1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Infant Schools

INFANT SCHOOLS. The provision in modern times of systematized training for children below the age when elementary education normally begins may be dated from the village school at Waldbach founded by Jean Frédéric Oberlin in 1774. Robert Owen started an infant school at New Lanark in 1800, and great interest in the question was taken in Great Britain during the early years of the 19th century, leading to the foundation in 1836 of the Home and Colonial School Society for the training of teachers in infant schools; this in turn reacted upon other countries, especially Germany. Further impetus and a new direction were given to the movement by Friedrich W. A. Froebel, and the methods of training adopted for children between the ages of three and six have in most countries been influenced by, if not based on, that system of directed activities which was the foundation of the type of “play-school” called by him the Kinder Garten, or “children’s garden.” The growing tendency in England to lay stress on the mental training of very young children, and to use the “infant school” as preparatory to the elementary school, has led to a considerable reaction; medical officers of health have pointed out the dangers of infection to which children up to the age of five are specially liable when congregated together—also the physical effects of badly ventilated class-rooms, and there is a consensus of opinion that formal mental teaching is directly injurious before the age of six or even seven years. At the same time the increase in the industrial employment of married women, with the consequent difficulty of proper care of young children by the mother in the home, has somewhat shifted the ground from a purely educational to a social and physical aspect. While it is agreed that the ideal place for a young child is the home under the supervision of its mother, the present industrial conditions often compel a mother to go out to work, and leave her children either shut up alone, or free to play about the streets, or in the care of a neighbour or professional “minder.” In each case the children must suffer. The provision by a public authority of opportunities for suitable training for such children seems therefore a necessity. The moral advantages gained by freeing the child from the streets, by the superintendence of a trained teacher over the games, by the early inculcation of habits of discipline and obedience; the physical advantages of cleanliness and tidiness, and the opportunity of disclosing incipient diseases and weaknesses, outweigh the disadvantages which the opponents of infant training adduce. It remains to give a brief account of what is done in Great Britain, the United States of America, and certain other countries. A valuable report was issued for the English Board of Education by a Consultative Committee upon the school attendance of children below the age of five (vol. 22 of the Special Reports, 1909), which also gives some account of the provision of day nurseries or crèches for babies.

United Kingdom.—Up to 1905 it was the general English practice since the Education Act of 1870 for educational authorities to provide facilities for the teaching of children between three and five years old whose parents desired it. In 1905, of an estimated 1,467,709 children between those ages, 583,268 were thus provided for in England and Wales. In 1905 the objections, medical and educational, already stated, coupled with the increasing financial strain on the local educational authorities, led to the insertion in the code of that year of Article 53, as follows: “Where the local education authority have so determined in the case of any school maintained by them, children who are under five years may be refused admission to that school.” In consequence in 1907 the numbers were found to have fallen to 459,034 out of an estimated 1,480,550 children, from 39.74% in 1905 to 31%. In the older type of infant school stress was laid on the mental preparation of children for the elementary teaching which was to come later. This forcing on of young children was encouraged by the system under which the government grant was allotted; children in the infant division earned an annual grant of 17s. per head, on promotion to the upper school this would be increased to 22s. In 1909 the system was altered; a rate of 21s. 4d. was fixed as the grant for all children above five, and the grant for those below the age was reduced to 13s. 4d. Different methods of training the teachers in these schools as well as the children themselves have been now generally adopted. These methods are largely based on the Froebelian plan, and greater attention is being paid to physical development. In one respect England is perhaps behind the more progressive of other European countries, viz. in providing facilities for washing and attending to the personal needs of the younger children. There is no femme de service as in Belgium on the staff of English schools. While in Ireland the children below the age of five attend the elementary schools in much the same proportion as in England and Wales, in Scotland it has never been the general custom for such children to attend school.

United States of America.—In no country has the kindergarten system taken such firm root, and the provision made for children below the compulsory age is based upon it. In 1873 there were 42 kindergartens with 1252 pupils; in 1898 the numbers had risen to 2884 with 143,720 pupils; more than half these were private schools, managed by charitable institutions or by individuals for profit. In 1904–1905 there were 3176 public kindergartens with 205,118 pupils.

Austria Hungary.—Provision in Austria is made for children under six by two types of institution, the Day Nursery (Kinderbewahranstalten) and the Kindergarten. In 1872 as the result of a State Commission the Kindergarten was established in the state system of education. Its aim is to “confirm and complete the home education of children under school age, so that through regulated exercise of body and mind they may be prepared for institution in the primary school.” No regular teaching in ordinary school subjects is allowed; games, singing and handwork, and training of speech and observation by objects, tales and gardening are the means adopted. The training for teachers in these schools is regulated by law. No children are to be received in a kindergarten til! the beginning of the fourth and must leave at the end of the sixth year. In 1902–1903 there were 77,002 children in kindergartens and 74,110 in the day nurseries. In Hungary a law was passed in 1891 providing for the education and care of children between three and six, either by asyle or nurseries open all the year round in communes which contribute from £830 to £1250 in state taxation, or during the summer in those whose contribution is less. Communes above the higher sum must provide kindergartens. In 1904 there were over 233,000 children in such institutions.

Belgium.—For children between three and six education and training are provided by Écoles gardiennes or Jardins d’enfants. They are free but not compulsory, are provided and managed by the communes, receive a state grant, and are under government inspection. Schools provided by private individuals or institutions must conform to the conditions of the communal schools. There is a large amount of voluntary assistance especially in the provision of clothes and food for the poorer children. The state first recognized these schools in 1833. In 1881 there were 708 schools with accommodation for over 56,000 children; in 1907 there were 2837 and 264,845 children, approximately one-half of the total number of children in the country between the ages of three and six. In 1890 the minister of Public Instruction issued a code of rules on which is based the organization of the Écoles gardiennes throughout Belgium, but some of the communes have regulations of their own. A special examination for teachers in the Écoles gardiennes was started in 1898. All candidates must pass this examination before a certificat de capacité is granted. The training includes a course in Froebelian methods. While Froebel’s system underlies the training in these schools, the teaching is directed very much towards the practical education of the child, special stress being laid on manual dexterity. Reading, writing and arithmetic are also allowed in the classes for the older children. A marked feature of the Belgian schools is the close attention paid to health and personal cleanliness. In all schools there is a femme de service, not a teacher, but an attendant, whose duty it is to see to the tidiness and cleanliness of the children, and to their physical requirements.

France.—The first regular infant school was established in Paris at the beginning of the 19th century and styled a Salle d’essai. In 1828 a model school, called a Salle d’asile, was started, followed shortly by similar institutions all over France. State recognition and inspection were granted, and by 1836 there were over 800 in Paris and the provinces. In 1848 they became establishments of public instruction, and the name École maternelle which they have since borne was given them. Every commune with 2000 inhabitants must have one of these schools or a Classe enfantine. Admission is free, but not compulsory, for children between two and six. Food and clothes are provided in exceptional cases. Formal mental instruction is still given to a large extent, and the older children are taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Though the staffs of the school include femmes de service, not so much attention is paid to cleanliness as in Belgium, nor is so much stress laid on hygiene. In 1906–1907 there were 4111 public and private Écoles maternelles in France, with over 650,000 pupils. The closing of the clerical schools has led to some diminution in the numbers.

Germany.—There are two classes of institution in Germany for children between the ages of 21/2 or 3 and 6. These are the Kleinkinderbewahranstalten and Kindergarten. The first are primarily social in purpose, and afford a place for the children of mothers who have to leave their homes for work. These institutions, principally conducted by religious or charitable societies, remain open all day and meals are provided. Many of them have a kindergarten attached, and others provide some training on Froebelian principles. The kindergartens proper are also principally in private hands, though most municipalities grant financial assistance. They are conducted on advanced Froebelian methods, and formal teaching in reading, writing and arithmetic is excluded. In Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfort and Munich there are municipal schools. The state gives no recognition to these institutions and they form no part of the public system of education.

Switzerland.—In the German speaking cantons the smaller towns and villages provide for the younger children by Bewahranstalten, generally under private management with public financial help. The larger towns provide kindergartens where the training is free but not compulsory for children from four to six. These are generally conducted on Froebel’s system and there is no formal instruction. In the French speaking cantons the Écoles enfantines are recognized as the first stage of elementary education. They are free and not compulsory for children from three to six years of age.  (C. We.)