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Education In Infancy

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The first three years of a little child's life witness a development so rapid and wonderful that the observer is filled with the marvel of it, watching the transformation that proceeds almost moment by moment from utter helplessness at birth to the mastery of body possessed by the laughing, chattering, bustling three-year-old. "Birth," says one writer, "is the greatest cataclysm in human existence. When for the first time the onrush of lights, sounds, touches and internal sensations flood the being of the babe, the shock is responded to by uncoordinated movements of the arms and legs and possibly by shrieks and yells. There is, however, accompanying these responses only the vaguest and dreamiest sort of consciousness." The mind is empty, consciousness is indefinite, chiefly a sense of pleasure or pain, of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The child is equipped with a few re-flexes necessary to sustain life, such as sucking, swallowing, movement of bowels and digestive organs, breathing and the like, and of course with the possibilities in his nervous system for the manifold and more complex movements of later life. Little by little his growth proceeds until by the end of the first year he has learned to use his senses and to control his body in connection. To summarize from Forbush, he sees a radius of one hundred feet, examines all objects within reach, learns to know people, understands simple commands, communicates by means of tones, gestures and possibly a few words, has considerable memory for the simplest associations, has elements of imagination and a growing will. He walks now as a rule; plays his first game of peek-a-boo and feels the larger emotions but not yet those of sympathy or penitence.


The baby's body is a sessile organ largely trunk and head which must be kept alive by proper food, air, warmth and exercise and whose main business is to grow. The increase in height and weight during this period is comparatively great and should be continuous. The Child Welfare Division of the Bureau of Education has pre-pared a chart which shows the normal growth of the child; a copy of it should be in the hands of every parent and very careful weekly measurements of the infant should be taken. Any failure to make the normal in-crease is a cause for careful investigation as to the reason, while loss of weight should create serious concern. The food is most often the reason for the baby's lack of progress ; no other food is so well adapted to the needs of this organism as the mother's milk, but of course if the mother is ill or worried her milk may be injurious or she may have no milk at all for the child. In this event other food must be substituted and should be used under the advice of a physician who is if possible a child specialist. The Child Welfare Division of the Bureau of Education stands ready to advise parents who cannot secure the services of such a physician. There must be fresh air in the room at all times and air must be free from dust or other impurities, must be moving, moist and warm to give the best results. If furnace or hot water heat is used it is well to have the water pans for attachment to the radiators or an arrangement in the furnace which secures properly moistened air. Baby must also have exercise, and this means with the small child the arms and limbs left free so that the child may stretch and kick and wave the arms freely. A few simple devices may be used by the mother to strengthen the child. He may be allowed to kick against a newspaper, and will greatly enjoy the rattling sound as well as the slight opposition to effort. The mother may also encourage kicking or pressing the feet against her hands offered as an obstacle. A little later the baby likes to pull himself up by his mother's hands, and he also likes the slight fall which occurs when she lets go and he sinks backward.


Along with the development of the body, which consists in getting control of the arms, legs, hands, feet and whole body, so that in time the child sits up, creeps, walks, runs, climbs, jumps and races, there goes the development in the use of the senses. The child gradually pays attention to the impressions gained through touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. During the first month the baby moves his head and seems to follow bright objects, he is sensitive to jars rather than noises, he smiles in response to touch. During the second month he moves in order to peer about, he is frightened by hearing all sorts of sounds, he may be sensitive to rhythm. During the third month his fingers grow more active; there is a busy grasping; he searches with his eyes and tries to sit up to see better. During the fourth month he reaches for things and notices changes in the room. The fifth month opens the era for handling things. He prefers bright objects and begins to distinguish faces. Then about the sixth month there comes the transition from learning to use the senses to learning to use the body, training it to respond with quickness and accuracy to sense impressions. Of course the time for this development varies with different babies so that what has been given is only an approximate schedule.


Luella Palmer in her book, Play Life in the First Eight Years, gives many fine suggestions gleaned from a variety of sources as to how the parents may aid the sense and movement development of the child during these years. In the first year toys may be given the baby to feel and to handle, such as a soft rubber ball, a hard celluloid ball, a bright-colored woolen ball suspended from the top of the baby carriage. While the child should have the opportunity to investigate objects with the sensitive little mouth, no object like a pacifier should be continually in the mouth. Such pacifiers are unsanitary as a rule, they spoil the shape of the baby's mouth, causing malformation, and are responsible for badly formed teeth later, and they are not good for the digestion, causing a constant flow of saliva. A bright object, such as a candle or a shiny ornament, may be used to develop attention, as well as tones struck on the piano or some other musical instrument. Baby very much enjoys too his own pounding plays after he can manipulate a spoon on a tin pan or a plate. With the sense play, movement play also such as the kicking exercises may be used. Throwing the arms and the whole body will give great joy, and throwing objects from the chair or carriage. The mother may use little chanting rimes as baby performs these movements such as "up-down, up-down," "here-there, here-there."

In the second year, when the child walks and is there-fore able to take himself to objects which he proceeds to handle, his field of investigation is greatly widened. Miss Palmer suggests supplying him with soft, hard and colored balls, with a gong and hammer, bottles in which he may put objects such as stones or wooden beads, news-paper for tearing and other homely occupations not too difficult for baby manipulation. In movement he needs a pair of stairs to climb, he likes the tossing and balancing plays to which father subjects him, and he hustles about continually himself as the year progresses. For the third year words are beginning to be used by this little child to clarify sense impressions of which there should still be a rich supply. Balls and blocks are the only special playthings needed with an ample number of home materials which the child finds in the kitchen, the back yard and in fact everywhere he goes. This child walks, runs, climbs and jumps most of his waking hours, in fact is ceaselessly busy.

This brief picture of the natural physical development and how it may be aided in these years is perhaps sufficient to suggest the cruelty of tying a child, putting him for hours in a high chair or penned in a go-cart, shutting him away from stairs, placing him in a narrow enclosure with little or nothing to investigate. The result of such treatment will be physical weakness in comparison with the strength that might have been attained; the formation of bad habits in handling the body, for the saying, "Satan finds mischief for idle hands to do," is literally true here ; and a mental retardation of which we will speak later. During all of this period the larger muscles of the arms, legs and torso are the ones to be exercised mainly instead of the finer coordinations of hands and fingers sometimes chiefly provided for by the child's play-materials.


The bones of the young child's body are very plastic indeed, and there must be great care during all of this period that malformations do not occur such as bow-legs, knock-knees, and spinal curvatures. The story is told of an investigation made in a clinic in one of our larger cities as to why the children of one of the foreign nationalities were found to have an outward curvature of one side of the body with a higher shoulder. It was discovered that this malformation was due to the way the mothers carried the infants about as they worked, holding them in a peculiar fashion at one side of the body. The child should have a chair, carriage or go-cart so built as to meet the needs of his small body and provide the right sitting position. He should learn early to sit back in his chair, with feet squarely on the floor, and with back well sup-ported against the broad piece at the back of the chair. The seat of the chair should be curved to fit the shape of the child's body and should be large enough to hold him comfortably. He should be taught to take a pride in his own furniture selected to give him satisfaction and to be used by him.


The body of the child at this time is very sensitive to changes of heat and cold, so that he must be protected against these by proper clothing and care. Little children of this age are not infrequently met on the street on a cold morning in the fall or winter with the tears rolling down the face, so greatly do they feel the change of temperature if not properly dressed to meet it. This child is also very susceptible to contagions such as whooping cough, measles and the like, and some of these contagions reap a veritable harvest. If the child survives he is often left with a physical weakness that he does not outgrow sometimes in years. For this reason small children and infants should be protected from contagions as far as possible. No child or grown person with a cold or cough ought to be near them. The little child who has a sturdy body well nourished is of course much more likely to be immune from disease than the one who does not have the same resistance. The digestive organs are also very easily upset, and malnutrition in these years often has serious consequences, mentally as well as physically. When the child begins to have other food than the mother's milk his diet should be judiciously planned and supervised. Menus for the different ages may be secured from the Bureau of Child Welfare mentioned before. Confections, candy in particular, and meats should never be included.

The child at this age is easily fatigued, his reserve of energy being slight. The nervous balance is quickly upset. Therefore all plays should be sufficiently stimulating but not over-exciting. Older children often play with the baby until he laughs and crows hilariously or the father tosses and tumbles the two-year-old until hysterics result. Some-times the child cries after such excitement, at other times he is cross and irritable and cannot sleep. Excursions to crowded shops, visits in the homes of relatives, the admiration and fondling of guests very often contribute to the same undesirable condition. A quiet, happy environment for this child will conduce to a nervous poise later that is to be greatly coveted for him. An abundance of sleep is required during all these years. The baby who has his regular naps during the day and sleeps twelve hours at night is fortunate.


1. Make accurate observation for a definite period of the physical development of a child under three years of ageónote the exact age of the child in days or weeks and compare your observations with those of Professor Dearborn (Moto-Sensory Development) and with the chart for normal development of infants which will be sent to you upon request by the Child Welfare Division of the Bureau of Education (Washington, D. C.).

2. Observe a child for as short a period as ten minutes and notice how many bodily movements he makes. Why is a normal child very active? How should he be clothed?

3. Observe the methods a little child takes in getting acquainted with a new objectómanipulation of various sorts, tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing. He naturally puts every-thing into his mouth. What does this suggest as to the type of objects that he be allowed to investigate? What very serious injury may be done by giving a baby a pacifier?

4. Study the playthings of a little child and analyze ac-cording to value in his development.

5. What sort of games may a mother play with the infant which will really aid him in his physical growth? Is there ever danger of too much "Mother play"?

6. A very healthy-looking baby was seen on the street car with its parents at seven o'clock in the evening. It was passed frequently from one to the other. It fretted, and several times cried tempestuously. What may have been the cause or causes?

7. An infant of eighteen months was "pigeon-toed" and "knock-kneed." How could this condition be remedied?

8. Do you agree with the theory of the parent who intentionally exposes his child to contagious diseases? Why or why not?


CABOT, ELLA, Seven Ages of Childhood, 3-39.

DEARBORN, GEORGE, Moto-Sensory Development.

FORBUSH, WILLIAM, Guide Book to Childhood, 72-75.

HALLAM, JULIA, Studies in Child Development, 11-38.

HARRISON, ELIZABETH, Study of Child Nature, Chapter I, IT. KIRKPATRICK, EDWIN, Fundamentals of Child Study, Chapters I and III.

MAJOR, DAVID, First Steps in Mental Growth, 16-45; 334-351. PALMER, LUELLA, Play Life in the First Eight Years, Chapter I. READ, MARY, Mothercraft Manual, 41-61; 85-195; 246-284. TANNER, AMY, The Child, 18-35; 335-424.

TRACY, FREDERICK, The Psychology of Childhood, 1-43. WARNER, FRANCES, The Study of Children, 16-33.

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