not so many.”
“How many, then?” said Jonas, who began to be tired of guessing.
“Two; that is, I have got one in, and the other is almost full.”
“Only two?” said Jonas. “Then you cannot have worked very steadily. Come here and I will show you how to work.” pg 9-10

Sound familiar? I think all of us at one time in our life were much like Rollo. It is often hard for all of us to learn how to work, what attitudes to have towards it, and in what way to go about it so that we are productive and can have the satisfaction of a job well done. By the way Max is really enjoying this book. He likes to hear of other little boys doing the same things he does. He likes to see Rollo suceed. Along the way the characters in the story are giving Max alot of good advice. Max isn't resenting this but is happy to know better just what is the right way to do things. The story is drawing him in and educationg him.

Rollo goes on to ditch the basket altogether and try the wheelbarrow. After all, that would haul much more at a time and be faster. He spends a lot of time filling the wheelbarrow up with his basket and then begins to wheel it towards to the bin. Along the way the wheel gets stuck in a hole. It tips and half the wood chips fall to the ground. Instead of using his basket to do what he could to solve the problem, he goes and looks for help. He asks Jonas, but Jonas is busy and can not help. He asks his mother, and eventually she gives in to help but he then reaches the step into the barn where the bin is and the wheel barrow will not go up over it. In dismay he abandons the wheelbarrow and starts to stack the wood.

“Rollo stood looking at him for some time, wishing that he was going too. But he knew that he must not go without his mother's leave, and that, if he should go in to ask her, Jonas would have gone so far that he should not be able to overtake him. So he went back to his wood-pile.
He piled a little more, and as he piled he wondered what Jonas meant by telling him to put the largest ends outwards. He took up a stick which had a knot on one end, which made that end much the largest, and laid it on both ways, first with the knot back against the side of the shed, and then with the knot in front, towards himself. He did not see but that the stick lay as steadily in one position as in the other.
“Jonas was mistaken,” said he. “It is a great deal better to put the big ends back. Then they are out of sight; all the old knots are hid, and the pile looks handsomer in front.”
So he went on, putting the sticks upon the pile with the biggest ends back against the shed. By this means the back side of the pile began soon to be the highest, and the wood slanted forward, so that, when it was up nearly as high as his head, it leaned forward so as to be quite unsteady. Rollo could not imagine what made his pile act so. He thought he would put on one stick more, and then leave it. But, as he was putting on this stick, he found that the whole pile was very unsteady. He put his hand upon it, and shook it a little, to see if it was going to fall, when he found it was coming down right upon him, and had just time to spring back before it fell.
He did not get clear, however; for, as he stepped suddenly back, he tumbled over the wood which was lying on the ground, and fell over backwards; and a large part of the pile came down upon him.
He screamed out with fright and pain, for he bruised himself a little in falling; though the wood which fell upon him was so small and light that it did not do much serious injury.
Rollo stopped crying pretty soon, and went into the house; and that evening, when his father came home, he went to him, and said,
“Father, you were right, after all; I don't know how to work any better than Elky.” (Elky is a young colt that his father is breaking)pg 20-21

Throughout this book Max is learning some good lessons about working from Rollo:

1. Work is something we do for a useful end. Play is for our amusement. You should not get them confused and try to find amusement in work.

2. It is dangerous to neglect or postpone doing one’s duty. We cannot always depend on repairing the mischief.

3. There is great pleasure in doing work when it is properly done. The pleasure comes later when the work is done.

4. While you are doing your work, it requires exertion and self-denial, and some times the sameness of work is tiresome, but the wise worker perseveres through it.

5. Do not change from one thing to another looking for amusement. Work steadily forward, and do not rush or you will tire before the work is done.

We liked this book so much I have begun to Read Rollo at Play. Beyond that there are more, Rollo Learning to Read, Rollo at school. Rollo's experiements, Rollo's Philosophy, Rollo Travels Eurpoe and more.

"Now, my little son," said his father, putting him down and patting his head, "you have got a great deal to learn before you become a man; but then you have got some years to learn it in; that is a comfort. But now it is time for you to go to bed; so good night." pg 91

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