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Middle Childhood - Life From Six To Eight

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The transition from early childhood to middle child-hood is again a gradual change. At no one moment can we say that it is accomplished. This period has its out-standing characteristics as had the other two. Group life has become the usual thing ; rarely does this child choose to work or play alone. In the first six years there has been little definite instruction but now the child can make some use of concepts and shows a dawning ability to de-fine in terms of qualities. There is a gradual waning of the make-believe between the ages of six and seven; with some children it occurs earlier than with others. There is a corresponding hunger for the "real." "Is that story really true ?" this child will ask with painful eagerness. A growing purposefulness is evident in all of his activities. He plays less for the mere joy of the action and continually more with an end in view.


These years witness a rapid growth estimated as a 31% increase. The heart is relatively weak, as the "adult ratio between the heart and arteries is not attained until the later years of adolescence." There is likely to be poverty of blood in the seventh and eighth years. The sensitiveness to physical surroundings continues, but this child is more hardy than the young child, although not as hardy as the Junior. He is gaining in the control of his senses ; he is more observant of detail and consequently more accurate. He is gaining also in muscular control or coordination, particularly of the large muscles. There is greater precision and accuracy of movement. The fundamental physical habits of eating, dressing, bathing and sleeping have been formed so that the child enjoys a greater measure of freedom for other activities than the younger child. The vitality and energy fluctuate; he is easily tired out and night often finds him exhausted. I have seen a group of primary children returning from the gymnasium or play-ground throw themselves on the floor or the ground from sheer fatigue. Contagions are still prevalent but not likely to be so dangerous in their effect. The bony structure of the body, although harder than that of the kindergarten child, is so plastic as to make the matter of proper seating in the primary grades an exceedingly important one. There continues to be little power of inhibition, and this is especially true of motor control. This child is even more active physically than he was earlier, and "to sit still for any length of time is torture."


Eating occupies a very important place in the life at this time. Because of the physical condition care must be taken with the diet, and as the child roams farther from home and has more freedom the dangers of improper food are greater. Of the incessant motor activity and the difficulty of its control we have already spoken. The child is larger, stronger and more reasonable, and therefore suffers less from fear, although he still needs to be guarded on this point. He shows more skill in rhythmic response because he has better muscular control. His curiosity continues to evidence itself through investigations and the asking of questions, the questions penetrating deeper into cause. He imitates the conduct of others and more or less consciously chooses patterns. His manipulation of material has gradually developed into purposeful construction. His individualism shows itself in fighting and in self-assertion apparent by a certain amount of strutting and domineering. Teasing and bullying also appear in these years, and although not so pronounced as in the next period afford a decided problem with some children. Socially there is a growing ability to cooperate in work or play while competition makes its appearance. Under six there is little competition unless it is prematurely stimulated by the teacher or parent. A kindergarten child one day proposed a game of skipping on crosses. He drew his crosses, then chose exactly enough children to place one on each cross. He wished the children to skip until the music stopped playing, when each one would find a cross to stand upon. The teacher tried in vain to persuade him to choose one more child in order that there might be one without a cross each time. This one would then choose another to take his place. The element of competition was entirely beyond the four-year-old and he insisted upon playing the game his way.

This child shows an interest in computing and measuring that furnishes a good basis for arithmetic. He is fond of adornment and delights in "dressing up," in the wearing of beads or jewelry. Collecting as an instinct begins to assume some prominence. At first these collections are very heterogeneous objects like a bit of bright paper, a penny, a string, a button and a little stone or piece of glass, but before the ninth year definite classifications are made. Conversation continues to be "a most effective means of developing language control." The child listens to the conversations of the adults about him and gets interesting ideas on the meaning of life. Of him it begins to be said that "little pitchers have big ears." His field of communication gradually widens until he is making comments, rather immature to be sure, on history, literature, art, religion and the topics of the day. During the recent war a group of third-grade children were discussing the cause of the war. "They can't get the kaiser off the throne," said one. "I'll tell you what to do," said another. "Just go up and pull him off, pull him right off, I say." Because of the waning of the make-believe there is a sterility of play interests. The child is not very resourceful; a group of these children will jostle and push each other about without seeming to get an inspiration for worthwhile play. This is the time when migration be-comes popular; in his quest for the real the child seeks new surroundings. He is after novelty and he no longer has the fear, as a rule, of getting lost. He cherishes the approval of his teacher and playmates, and is becoming increasingly desirous of the praise of other children. He likes to nurture or protect anything dependent upon him, and is more responsible than the kindergarten child. He does not wonder so much as he did; he is becoming more sophisticated. "Oh, I've seen that," or "I've heard that story," is a frequent remark. His worship is less instinctive and more thoughtful. He is very imitative of forms and copies exactly.


Sense-perception is very evident. The child at this age has a passion for real things. He is full of curiosity and is observant of many details that he did not see earlier, for instance he is beginning to distinguish different birds and different flowers. In the kindergarten period, unless special attention is called to differences, all birds are bird, all flowers tend to be simply flower. Kirkpatrick says in speaking of the development of perception, "Before the child enters school, he has learned to know just what appearances may be relied upon as indicating a certain form, sound, taste or touch. He has also learned an immense number of correspondences between the different senses, so that he no longer needs to feel of most things he sees in order to know as much as he wishes of how they feel or to strike or taste them to know how they will sound or taste. Yet there are many appearances and correspondences that he does not know very well, and hence, as compared with adults, he is still at a considerable disadvantage in judging objects." He needs, therefore, continual opportunities to put things to the practical test. Some one has said that his room ought to be a picture gallery and a workshop.

Apperception is also evident. Many concepts are formed in this period and there is a rich fund of ideas accumulated. As a result of several investigations made in different cities to determine what concepts children possess upon entering school, Dr. Hall writes: "(1) There is next to nothing of pedagogic value the knowledge of which is safe to assume, at the outset of school life. (2) The best preparation parents can give their children for good school training is to make them acquainted with natural objects, especially with sights and sounds of the country. (3) Every teacher on starting with a new class, or in a new locality, to make sure that his efforts along some lines are not utterly lost, should undertake to explore carefully, section by section, children's minds with all the tact and ingenuity he can command and acquire, to determine exactly what is already known. (4) The concepts that are most common in the children of a given locality are the earliest to be acquired, while the rarer ones are later."

Attention is of longer duration, so that the periods may be lengthened somewhat for work and play. Interest is sustained for longer periods of time. This child will continue on one project for two or more weeks with little stimulation from the parent or teacher. The mental grasp is wider than that of the kindergarten child, but the primary child is not able "to make complicated things, comprehend long sentences, appreciate stories having many characters and incidents, or perform problems involving several numbers and conditions." His memory is more accurate, he remembers over longer periods of time as from Sunday to Sunday, from one birthday or Christmas to the next. Rote memory is now apparent, some of the multiplication tables are learned before the end of this period and nonsense rimes or jingles are readily committed.

The child reasons more and is not so impulsive. He can do some conceptual thinking, as when the child of seven was asked, "What is a rule ?" he replied, "A rule is something what you mind." He is capable of solving more difficult problems. A group of three children were playing horse upon the radiator. The slender twig that was used as a whip fell from the driver's hand and lodged between the tubes or pipes in the radiator. Immediately the problem arose as to how to extract the whip. The four-year-old purposed to put his hand down and get it. The idea was discarded because the place was too narrow. The five-year-old suggested that they pull it out from the bottom, for part of it rested on the floor. The sixyear-old said that it would be broken, for it was rather a dry and brittle stick. The five-year-old tried to push it up from the bottom. This was done several times but it could not be pushed far enough for any one to get hold of it from the top. The six-year-old looked down at the whip, turned his head from side to side, squinted the eyes and ordered a string. The string was brought but was too thin. He said that he wanted a stiff one. When this was obtained he very carefully made a loop at one end and slowly let it down between the pipes. The joy that was felt in solving the problem was shown on the faces of all the children, but most keenly by the six-year-old, who slapped his sides and repeated over and over, "I'm good at mechanical things. I'm good at mechanical things." A group of first-grade children were discussing Humpty Dumpty, the old Mother Goose Rime. "But," said Jack, "how did Humpty Dumpty get up on the wall ?" "Oh," said Daniel, "a hen climbed up there and laid him, of course." There is an attempt to solve moral problems but because of a limited experience with life and lack of broad sympathy and understanding there is apt to be the "eye for an eye and the tooth for a tooth" justice. A boy of seven had heard of the persecution of Jesus by the Jews, when he met at school a Jewish boy. Without any introduction he whipped him soundly. When questioned as to his amazing action, he explained that the Jewish boy was "getting what was coming to him because his father had treated Jesus so mean and had even helped to kill him."

The primary child is very suggestible. Kirkpatrick reports an investigation of first-grade children by Small, who found that nine out of ten could be made to think that they experienced sensations of taste, smell, temperature and visual movements, when no such sensations were given them. On account of this suggestibility the child is very sensitive to atmosphere. Credulity, however, is not so great as with the kindergarten child because this child thinks and reasons more for himself. He will some-times say, "That isn't really true." He grows more critical as he advances in age; for instance, an eight-year-old remarked one Sunday afternoon, "I am not going to Sunday-school any more." When asked his reasons, he replied, "Because it isn't Christlike. They sing and do not know what they are singing and giggle afterward. Then a green teacher comes in and today she put the wrong man in the tree and hung him. I know more than she does about Christ and the Bible."

The imagination is under better control. Law and or-der enter in. This child knows the difference between fact and fiction, so that "a lie at nine may be accounted serious," whereas it was "inconsequential at six." The emotions are also under better control ; they are not as intense but of longer duration. A child of seven stole some pennies from a pocketbook of another child. Her face wore a white, scared look during the morning. The pennies were missed, the teacher kept the child at noon, having been haunted by the face during the session. The child confessed and was forgiven, but the white, drawn look still remained and was there to some extent the following two days, showing the persistence of the emotion.


The compelling interests of the primary child include some of the characteristics which we have already discussed but viewed from a somewhat different angle. He is interested in noises that are harsh, loud and terrifying as well as pleasant. A group of children, including some older and some younger than six years, had their pictures taken by a flashlight. The younger children did not like the noise or the flash, while those over six gloried in both. This child likes sour and bitter things to eat, as well as those that are agreeable. He is the one who eats green fruit once too often and suffers gastric pangs in consequence. He is also interested in investigating unpleasant odors. Wood and tools, in fact, coarse work of any kind, appeal to him. It has been well said that he uses with gusto anything that supplements arm and leg. He observes the more minute living things as well as the more notice-able ones. He is very fond of pets, especially the dog and pony, but he is very likely to torment them. It was a small boy of this age who one afternoon visited our chicken yard. When we came home we made a fruitless search for our missing bantams, only to find them at last in the garbage can.

This small boy shows a marked interest in people, especially in workers. He notes process and tools in much detail. He has an overmastering desire for the real, the concrete, the actual. He likes to play with the hose, start bonfires, and kick up the dust. He is keenly interested in exploring and collecting. Anything novel delights him and he has a ready appreciation of humor. He screams with laughter if a playmate slips down in a game or falls in the water. He wants longer stories, and as a rule he evidences a marked interest in reading, writing and number during these years unless he is forced before that interest develops. He is fascinated by foreign words, by puzzles and riddles. He delights in making things and drawing. His incessant and rational inquiry includes such questions as the following ones which we quote, "when does wind begin ?" "What makes echo ?" "Why does the kettle sing ?" "Why are teardrops salt ?" "Why is the sky blue ?" "What is smoke ?" Finally there is about him, as one writer expresses it, "a joyous self-expressiveness" which finds an outlet through language, rhythm, dramatization or the manual arts.


1. Of what lasting value is it to a little lad of seven or eight when his father is a "chum" to him, treating him as an intelligent being, instead of laughing at his immature judgments?

2. "I am glad, Son, that I don't have to watch you and hold on to you on the boat as I used to do," said the mother of an eight-year son who was leaning rather recklessly over the railing. What did she gain that was not gained by the mother who exclaimed in irritation, "Keep away from that railing. Do you want to fall overboard?"

3. A mother with her seven-year-old son and a guest were visiting a museumó"Do you mind if I hunt for the animals while you look at things?" asked the boy. "Indeed, I do mind. You'll get lost. I want you to stay right with me." Was this reply a wise one? How should such a situation be handled?

4. The neighbors complained of 'Carl's cruelty to their pets. No dogs or cats were safe from his attacks. His father bought a dog for the boy, giving him complete responsibility for the animal's welfare, getting books and general information about the care and treatment of valuable dogs. Discuss the wisdom of this procedure.

5. Why are pageants and outdoor spectacles, even wild-west shows, wiser as amusement for the small boy than movies? Miles Standish than Charley Chaplin as the hero he imitates?

6. Discuss the value of entering into the play life of children.


CABOT, The Seven Ages of Childhood, ages 3-7, 53-89; ages 7-11, 93-133.

FORBUSH, Guide Book to Childhood, 151; 127-128; 219; 204-209. HALL, Some Aspects of Child Life, 241-286.

HALLAM, Studies in Child Development, 116-149; 150-189. JOHNSON, Education by Plays and Games, 70-76; 94-154. KING, The Psychology of Child Development, 153-221. KIRKPATRICK, Fundamentals of Child Study, 166-171; 182-183; 204-212.

Genetic Psychology, 141-168.

Individual in the Making, 166-215.

LEE, Play in Education, 166-318.

PALMER, Play Life in the First Eight Years, 5-84.

TANNER, The Child, 112-125.

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