12 MAY 1961, Page 32

Parents and Children

Life with Mother .


By MONICA IT begins to appear as if nothing less than a mother of six throwing herself under Sir David's motor-car will secure the nursery schools which the 1944 Education Act promised, and mothers of six are usually too busy for martyrdom. An off- shoot of the problem, however, to which Mrs. Eirene White and Mrs. Margaret Fletcher have just drawn public atten- tion, is so disgraceful that I am considering chain- ing myself to the Ministry of Education, or (more usefully, since the matter largely concerns the LCC) to County Hall. It is yet another symptom of the 'mothers and children last' sort of stupidity which addles our social thinking, so that we are intolerably righteous over juvenile delinquents, street accidents and accidents in the home, and intolerably mean over education, safe shopping areas and play facilities for tiny children. Before I go on let me mention that the LCC holds a number of vacant sites for nursery schools, though none is being built at the moment.

The problem revolves around the high blocks of flats which are a substantial part of the LCC's answer to slum clearance and the increased demand for housing since the war. Last year, 40 per cent. of new LCC dwellings were in flats of ten or more storeys and this trend, probably an inevitable one, shows every sign of continuing.

The Brandon Estate is eighteen storeys; the new Southwark one will be twenty-five storeys. As one might expect, large numbers of these flats are already occupied or will shortly be occupied by families with children, many of them under five. (In theory such families are supposed to occupY the lower floors of the high blocks. In practice these tend, properly enough, to be occupied by the elderly.) One does not need to be an architect, a sociologist or a County Councillor to grasp the problem in one. Where do the children play, how do they get enough fresh air and exercise, and what does a mother do if (when her nerves are aL breaking-point) she can't say, 'Go out and play in the garden'? Obvious as these questions appear to anyone even slightly acquainted with a child under school age, they do not seem to have been seriously considered.

The subject has at last received proper con- sideration, however, from a group financed by the Rowntree Trust and working under the chair- manship of Mrs. Eirene White. Learning from the health visitors of the strain modern flats tended to impose on mothers and their young children, members of the group decided to estab- lish the facts of the present situation in the hope of influencing the design of such estates. The report on their inquiry is published this week."

It shows beyond a doubt that most mothers are rleased, even delighted, with their flats con- sidered simply as living accommodation, and find *Two To Five. IN HIGH FLATS. Obtainable from The Housing Centre, 13, Suffolk Street, SW1: 3s. post free.

them spaciaus, comfortable and convenient. The sad thing is, however, that decent living condi- tions have been acquired at the expense of the Youngest members of the family. Mothers cannot trip down nineteen floors every few minutes to check that their three- and four-year-olds have Come to no harm, and the balconies provided for some flats are not considered by mothers to be really safe once children have reached the climb- ing stage. Although a number 'of estates have Playgrounds, none has adult supervision, and

Very few are adequately enclosed or particularly suitable for the requirements of very young child- ren. What it all adds up to is that the children under school .age end up cooped up in flats all day, with half an hour to an hour's outing for shopping as their only exercise and glimpse of the world outside. They receive far too little fresh air or contact with other children.

Can this really be the way we wish to condi- tion a new generation? As the mother of a three- Year-old daughter I know that the peculiar Pleasures of this age-group are striking up experimental, aggressive friendships with other Children, and playing for hours at a time with messy elementals. In addition there is a growing Pride and satisfaction in possessing 'big toys'— tricycles, scooters, swings, dolls' prams and cars. All of these activities need space and freedom and to deny them to small children unnecessarily is to be guilty of a kind of cruelty which is almost bound to produce anti-social behaviour later on. It is perfectly clear what is required. At the very least outdoor play-groups, under adult supervi- sion, with, sand, water, earth, and the more exciting and dangerous kinds of child-apparatus laid on; together with a play-room suitable for use in cold or wet weather. At best, nursery schools, if we can ever succeed in dislodging the obstruction in the official mind.

It is ironic that, until such facilities are pro- vided, life for children in these fine, hygienic flats will fall short of life in the disgusting old Slums and tenements; play in the street or court- Yard, for all its physical and moral dangers, had lis own spccial brand of freedom and confidence.

'Copies of the "Lady," Darling; it must be all right here!'