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Infant Schools


INFANT SCHOOLS. The provision in modern times of systematised training for children of pre-school age may be dated from the village school at Waldbach founded by Jean Frederic Oberlin in 1774. James Buchanan started a school for infants in Robert Owen's mill, New Lanark, 1800. A new direction was given to the movement by Friedrich W. A. Froebel, the creator of the kindergarten (q.v.) , where play, nature-study, and handwork are directed to the development of the child's latent powers. Dr. Maria Montessori (q.v.) marks an epoch in infant training. Her experiments with mentally defective children showed her the educative value of sense and muscle training, and she devised an elaborate set of educative toys by which the children learn to observe sounds and forms and colours, numbers and size. Each child chooses his own activities and puzzles out problems as they present themselves to his own mind; there is a minimum of active intervention by the teacher, though her skill in quiet guidance is the key to the whole. Dr. Montessori's sensory training does ac tually lead to the beginnings of reading, writing and numbers. She precludes all learning by rote at this early stage, and so all recitation. The training of the social sense is secured by common domestic tasks, care of gardens and of pets. The genius of Rachel and Margaret McMillan and Grace Owen has created a type of school (see NURSERY SCHOOLS) which aims at providing the children of poor and crowded districts with something ap proaching the ideal nursery of their more fortunate f ellows f resh air, wholesome food and happy activity, with sleep at proper intervals.

United Kingdom.

Up to 1905 it was the general English practice since the Education Act of 187o for education authorities to provide facilities for teaching children between three and five where the parents desired it. In 1905 Article 53 of the Code empowered them to refuse admission to children under five. In 1907 the Consultative committee of the Board of Education called attention to the gap between the care and advice given at baby clinics and the medical inspection at primary schools, and recom mended the establishment of nursery schools to bridge this gap. The Education Act of 1918 empowered education authorities to supply or aid the supply of schools for children from the age of two "whose attendance at such a school is necessary or desirable for their health, physical or mental development." The 1923 act in Northern Ireland contained a similar provision. But the Pre fatory Memorandum to the 1918 act deprecates the creation of a separate caste of nursery school teachers. In 1923 the Joint Parliamentary Advisory committee reported on the success of these schools, but added that "the cost per capita offers a serious bar to their extension." Sir George Newman, however, in his Annual Reports as Medical Officer to the Board of Education, re peatedly urges their value to health and pleads that a stitch in time saves nine. He urges that they might be amalgamated with the day nurseries where children whose mothers are out at work are cared for all day from the age of nine months. On March 31, 1926, there were 27 recognised nursery schools, 12 under local authorities and 15 maintained by voluntary effort.

The Handbook of Suggestions for the Consideration of Teachers (Board of Education, 19a 7) distinguishes the nursery stage (from 3 to 5) from the infant stage (from 5 to 8). In the nursery stage there are to be no formal lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic ; the children are to form wholesome bodily habits, to sleep and play in the open air, and there is to be motor and sensory training. In the infant stage reading, writing and arith metic are not to be forced, but may be begun. There is to be "direct contact with things as a means of learning." The actual practice in infant schools differs widely from the rigid formalism of the more old-fashioned schools to the freest use of individual methods.

Other European Countries.

In Austria under the act of 1872 kindergartens were recognized as part of the public educa tional system. In 1879 the State established a kindergarten prac tising school. From 1889 Vienna began to establish municipal kindergartens. Since 1918 the city has rapidly developed V olks kindergiirten, where working-class parents may leave children between two and six from 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. There are also Normal kindergarten with shorter hours. Nominal fees are charged, be sides a small sum for breakfast and dinner in the V olkskinder garten, but these may be remitted or reduced. Montessori and Froebelian methods are combined except in one purely Montes sori experimental school. There is frequent medical examination.

In Belgium, for children between three and six education is provided in the ecoles gardiennes. They are free but not com pulsory, are provided by the communes, receive a State grant, and are under government inspection. Private schools must con form to the conditions of the communal schools. The State first recognized these schools in 1833. In June, 1927, the Ministry issued a new set of model regulations, which the communes are free to adopt or modify. Froebelian and Montessori occupations are recommended. Reading, writing and arithmetic are excluded. No time is allowed for sleep. In all schools there is a femme de service to see to the cleanliness of the children and to their physical needs.

In France, the first regular infant school was established in Paris at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1828 a model school was started, followed shortly by similar institutions all over France. State recognition and inspection were granted. In 1848 the name ecole maternelle, which these schools have since borne, was given to them. Every commune must have one of these schools or a classe en f antine, which has now become simply an ecole maternelle attached to a primary school. Admission is free, but not compulsory, for children between two and six. New regulations were issued in 1921 and 1927. Reading, writing and arithmetic are taught to the older children. Classes are to be from 25 to so in size. All schools must have a femme de service. Kindergartens and day nurseries (Kleinkinderbewahranstalten) for children under six in Germany are maintained voluntarily by local authorities and also by religious and charitable bodies, but they are subject to State inspection. Fees, if charged at all, are very low. In addition there are private kindergartens and day nurseries supported by the parents' fees. Froebelian methods are general, but a decree of the Prussian Ministry of Education (192o) makes the study of Montessori methods compulsory in recognized training courses for kindergarten teachers. There are few purely Montessori schools. The age of compulsory attendance is six.

Under the Act of 1891 in Hungary, kindergartens (in the larger communes) and day nurseries are established in addition to what is done by voluntary effort.

The first efforts to provide infant care and training in Italy were made by Ferrante Aporti, who established asili infantili early in the I 9th century, and whose ideas in many ways resembled Froebel's. In 1907 Dr. Montessori opened a casa dei bambini in a tenement house, where she applied to normal infants the ideas formed by her experience in training mental defectives. In the year I 9 2 I-2 2 there were 5,902 asili infantili attended by children between three and six, including kindergartens, casa dei bambini, and sale di custodia (day nurseries), some communal, some private. Some are free, whilst others charge fees. The decree of December, 1923, authorises the establishment of scuole materne by voluntary effort in collaboration with the Ministry; also of training colleges for teachers in these schools; and allocates an annual State grant of five million lire.

Pre-school training has so frequently been the outcome of an attempt to cope with the evil effects of industrialism and over crowding that it is not surprising to find it less developed in Scandinavia than in more highly industrialized countries. Norway has day nurseries and kindergartens in Oslo, both communal and private. A few Montessori trained teachers are at work in and near Oslo. Denmark has Froebelian "public gardens" in Copen hagen for children from three to six; the mothers are allowed to come also and bring their sewing. In Sweden the primary schools have infant departments for children between six and eight, but education is not compulsory before the age of seven.

In Switzerland each canton controls its own schools. Generally speaking the larger towns in German Switzerland have communal kindergartens and the smaller ones day nurseries, maintained by voluntary effort with a communal grant. In French Switzerland the ecoles en f antines form the lowest division of the primary school under cantonal authority, and there is a more formal syllabus, though Froebelian methods are also practised. (See also KINDERGARTEN, MONTESSORI, MONTESSORI SYSTEM, NURSERY SCHOOLS and their bibliographies.) The United States. See NURSERY SCHOOLS, DAY NURSERIES and KINDERGARTEN. (M. M. G.)

children, training, school, education, day, nursery and montessori