In its infancy the child is so closely linked to its parents that it is dependent upon them for all excursion. Visits to the Centre, therefore, are of mother and/or father and child together. And since in the Centre is gathered so much that the young family can use at this time, it happens that the frequency of their visits gives the observer the regular contact that he needs to enable him to study and describe successive phases in the functional growth of the family, of which the processes of weaning from the breast and from the ‘skirt’ are outstanding examples. But when it comes to the child’s schooldays, the observer is not so fortunate. The Centre has no school of its own, so that the school life of the child is a closed book to us. The parents, too. are shut off from this school life, so that in present-day conditions the education of the child does not represent a further phase in the functional development of the family as a whole.

If we are right in regarding the family as a functional unity, then it cannot be in conformity with biological law that there should be this sudden break in the nurture of the child still incompletely facultised. The tendency of present day education is at an ever earlier age to supersede parental nurture by the technique of the educational specialist—who may well not even have the basic maturity of parenthood! It is as though, while the child—’growing-tip’ of the family—was developing its faculties within the home, we said—”Now at the first possible moment let us remove this young shoot and, lest it fail to grow, plant it in new soil and subject it to certain selected stimuli”. But what have we done? Cut the young developing shoot off from the sustaining and familiar sap that rises from the parental roots; severed the child from the biological mechanism through which all nutriment must pass, to be rendered familiar and so readily utilisable by the young. By the initial presentation to the child of ‘foreign’ substances we have in fact created the conditions in which allergic manifestations are prone to arise. In pathological terms, this means that we are running the risk of inducing inflammatory processes rather than the smooth digestion that accompanies an ordered process of development. We do not suggest that the child should have only what the parents have to give him, but that all foreign substances and experiences should initially be tempered by the family mechanism. The implication of this is that the family should move in an ever-widening circle of experience in which parents and child develop together.

As things are, the greater part of the school-child’s life is spent in a common, non-specific environment, and one from which the family is cut off.The parental lack of knowledge of and participation in all that goes on at school is apt to be complete. Delivered up at the gate by its mother, the child goes to school, for a prescribed number of hours each day.There it is subjected to a routine based upon the calculated achievement of the average child and is coaxed to action within that limit.In this process the parents have no place and play no part.Many of our members for example had never seen their children swim until they joined the Centre, though for many years the older children had been going to the local baths weekly with their schools. The pride and pleasure of the mother who first sees her child swim a length are the outward expression of a human need fulfilled. And who will deny that a father adds a cubit to his dignity—if not to his stature—when in company with his friends he sees his son do a good dive, play in the band or with no dismay guide a distinguished guest to the person he has come to visit in the Centre. This pride in the parents is one of the signs of their awareness of the totality of their situation, and it is a natural stimulus to their own progressive development.

Once they have gone to school the children come to the Centre only in their leisure, and only when this coincides with the scanty broken leisure of their parents can they all use it together as a family. Nevertheless, as from now on each uses it increasingly for his own purposes, its doings are of interest to them all.The fact that the parents accept it, know about it and use it, not for the children’s sake only but also for their own, makes its use by any of them part of the family life. How often have parents remarked—”The strange thing is that before we joined the Centre we never had anything to talk about at home, and now meal times are always a buzz”.The Centre has become common ground for the family and the knowledge and experience gained there is food for them all alike.

School hours give to the children’s attendance at the Centre a daily regularity.Between 4 and 6 o’clock a steady stream of oneto twohundred boys and girlsenter the building. On Saturdays and during school holidays they arrive as soon as the Centre opens—at 2 o’clock. On week-days many of the younger children are met at the school gates by their mothers, or as the result of the neighbourliness that has grown up in the Centre, by one deputed from among a group of friends to collect all their children.

To begin with the fledglings.They no longer go to the Nursery as in their pre-school days, but come proudly upstairs into the cafeteria where they find their mothers, watch them in the swimming bath or finishing a game of badminton. Perhaps a child has been told to meet her mother in the ‘Medical’ Department, or to go to the laboratory for a blood test, in which case the child would have her own appointment card for the receptionist.Whatever it is,the children goquietlyabout their immediate business and then school bags are exchanged for the towels and swimming suits that mother has brought.

Children at Peckham Health Centre

All this time a steady stream of older children flows in, those from the more distant Central or Secondary Schools arriving last.This onslaught of the school children once over,their chatter in the cafeteria dies down and the whole building becomes alive with their activity. Within half an hour there can be seen twenty or thirty boys and girls in the swimming bath where no diving board is too high for the more adventurous, while down in the learners’ bath five or six little girls are over­coming their own timidity in their eagerness to swim its length and thus qualify for unconditional use of the ‘big bath’. The gymnasium has taken on the appearance of a lively monkey cage. Outside on the arena the graceful and accomplished roller skaters and the young cyclists of five and six years old are threading their way among the slower moving precariously balanced learners. Upstairs in the Games Room, two boys are having a game of billiards on the small table and three sets of table tennis are in progress ; elsewhere a group of girls in their tap-dancing shoes eagerly watch for the arrival of their teacher—a young married woman member. Later on, in the cafeteria and between the pillars in the main hall are heads bent over draughts, and chess and ludo boards, over jig-saw puzzles and books, over knitting and pencil and paper, over a typewriter; while seriously contemplating the selection of food on the cafeteria counter is a little group of three brothers and a sister, the eldest holding tightly in her hand the money for their tea. They are anxiously trying to expend their pennies in a way that will satisfy both their appetites and their tastes.

Gym and swimming

Let us follow a group of mothers in the Centre and see how without actual participation or even maybe exact knowledge, the children’s activities are in general within their ken. They have finished a cup of tea in the cafeteria and they go round to the sunny main hall where they can look down into the gymnasium and watch their children. It is the conventional well-equipped gymnasium, very lofty and light, with a sprung cork floor [note on construction of this floor. Appendix I.] with ropes, rope ladders, horizontal bars, a ‘window frame’, ribstalls, booms, horse, mats, etc., and everyone in it barefooted. But here the resemblance to an ordinary gymnasium ends. A boy of 11 leaps through the air from a swinging rope and lands on the ribstalls: three boys are sitting contentedly on the top rungs of the rope ladders, five girls are playing a game on the ‘window frame’, while three girls and two boys have a large light ball and dodge among their fellows as they play; two groups of boys are wrestling on the mats; one boy is using the punch ball, and five small boys leap from horse to swinging rope and back again.

One of the mothers watching from above is getting worried about her little girl who is down there standing aside rather timidly. It is the first time she has been in and the mother is afraid she will get hurt. “She’ll get used to it—don’t you worry”, says one of her acquaintances as the first mother pauses in the act of knocking the glass to beckon her out. She sees one of the staff come in. watches as he says a word to her little girl and notes that he sends out two boys who have not taken off their shoes. The new mother notices, too, that no one seems to be nervous. So, “Perhaps it will be all right”, she says to herself and leaves her little girl alone.

Meantime the observer has strolled up and is standing behind the group of mothers. He notices that they are aware of and enter into what their children are doing and show no inclination to interfere with their activities. He notes also that the timid mother is being infected by the faith and experience of her more confident friends. In the gymnasium itself he sees many figures, boys and girls moving in every direction at varying speeds, swinging on ropes suspended from the ceiling, running after balls and each other, climbing, sliding, jumping—all this activity proceeding without bumps or crashes, each child moving with unerring accuracy according to its own subjective purpose, without collision, deliberate avoidance or retreat.

Let us study this hub of activity from the point of view of a child who goes into it. He goes in and learns unaided to swing and to climb, to balance, to leap. As he does all these things he is acquiring facility in the use of his body. The boy who swings from rope to horse, leaping back again to the swinging rope, is learning by his eyes, muscles, joints and by every sense organ he has, to judge, to estimate, to know. The other twenty-nine boys and girls in the gymnasium are all as active as he, some of them in his immediate vicinity. But as he swings he does not avoid. He swings where there is space—a very important distinction—and in so doing he threads his way among his twenty-nine fellows. Using all his faculties, he is aware of the total situation in that gymnasium—of his own swinging and of his fellows’ actions. He does not shout to the others to stop, to wait or to move from him—not that there is silence, for running conversations across the hall are kept up as he speeds through the air. But this ‘education’ in the live use of all his senses can only come if his twenty-nine fellows are also free and active. If the room were cleared and twenty-nine boys sat at the side silent while he swung, we should in effect be saying to him—to his legs, body, eyes—”You give all your attention to swinging ; we’ll keep the rest of the world away”—in fact—”Be as egotistical as you like”. By so reducing the diversity in the environment we should be preventing his learning to apprehend and to move in a complex situation. We should in effect be saying—”Only this and this do; you can’t be expected to do more”—. Is it any wonder that he comes to behave as though it is all he can do? By the existing methods of teaching we are in fact inducing the child’s incoordination in society. [We cannot be surprised that in a society that has been educated on those lines we have an insoluble road accident problem.]

Let us look more closely at the significance of this picture where in the Centre gymnasium—as throughout the Centre— the children proceed without any supervision or direction to use all the available apparatus; wherein each child is a part of the whole; where the individual without clash can thread himself through the complications of a total situation; where mutual action is undertaken in awareness of a complex situation, that situation itself forever changing. [We cannot here resist pointing out the obvious value of this kind of ‘awareness’ in any situation that calls for man’s intrepidity and skill; e.g. the fighter pilot.]

This Centre ‘gym’ affords a concrete piece of evidence that spontaneity is no quality of haphazard action necessarily leading to confusion, but is an expression of function.

That such a scene can unfold itself before our eyes is, too, a promise that given the necessary circumstances, function will forth come; that a situation is possible in which a diversity of individual specific actions may result in a harmonious whole. It is to action of this order arising out of the capacity of un-intimidated human beings facultised to respond to the total situation, that earlier we have given the name ‘physical altruism’.

This type of action in mutuality with the environment, noticed on many occasions and in a great number of activities in the Centre, is in manifest contrast to the egotism invoked by conventional instruction. It is the very antithesis of the action that results from training, yet training has come to be accepted as synonymous with ‘education’. Training, by whatever system, can only create co-ordinations for special purposes by an objective conditioning of certain reflexes. This may in given circumstances enhance physiological efficiency, but it is not conducive to functional efficiency. Indeed, in our opinion, training, in inverse proportion to the age of the individual, is a menace to the evolution of biological function. Where the spontaneous emergence of ordered facultisation has been prevented, or where facultisation has failed to occur for want of timely opportunity, training is a useful remedy—a therapy in fact—for dealing with the consequent incoordinations. As a remedial measure it may in certain circumstances be a necessity, but it is a necessity to be deplored because, as such, it indicates the presence in society of undeveloped capacity arising from deficiencies of a biological nature. It behoves us breed individuals without deficiencies rather than to remain content with a policy of supplementation through’training,’ or other means.

Functional efficiency has to be acquired in infancy and childhood, the facultisation for it occurring in due rhythm and sequence as development proceeds. As the existing social and educational systems tend progressively to deprive children at an increasingly young age of their biological inheritance, it is no wonder that training is more and more coming to be considered a necessity for youth—though not, of course, by its advocates recognised as therapy.

We had in the Centre one interesting example of the inhibiting effect that training may induce. Some of the children who spent a good deal of time diving and who were deemed very promising material, were enthusiastically and methodically taught by a professional—a trainer of competitors for the Olympic Games. He was an extremely good teacher and evidently an inspiring one, as the children rushed to learn with him. But what happened to those whose enthusiasm carried them through a strenuous course? As soon as their teacher stopped coming they stopped diving, and some of them never took it up or dived again with any enthusiasm. It was as though, trained beyond their natural capacity—-to a pitch that was the trainer’s standard, not theirs—their own urge was satiated and destroyed. It is true that from an objective and external standard of diving they had become better divers than had they been left on their own, but it was at the expense of their natural interest and appetite. The acquisition of ‘style’ cost them their zest and spontaneous enjoyment of diving.

We do not wish to imply that there is no place for training at any age. When the basic facultisation of the individual has been established, and when at or after adolescence he determines the direction of his future specialisation, he will probably himself embrace a course of training to perfect his skill. It is essential that at this stage instruction should be available.

But let us return to the school children. How do we decide what material to give them? One important point is that there must be available to the child the instruments in common use in the society in which he is born. For the present-day urban child, this implies that there must be at hand such things for example as bicycles, typewriters, sewing machines, wireless sets,etc.,etc.A child growing up forinstance in a fishingvillagewouldbe ill servedif the boats and tackle,however jealously guarded, were not to some degree available to him. No doubt his balancing would be learned on a choppy sea. Not because he can learn to balance better on a boat than on a tight rope, but because boats are the instruments in common use in that child’s society—the instruments with a flavour of home. Unless the child has access to them, either he is not learning to balance, or he is developing out of contact with his living world, so that he cannot utilise his experience in mutual synthesis.That is the underlying educative principle that emerges from the study of function—and it applies equally to all instruments and to all knowledge. The child is born into the zone of its parental experience.Its facultisation proceeds by the use of those things that are pre-digested by the parents as in the course of living their own lives they fulfil their spontaneous function of nurture.These form the bridges that will bring it, as an adult, to apprehension of an unfamiliar world.

Let us look further at the list of instruments in the Centre in use by adults and children.Many are in the category of what can be called ‘self-evident’, i.e., the use to which they can be put is implicit in their structure, like a bat and a ball.It is only necessary to exhibit this type of apparatus for the children to seize upon it. Our observations suggest that the instruments which are most attractive are those involving individual skill. Any ‘competition’ is then between the child and himself conforming with the various natural laws of dynamics.The fall through the air in a dive controlled by the law of gravity and the dynamics of rotation, the floating on the surface of the water, the rolling on skates around curves, the dancing to rhythm, the balance on a bicycle—in all these the child is learning to move in compliance with a different dynamic. A striking illustration of an instrument of this type introduced into the Centre was a sprung canvas ‘trampoline’, adapted from the fair ground, for which the children proceeded to invent innumerable uses. On this the child must co-ordinate himself with the laws of gravity and the elasticity of the spring while he bounces in every variety of posture and turn. It is incumbent on the staff of the Centre, working as research students, to multiply the scope and variety of instruments of this description which carry their own incentive to action.

There is another type of instrument, of which the use is not self-evident. This includes all those tools designed or used for specific purposes. Here the user is an essential factor without which the instrument cannot make its appeal to the uninitiated. The instructional possibility of this type lies then not in the tool, nor in the user of the tool, but in the two together in action. Examples of this type of activity range from writing and arithmetic to the game or craft of most complicated skill—cricket, chess or music. It is action that counts; no form of theory can be self-evident to any child.

In the Centre all instruments become self-evident to the children as the older or more adept individuals make use of them. In this environment there is no need for direction of the child’s attention, The intrinsic appeal of the instrument itself, or of other people doing things, invokes the child’s selective action. Instead of looking to some older person—parent or teacher— to tell him what to do next, the child learns by his own stirrings to do those things that will seriatim bring about his facilitation ; learns, too, to take the first steps in the building up of his own initiative. In the Centre an adult does not play a game of billiards in order to teach the child how to play, nor does he demonstrate the use of a drum. No; the game will be going on, the band will be playing, because the participators want to play. It is the child coming to watch who transforms the players into his instructors.So it comes about that the society of the Centre becomes the instructor, not by intention, but spontaneously and inevitably through the very nature of the situation, for out of the abundance and variety of social action the child is fed and filled with experience. If the society in which he is moving be sufficiently versatile and skilful, it is likely to provide most of the pre-adolescent stimuli that the child needs, to be used by him in his own time and at his own individual rate for growth and development. [cf. Significance of the appetitive phases in education. Chapter 9,]

It may well be wondered how dispersal of some 250 children to the use of all these activities comes about without regimentation, and with the assistance of no more than two or at most three members of the staff. In the first place the equipment, so attractive to the child, is distributed throughout the building, each item set out in its appropriate place. This, together with the fact that much of it is at the same time in use by adults, encourages orderly dispersal from the moment of the child’s entry. To gain admittance to the bath-chamber or gymnasium or to secure the use of any instrument—e.g. skates or balls or books —the child must first obtain a ticket, and to do this he has to find the Curator, who carries them as she moves about the building. The act of obtaining a ticket from the Curator wherever he or she may happen to be, does away with all departmental confinement of the children. However sequestered the apparatus may have to be, the Curator is never shut away with it, thus the child only leaves the general society when the use of a particular piece of equipment makes it necessary. So the children are constantly circulating freely amongst the adult society which presents them with an orderly framework in which they meet not chaos, but effort, taste, selection, skill and all the other attributes of a mixed community in action.

Having obtained the ticket the child writes on it his name, what he is going to do, and at what time. He then goes off to his chosen activity. Entry into the swimming bath, gymnasium, cricket practice nets, etc., is through a control gate where he drops theticket intoaboxplaced conveniently for the purpose. All equipment that is used out of doors is kept in a special room adjacent to the covered playground.Special compartments of suitable size and shape have been designed to house each article—the 36 pairs of booted roller skates of different sizes stand ranged in their appropriate pigeon holes, each hole labelled with the size of the boot.The child, on admission to the ground floor room, finds his own size skates, takes them and deposits the ticket and his own shoes in the vacant hole. When each child finishes skating he takes his own shoes out of the pigeon hole, returns the skates and puts the ticket in the box placed for the purpose. Each bicycle, scooter, tennis racquet, skipping rope, ball, bat, etc., and upstairs each pencil, badminton racquet,book,jig-sawpuzzle,gameof draughts, chess,or dominoes, each billiard cue and ball, sewing materials, etc., etc., is in its own properly designed niche. These ‘cabinets’ in which all the small movable apparatus is exhibited are lightly constructed and can be wheeled to any part of the building or withdrawn from circulation as the Curator wishes. By this simple device of suitably housing each piece of the equipment, none of it, when taken out or returned has to be handled by any member of the staff.

All this time the children’s tickets are accumulating in the boxes.Theirreal significance has not yet been made clear. The ticket is very important to the child, for only with it is he able to obtain access to or use of any instrument. It is important to the Curator, for it is a deliberate method of ensuring recurring contact with each child, and of learning where he or she will be and what doing in the Centre. And finally, the tickets collected at the end of the day are evidence used by the Curator of the activities of eachchild,to be entered in the family records. The ticket thus is a common symbol current in the daily business of child and Curator alike, and equally essential to both for their business in the Centre.

Such an arrangement has also its practical and economic aspect. Let the reader picture to himself the situation every­day from 4—7 p.m. with two to three hundred children moving freely in the building, each exhausting his capacity for action in as many ways as are made available, under the enquiring eye of the Curator assisted only by a student, and whose primary interest is in watching what is going on. Not only is this a method suited to the needs of our experiment, but, as we have clearly demonstrated, it is an economical and severely practical method of social organisation.

The tickets have another use—an incidental one. The child who has not yet learned to write finds a mother or other grown­up or older child to sign its card, but once even the initials of the name have been mastered, no one is asked. The student working on the records has thus to keep up-to-date with the progress made by the younger children, so that when “MB7 appears for the first time in a bundle of 500 or more tickets, it is recognised as Maureen Brown’s first use of the newly acquired art of writing. The need to write on the ticket to get what she wants makes writing a very desirable achievement, especially as she is mixing with a number of older children who can already write. Here are circumstances in which the ‘appetitive phase’ for writing becomes self-declamatory.

As a result of this organisation of the equipment an interesting fact has emerged. We have found that without request from us or comment on the part of the child, it is customary for him to return apparatus to the proper place after he has used it. The child is quick to respond to a mutually sustained order in society. It is most intriguing to watch the newly-joined spoilt child gradually replace its egotistical expression of greedy use and careless throwing aside of one thing after another, by a sustained use of the chosen instrument completed by its orderly replacement.

It might be expected that such a large number of children let loose in a spacious building would behave in so unruly a fashion as to be an unendurable nuisance, and that left free to choose from among so many attractive pursuits they might run wildly and rapidly from one activity to another. For the first few months while new families were pouring in to claim membership, there was hysteria of this type among the children. The order that subsequently emerged was the result of the satisfaction of the physical appetites of the children, in a building peopled with grown-ups whose use of the same instruments was an enticement to the children’s own achievement—not to lawlessness. It is obvious from the above experience that any education depending upon the existence of a social forum such as the Centre, must until that forum is built up with sufficient diversity of action, suffer a confusion—’growing pains’ as painful to the staff as they are bewildering to the rest of the adult society!

We did not begin with so small a staff when the Centre opened ; indeed individuals of many varieties of competence were introduced into the children’s life in an endeavour to engage them in varying activities. Such efforts were however only partially successful, in almost every instance the success seeming to depend on the children’s appreciation of the particular skill and enthusiasm of the individual, rather than on his gifts as a teacher. As the adult members came to take up their own activities—badminton, diving, the band, billiards, etc.—these activities began to gain the attention and focus the endeavour of the children, and as time went on they came to need less and less direct contact with any adult whose time was entirely devoted to them. By 1939, apart from the Curator and her students, there was for the school-children one part-time swimming instructress, the greater part of whose time even so was devoted to teaching the older women swimming, and besides this only the occasional presence in the gymnasium of a professional gymnast who was an enthusiast for ‘free gym’. At the same time the Centre always welcomed any enthusiast who cared to come and use its facilities for the furtherance of his own skill, and who was at the same time willing to assist any of the children showing interest and aptitude, to acquire that skill.

We have reason to believe that some of the restlessness, hysteria and inability to concentrate, so clearly marked in the children of many families when they first joined the Centre, was due to their unsatisfactory physical condition.To illustrate this,the high percentage of cases with worm infestation, confirmed by microscopic examination of the stools, must be mentioned.In almost all cases, this was accompanied by an iron deficiency and very frequently by avitaminosia, as well as by nail-biting and other nervous tics and anti-social habits.The elimination of the infestation, together with supplementation of theknown deficiencies, so frequently coincided with a marked change in the behaviour of the child that we feel compelled to correlate the two.Vice versa, re-infestation would often be discovered through observation of social action; not through the cessation of action but by the changed ‘action pattern’ or tracking of the child as it moved in the Centre.[ For the numbers of individuals in different age groups found to be subject to worms, see Appendix VI below]

Worm infestation

Apart from this, we must remember that when a child goes to school it is subjected to an educational drive that emphasises mental achievement and gives quite inadequate opportunity for expression of the physical, exuberance natural to any young animal.All too often the school curriculum offers only the most meagre physical outlet, and is entirely dislocated from social life. The system has not the fluidity of a living organisation and thus does not allow of the operation of the child’s own growing power of discrimination and volition in all that he does.Our experience has already sufficed to show us that where from an early age onwards adequate opportunity is provided for spontaneous physical excursion, the necessity for ‘discipline’, by which this excursion is usually replaced in school, becomes superfluous. Discipline is inherent in any child seeking its own adventure within the framework of a familiar and ‘organised’ society. [The word ‘organised’ is used here in its physiological sense as in the organization of tissues in the living body]

Indeed, one of the most striking experiences in the Centre has been the ease with which it has been possible to distinguish between the high untamed spirits of health and the hysteria of repression.

All observers have been astonished at the untiringness of the children moving freely in their chosen occupations. Many who on Saturdays or in the holidays come to the Centre at 2 p.m. and leave at 6 or 7 p.m. spend the whole time in one activity after another without rest or pause even for tea. A boy of 5 1/2 still unable to swim was seen to dive from the spring-board into10 feet of water twenty and more times in half-an-hour. And that not just in a frenzy, but day after day, with great purpose in response to his own subjective urge to master the dive according to his capacity, content to rely each time on some struggling effort to bring him to the side of the bath. [This apparently hazardous exploit was an experiment by one of the staff, who gave way to entreaties by the boy to be allowed to dive off the spring­board on the strength of his prowess in diving into the shallow end. The observer merely sat on the side with his legs in the water, so that the boy might pull himself ashore when he came to the surface.] Or we could cite a boy of under 4 years old who spent four hours, day after day without a break, on a pair of roller skates, till he had achieved that particular balance.The records compiled from the children’s cards show that these rather outstanding examples could be matched by hundreds of others showing great constancy of effort—which is indeed the rule and not the exception in the Centre children.

A specimen record of a child’s spontaneous activity in the Centre over a period of 11 months

This concentration and perseverance that we witness as a general characteristic of all the children, we judge to be due to the fact that, free to select the activity that appeals to him, the child is unconsciously choosing the one suitable to the appetitive phase through which he is passing and, having so chosen, gives without stint his whole attention and effort until his potential capacity for that particular co-ordination is fully resolved into achievement. Another general characteristic of such sustained spontaneous action that may seem strange from a physiological point of view, is that it is not accompanied by signs of exhaustion or fatigue.

We did not in the beginning plan the children’s activities on the basis we have just described but attempted to form groups and draw up time-tables and made schemes for the regular distribution of the children to activities of their choosing. All this the children very largely ignored, for it must be remembered that they were free to do so. Observation led us very quickly to abandon such methods and to evolve the present scheme by which the child can move in spontaneity of action within the general social framework.

By the end of the third year some parents, recognising the fruitful results of the methods we have described for their young children growing up in the Centre, began to ask if it would be possible to make arrangements to use the building, at present lying idle in the mornings, for the schooling of the children ready to leave the Nursery.For this, they were ready to make a financial contribution.The development of a primary school in the Centre had been foreseen by us from the beginning, but it was a surprise that the suggestion should come from the parents — and at so early a date.Willingness on the part of the parents to co-operate was the first intimation to us that the moment had come when we could begin to approach Education not as a process directed merely to the child, but one essentially involving the family — particularly the mother, whom we proposed to incorporate in the educational scheme.  Later, we shall see (chap. 14) that one of the misfortunes of present day urban life is the lack of occupation and interests of the young married woman. But once she comes to sense the biological significance of the nurtural process, she acquires the necessary incentive to take her part in all that the child is doing. Nature has determined that the child shall be nurtured in the social milieu of its parents. To remove from the child’s environment all traces of adult influence, and as far as possible of adult action, as has been attempted in some of the modern educational experiments; or for the adult, whether parent or teacher, to stay his spontaneous and discretionate action for the presumed good of the child, is to deny mutual synthesis and to withhold from the child the possibility of natural growth and development of his facultisation and discrimination.

Plans for the first steps in an educational experiment

Just as the little boy’s trousers must be made to fit him, so also it is necessary that many of the instruments of social life should be made to his size, so that they can be used by him for their proper purpose. A full size bicycle, for example, cannot be ridden by a child, nor can he at first use a full-sized billiard table. [We were obliged to seek bicycles in France and skates in America small enough for the use of the youngest of our children capable and eager to use these instruments.] The making of smaller working models for the children has always been a leisure occupation of fathers and it is no doubt one of the natural ways, within the family, of linking childhood and maturity. There is a good deal of talk these days of a children’s world, but let us make no mistake about it, the child has no wish to be relegated to a world of its own. The world of its parents, of the grown-ups, is a place of mystery and enticement to it, and as it grows it longs to share in it more and more. The processing of such sharing is part of the essential technique of nurture, and demands immediate experimental research in methods of fitting the appurtenances of the modern world to the capabilities of the child. The world of our great grandfathers was a much simpler proposition.

The contributions to be made in the course of family development are not one-sided but mutual. While the parents exert their ingenuity in the nurture of their child, the child in his activities is making contributions to the growth and differentiation of the parents. His eager unspoilt appetite for all that he encounters is one of the avenues of impact of the outside world on the whole family, for he brings within the parental circle material that without him would not come to the notice of the older members of the family, or of which they might otherwise fight shy. Certainly, many families were first led over the threshold to join the Centre by their young son of 9 or 10, or slightly older daughter, who would not take “No” for an answer; and many mothers and fathers have found themselves in the swimming bath or on the badminton floor led by the same fresh outlook of unintimated at-homeness of the child. Thus in the healthy family the parents, through this mutual action of old and young within the family, may find themselves in keeping with their times even though they are long past middle age. It is well known—as parents say—”the children keep you young”.

Our experience with every type of family has, of course, also given us a clear insight into the reactions of the pathological family; where, for instance, the parents are a restricting factor to the child and the activities of the child an anxiety or a nuisance to the parents; and where it is common to find that what the child brings to the home is received with prejudice, suspicion or indifference. But in a functioning family the material that is taken into the home is never rejected out of hand; it is looked at, and the specific discriminative powers of the family are brought to bear upon it, with the result that it may become material for growth for all, according to their needs. By the parents’ discriminative action the child, too, unconsciously is learning something of the quality of discrimination.

So two facts of great importance emerge. Society and the child in the Centre are in mutual relationship to each other. The grown-ups, going on with their own business, continually enlarge the field of family excursion, and the child shares this continuous expansion and makes its own contribution to it. In this situation the child is never lifted into the egotistical position of being the focus of attention—of either parent or instructor. He is on the fringe of a potent zone of activity to which he is carried by the parental growth and to which he is drawn by a dawning interest. And because he is free to move in this body of society, he moves spontaneously according to the appetitive phase through which he is passing, to the particular activity appropriate to his own development. Penetrating widely and deeply into such a society, as time goes on the child may well encounter every degree and variety of skill. All these people that he knows—his parents and their friends and acquaintances, his elder brothers and sisters and their contemporaries—become naturally and inevitably his self-constituted demonstrators and instructors.

In an earlier chapter we have described the placenta as the zone of mutuality by means of which parent and child alike are led each to the next stage of development, the child the while being continuously nourished upon familiar and specific products of the ‘family’ synthesis. At birth the placenta discarded, a new zone of mutuality—the ‘nest’—replaces it. As the child grows to the fledgling stage still another placental zone must be built where the parents, completely at their ease, can mix with their fellows in society. So the home grows to include some bit of society, experience of which the parents are themselves in process of digesting and to the flavour of which the child is thereby introduced. The Centre is just such a society into which the family penetrates and can lodge itself for its home-making, where it can establish for itself a new social ‘placenta’. the anatomy of which is wrought of the friendships developed. through which all are nourished.

Towards the end of the child’s schooldays, it is thus in the sphere of social relationships that family tutelage is most subtle and most strong—subtle because the child and often the parents too, are unaware of it. Here in the Centre in many different kinds of situation they find rich opportunity for social adventure.

Apart from Bank Holidays and Saturdays, most of the fathers are unable to get to the Centre before 8 p.m., and it is a disappointment to many of them that they are able to share in so little of the week-day leisure of their children. But where possible, families often foregather in the Centre. For example, on a certain Friday two mothers came into the cafeteria about 3 p.m. One went upstairs to complete a health overhaul and at 4 o’clock both had tea with two other members. At 4.45 p.m. their children came in, two girls and a boy, aged 11, 10 and 12, all with swimming suits.One wondered why at 6 o’clock their towels were still dry and the girls quietly doing their homework, but soon the answer became clear.At 6.30 one husband came;at 6.45 the other.After a few words with his wife, one husband went round to the children’s billiard table for his boy and then the two men bought the four 3d. adult swimming tickets.The children got their tickets from the Curator, and as the bell rang at 7 p.m. the seven leapt into the bath. By 8 o’clock the two families were dressed and, having supper together in the cafeteria —a gay, contented group.Then one of the boys fetched the chessmen and had a game with his father, until at 9 p.m. the children went home and the two men waited their turn at the billiard table.Tickets were purchased for all for the play next Thursday, in which they were particularly interested, because in it young Mrs. Jones, a newly joined member introduced by themselves, was to have a small part.

Whilst the children of this little group had been giving attention to their supper, they were enveloped in the social flavour of the family; in the warm responsiveness of the parents to their friends, in the manner in which mother or father handled each situation as it arose—subtle differences on the approach of friend, acquaintance, stranger, and in the way they received the children’s own friends. All the while, unknowingly, each child was accumulating a small knapsack of familiar social experience with which later to start out at adolescence into the threat world.

From their participation in this social life, the children are already showing a social competence that matches their physical stalwartness and intrepidity. Visitors remark on how responsive and forthright they find the Centre children. They are able to deal with strangers’ questions with a general poise and mannerliness that indicates their serenity. So in social integration the whole family moves forward, the children the while acquiring both physical co-ordination and social apprehension.

It may be that we shall be criticised for describing many seemingly ordinary events and situations already familiar to our readers from their own experience. To a great degree this is not an account of happenings that are new, but an attempt to draw attention to the importance of such action in human development. It may seem a trifling thing that a family in South London can sit down to supper together after a swim and say “Good evening” to their friends as they pass by, but we believe it is out of incidents as small as this that there is built up social competence —a very complex human facultisation—-which educationalists are seeking when, for example, they suggest that the elementary school boy shall have the opportunity of going to a public school. Except for the Centre at Peckham, where in this country can an ordinary man with confidence take his family and day by day among his. friends cultivate the art and grace of human fellowship?

What do you think?

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 402 other subscribers

Follow us on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: