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The Influence of the Psychological Atmosphere on the Actions and Future
Life of the Child. MAURICE CRAIG, M.A., M.D., F.R.C.P
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Children at Dinner
Houses for Soldiers' Children, “Shortacre,' and Hook's Hill House”
trial Schools Department of the Home Office
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By PROFESSOR II. BOMPAS SMITH, M. Professor of Education and Director of the Department of Education in the
Victoria University of Manchester; anthor of "Boys and Their Management in School," C.
It is no longer necessary to urge a systematic provision of nursery schools. Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, the President of the Board of Education, has made such a provision part of his educational programme. There is, however, all the greater need for us to consider the lines on which these schools should be established. Unless we realize the part which they may play in our educational and social life, we shall miss a unique opportunity of benefiting the children.
. The object of nursery schools is sometimes held to be that of enabling overworked mothers to get their children cared for during certain hours of the day. Sometimes, again, it is urged that nursery schools are needed in order that young children may be given an appropriate formal education and, at any rate, be saved from playing in the streets, or from the tender mercies of the “minder.” On the other hand, the opponents of such schools contend either that they will weaken parental responsibility, or that they are unnecessary because existing infant schools can provide any education that may be needed by young children. But in so far as they thus argue, advocates and opponents alike show an inadequate appreciation of the purpose for which nursery schools should be established. That purpose is not merely to relieve the mothers, but to help them to care for their children more, effectively. It is not only to give the children educational
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occupation, but to counteract the adverse influences of their whole environment, and so to prevent them from contracting diseases of body or mind which may remain a cause of weakness throughout their after lives. A child's physical and mental health depends upon the due satisfaction and development of his emotional and other interests, his interest in activity, for example, or his interest in persons whom he loves. It is the function of the nursery school to provide for the growth of all the child's fundamental interests during a critical period of his life.
Of the child's physical requirements I am not competent to speak, but fortunately there is now little danger of their being overlooked. His mental needs are, however, equally important, and we are only beginning to realize their scope. Pyschological research is teaching us that if a child's emotional interests are repressed or warped, his mental development will suffer a grave and perhaps ruinous disturbance. This disturbance may show itself in discontent, stupidity, or lawlessness, or it may persist through many years without any external manifestation. The mental trouble may be below the threshold of consciousness and nevertheless be a source of mental conflict, and fatal to moral stability and peace of mind. It is these evils from which many children suffer that the nursery schools must help to remedy.
Since children's interests are primarily emotional, the nursery schools must give them teachers to love and trust, companions to enjoy and help, pets, and other possessions in which they can take pleasure. The school atmosphere must be like that of a well-ordered home, and its life full of opportunities for mutual service. Further, the school must be in close touch with the homes. If a child's interests are fostered at school and repressed at home, the inevitable result is mental stress and conflict. The school cannot control the homes, but it can strongly influence them for good. Speaking generally, the home conditions are repressive because the mother's interest in her children is itself repressed by weariness or poverty or ignorance, and lack of self-control. It is surprising what a nursery school can do by friendly help and by inspiring new ideals to liberate the mother's interest and thus transform the home.
It follows that nursery schools can do their proper work only if they are small. There is no little danger, lest in our desire to render them available for large numbers, with a minimum of expenditure, we should make them large institutions, accommodating, say, from 150 to 200 children. To yield to this temptation would be fatal for many