31 MAY 1930, Page 25

Abolishing Stuffiness in Schools

The Nursery School. By Margaret McMillan. (Dent. 3e. ed.) BODILY fitness, sunshine, fresh air, plain food, play, rest, freedom—and again fresh air—which is the keynote of this inspiring book. " The dark life of the slum sickens and languishes near the new centres of nurture," writes Miss McMillan. But she cannot put new wine into old bottles. Tt e Open-Air Nursery School is alien from the old methods of education. It is a new thing, " charged with latencies that depend on a favourable environment for their release and development." It behoves us, therefore, if we would look ahead to a better England, to understand just what she proposes, how much it will cost, and why it is worth while.

Taking these questions in their reverse order, the answer to the first is simple. In a single year before the. War, in a clinic attached to the Rachel McMillan School, doctors per- formed 700 operations on children with diseased tonsils. Every one of these cases could have been averted if taken in time. A quarter or a third of all children entering elementary schools are " damaged " in one way or another. Here again nearly all the money spent on curing them, or supporting them, or condemning them to prison in later life, might also be saved. Doctors are agreed that the Jesuit saying : " Give us a child until he is seven and you can do what you like with

him afterwards." (whether vero or ben trovato) is psychologically correct. The vitally important and formative years in infancy and childhood are those in which the brain-tracks are open : a stitch in time saves nine in nothing so much as in child nurture.

Rich and poor are much alike in their attitude towards children. The well-to-do mother never attempts to look after her children by herself. She has a nurse or governess, a cook, housemaids. The working-class mother in her tiny home has no help at all, yet when she works for her living her need is greater. And children need nursing and nurture, whether they be rich or poor. That, then, is the explanation of the need for Nursery Schools : they supply a natural want,

• and they bring health and happiness.

As to cost, the cost of land is usually the heaviest charge ; then come the phunbing arrangements, which cost more than the shelters. But " elaborate buildings play no part at all in securing the new things that are needed in order to give real nurture and education." The estimated cost of the last shelter erected, out of a bequest-of Miss McMillan's friend and publisher, Mr. J. M. Dent, was only £460. Feeding the children with three meals a day for five days (including milk twice a day and a two-course dinner) costs two shillings a week. " None need be hungry. None need be ill-nourished in childhood. If • the open-air Nursery School has done nothing more than demonstrate this fact it deserves well of this and coming generations." In the North, Miss McMillan writes, mothers who work in factories pay as much as ten shillings a week to have their children "• minded "—and not by trained persons. There is no reason why every parent should not be able to contribute a fifth of this sum to schools such as she and we hope will soon be established throughout this country. " The best among our poorest want to pay," she adds, " love to pay, claim the right to pay. Our people were once treated like serfs : there is no reason now to treat them like paupers."

Finally we come to the larger question of the future. Miss McMillan wants open-air nursery schools to be built as .close as possible to the houses of the wage-earners, so that mothers can. see their children throughout the day. " A school may be too large, but I see no objection to the num- ber of children being three hundred." Indeed, there are many economic advantages of the larger school, and prac- tically no drawbacks, for infectious diseases are a rarity among children living in moving air. Our present-day social order is not founded on the old models at all ; we must bring the communal life of villages to these nurseries, for only thus shall we escape the :cramped, sunless, expensive buildings in which we are accustomed to imprison our children during their most impressionable years. Furthermore, it is in natural surroundings that children can best be studied : the laboratory of the child-psychologist of the future will certainly be an open-air school.

It is a tragic fact, as Miss McMillan says, that there are so many " anxious, devoted and nervously-overworked young mothers who give all their time and strength to their children " without giving them of- their best, and this through sheer ignorance.

" The truth seems to break in on all of us at last that the nurture and education of younger children demands much from mothers, but does not demand the precise kind of service and labour that she is so ready to offer. This education seems to depend no longer on individual, but on collective thought and co-ogeration."

It is a synthesis of vision and knowledge, originality and research, that is here contributed to the cause of childhood.

Miss McMillan tells the history of the movement in outline, describes the plans of the building•s first erected, the garden, the size of the school, the length of the day (nine hours), the diet and clothing, holidays, medical and dental attendance,

finance, the Mother's Club which is such a .valuable part of the work, and the idiosyncracies of children of various ages. How much .might be done in our shameful slums if only the lesson of these_garden-nurseries were heeded I We might

abolish rickets and tuberculosis, lessen heart-disease and rheumatism, build a race that would be the admiration of the world. Already much has been achieved. Twenty years ago, three quarters of Miss McMillan's children arrived verminous, now few or none come dirty. And all of them go out as apostles of grace and courtesy, with sound minds in sound bodies. This is a great book by a great woman ; our generation must mark her words.