Creeping Into Knowledge
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IT is no easy thing for a baby to balance the oversized body upon the undersized legs and uninstructed feet, and move them in the steady succession of steps which constitutes walking. Heretofore he has been exploring the world on hands and knees, and has acquired a great amount of information thereby, which will presently stand him in good stead.
The creeping period is, as Mrs. Kate E. Blake has said, a trying period for the young mother who has rejoiced in the dainty sweetness of her baby, and especially in its dear little hands. From this time on, however, if he grows as he should, only on rare occasions will he satisfy her ideas of cleanliness. "Other things being equal, it may safely be affirmed that the baby who is always immaculately clean will grow up to be a weak-minded man, his intellectual development having been sacrificed to his mother's idea of neatness. This hard doctrine leads to an explanation of what most mothers have little thought of-that creeping, while not a physical necessity to an infant, though an excellent exercise, is a real necessity of his intellectual life. The child has now reached the stage when he desires to know more about distant objects-he has just begun, in fact, to get an idea of distance, an idea which is necessary to true seeing. The idea of distance seems to rise from repeated experience of the amount of effort required to reach any object in view. He is dependent upon experiments for other fundamental notions, such as ideas of hardness, softness, height, depth, breadth, thickness, smoothness, roughness-physical qualities and attributes of all sorts. "To restrict him to a specially prepared corner, however safe and convenient for the mother, is likely to limit the material from which the child is constructing his future power to think."
On this subject Preyer, the great German observer of children, remarks: "Creeping, the natural preparatory school for walking, is but too often not permitted to the child, although it contributes vastly to his mental development. For liberty to get a desired object, to look at it and to feel of it, is much earlier gained by the creeping child than by one who must always have help in order to change his location It cannot be a matter of indifference for the normal mental development of the child not yet a year old whether it is packed in a basket for hours, is swathed in swaddling-clothes, is tied to a chair, or is allowed to creep about in perfect freedom upon a large spread, out-of-doors in summer, and in a room moderately heated in winter."
Of course he must be suitably dressed for those daily excursions which in properly warmed houses ought to be al-lowed to extend everywhere, even at the expense of providing fenders for fireplaces and ridding tables of long covers, whose dangling corners may be pulled, bringing with them lamps, vases and other dangerous things. To guard doorways and stairways with gates or boards sliding in grooves is not difficult; but it is easy to teach yearling babies not to fall over precipices. Thousands of children are born and reared on boats, and fall into the water no oftener than other youngsters. One lady has recorded how, by having some one push her little one over the edge of a high porch into her arms two or three times, she taught it to dread and keep away from the edge as well as did the older children. A surprisingly short training will teach a creeper to scramble downstairs backward, and after it gets the idea, and a frightening slide or two, it may be safely trusted up and down forty times a day.
Mrs. Marion Foster Washburne calls attention to a difficulty which a baby often encounters in its first attempts at creeping-a difficulty which is for a while most amusing to the onlookers, but which presently becomes tiresome even to them. As for the little fellow himself, he becomes perfectly enraged. "The trouble is this: His arms are so much stronger and better developed than his legs, that he pushes himself backward in-stead of forward. The harder he tries to go toward a desired object, the more rapidly he scuttles away from it, scolding and fretting all the time. Some patience on the part of the mother is here required. She will have to get down on the floor with him and put her hands behind first one little, pushing foot and then the other, until he gradually grows strong enough to make his knees do the proper work. Sometimes it takes almost a week to teach a baby to go forward instead of backward, and it is partly because few women take time so to help the baby that he learns to get around the difficulty himself by various queer procedures."