Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


A child reacts to his environment as a complete being, in the sense that his youth does not curtail any of the functions of his members, unless possibly an exception can be made on the grounds that his sexual activities are not wholly developed before adolescence. What he does lack because of his youth is muscle co-ordination and reasoning, both of which can be remedied by experience and training. Since acts of behaviour are the result of stimuli received from the environment, these reactions are closely connected and the modification of one function necessarily affects the others. Consequently when the Russians speak of a creche regime they mean the correct distribution of time to rest and activity. Therefore the relationship of the different processes which occur in creche life is more important than the time-tables used.

One cannot speak of an abstract regime which will absolutely apply to every creche for the simple reason that such factors as furniture, the number of children and staff, the building, the homes of the children, the education of the parents, the race to which the children belong, etc., would all make it necessary to modify any given model regime in order to make it of utmost value to a given nursery. The Russian child specialists, doctors, nurses, and psychologists met in Leningrad in January, 1928, to decide on a definite outline for general creche work. As is common when such meetings take place in the U. S. S. R., the matter in hand was discussed in all of the Soviet newspapers, and in the labour unions and clubs. Criticisms on creche management were asked of those women who had children in such institutions, and they were reported to the meeting and considered by the experts on child care who were presenting their own theories and experiments. This conference decided that a description of the regime introduced and developed for several years in the State Scientific Institute at Moscow would serve as the most satisfactory outline for general creche activities in the U. S. S. R. This regime, however, was not suggested to be copied, but was introduced merely as an example of the analysis of the main processes of creche work and to show how these processes are connected.

All available material on unrestricted play and organised occupation was studied from several points of view, namely:

1) What organs and muscles are used in a given play or work.

2) What functions are trained by that play or work.

3) What habits are formed.

4) To what extent is that given occupation stimulating to the creative ability of the child.

5) To what extent is that occupation teaching collectivism.

V. N. Orlov, an eminent child psychologist connected with the State Scientific Institute at Moscow, and a prominent writer on Soviet pedology, writes: "Our Leningrad conference studied the reactions of children while they were playing or participating in organised occupation, in order to determine the tension of muscles and the attention of the child. As a result of the above-mentioned analysis, we distributed play materials into the following categories:

1) Materials for training the larger muscles.

2) Materials for the training of small muscles. 3) Materials for quiet play and occupation. (These materials must be familiar and pleasant to the child, thereby aiding in the development of the attentive faculties.) 4) Materials for the developing of a child's reasoning powers, i.e., the materials which cater to a child's capability for combining those objects which are given him. (For example, the building of houses from various shaped blocks.)

For the development of collectivism in a child, we have placed materials for occupation in two main categories:

1) Materials which require that more than one child play at the same game.

2) Materials which one child can use alone, but from which he can derive amusement or acquire reactions which can involve other children. (For example, the children of our creche are given small wooden beads both in circular and disc form which will aid their co-ordination to such an extent that they soon are able to unbutton the clothes of their neighbours and thus aid them in dressing and undressing. Learning to hold pencils and crayons, or how to transfer water from one jar to another, or how to cross a busy street successfully, though matters of individual attention, are in reality the ground work in experience for collective action.)

All of these analyses were performed separately on groups of children of different ages and development and in the various experimental creches through the U. S. S. R., but the main research was done in the State Scientific Institute and in the Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child, both at Moscow. From the experiments were formed more or less complete itineraries of occupation for children under three years of age. It is to be understood that these itineraries mean a complete set of materials which will enable a child to construct and represent any given process or phase of his environment. In other words, they must be given complete sets of materials which will not only stimulate their mental and physical development but which will stimulate the growth of their reasoning ability. For example, they can be given materials with which they can make a co-operative store like the one in their own neighbourhood, or these same materials can be used again to make a home or a dwelling place such as they see in their own family life, etc. The purposes to which the children put these materials and their combined energies are known as Complects.

The possibilities for forming complects by the use of even such simple material as various shaped blocks are not to be neglected for it is more important that children learn to use their old materials in new ways than that they become accustomed to a new set of materials. New materials must always be introduced gradually so that the children will be able to begin work with the new materials before definitely giving up the old. The change from old to new materials, if it occurs too suddenly, may so upset a child nervously that he may easily be retarded in forming new complects. When very young children experience any too sudden change, they find it difficult to readjust themselves to their new surroundings, and it is therefore considered better to establish a basically sound and simple environment. Then, as the children learn to know and use that environment, it must be added to gradually until they know how to cope with any surroundings or situations in which they may be placed. Such a procedure is obviously more instructive and rational than one which subjects them from the beginning to a complicated environment in which they naturally could not be expected to function effectively, or to suddenly change any dominant phase of that environment without any definite systematic programme. The Russian psychologists have discovered from their experiments in this line that children react to familiar materials arranged in a new order or complect, exactly as though they were new materials except that they are not so subject to the nervous tension which comes from their attempting to handle entirely new materials. For, in the case of their rearranging familiar objects they at least know how to react to those objects if each of them is taken separately and all they need to do is to learn new ways of using certain old factors in their environment; but when everything is new they must start at the beginning and learn an entirely new set of reactions to an entirely new set of stimuli, thus subjecting them to an unnecessary nervous strain which is the inevitable result of being thrust too suddenly into totally different or greatly modified surroundings.

In determining at what rate new material should be introduced to children of creche age, the Soviet psychologists observed minutely the nerve and muscle tension shown by the children when they were handling various amounts of new material which were given at varying but definite intervals. This tension would, of course, vary slightly according to the number of children playing together, but since groups of children in the creches average from twenty in number, they used that: number of children in their experiments. They also considered as an important factor in their researches the rate at which the untaught and unguided actions of the children overcame the difficulties in the details of their play. They found that the amount of tension and the quality of attention in this kind of an experiment with young children bear more or less directly on each other, for there are few ways of stimulating artificial interest in children of that age. It was found, as can well be supposed, that when new materials were given at too frequent intervals to the children, or when the materials given them were too difficult for them to manage, their attention wavered and it was hard to hold their interest in their play. The way it was attempted to discover a standard of attention, and interest in the working out of new complects from old materials was to take two groups of twenty children of a given age and development. One group was started with rapid changes of materials which were gradually diminished until the children seemed to show the most interest in their materials and the best judgment in handling them. The other group. of course, did exactly the opposite, for it was started with very infrequent changes in materials and complects which were gradually increased in the frequency with which they were introduced until the children reached the maximum point of interest in their materials and complects. The rates of changing materials and complects at which the two groups showed the maximum interest in their occupations were very nearly the same. Much time was spent over this experiment, and the deductions which were drawn from it can be reduced to the following:

a) In normal groups of twenty children from seven to fourteen months of age, sets of materials should be gradually renewed not less than twice and not more than three times a year. b) In normal groups of twenty children from fourteen months to three years old, sets of materials should be gradually renewed not less than four times and not more than eight times a year. It is best, however, to have about five full changes of play material for older groups during one year: first, in the early autumn, when the children usually come to creches after their parents' holiday; second, in the late autumn when the weather requires that they spend much of their time indoors; third, in midwinter when their lives are spent definitely indoors; fourth, in the spring when they again begin to go out, and fifth, in the summer when all of their playing occurs out of doors.

The changes in the seasons naturally influence the life of children, especially when it is the policy of their nurseries to keep them out of doors as much as possible; and therefore it is almost necessary for the older children that these changes in the materials for play which are given them should occur when there is a natural reason for that change. But again and again the Russians stress the necessity of making these' changes so gradually that the children never feel that there is a break in their regular lives. In practice they claim that this gradual change is easy enough to accomplish for when a group of children is thoroughly acquainted with a given set of materials and has used them in forming a given complect until that is also very familiar, interest will soon lag a little and it is then time for the directors of the organised play to suggest or to instruct these children in forming a new complect which is to be made from the same materials. It always happens that the old materials are not entirely sufficient in forming the new complect. Therefore, new and appropriate materials can be slowly introduced as the children feel the need for them until gradually the new complect has required a whole new set of materials.

There are certain other stipulations which must be made regarding the dispensing of new materials, i.e., at the beginning of the school year which comes at the end of the summer vacation the children should receive familiar objects, while all those materials which require mental effort and concentration on their part should be introduced very gradually after they have adapted themselves again to the routine of creche life. Simple materials which are thoroughly familiar to the children should be given once or even twice a day regardless of the time of the year.

Materials giving new knowledge to the children and requiring new reactions should be introduced not oftener than once a week, and sometimes not that often, according to the individual reactions of the children concerned.

At the beginning of the first half of the year in the case of the older groups, materials for individual play are alternated with materials requiring the attention of two children. However, those which require the attention of three or four children and complicated forms of co-operation should be introduced only in the second half of the year; while the materials which tend to sum up the group's achievements in collectivism are given only at the end of the year.

The reverse of these same general principles is involved in the taking away of materials from the children.

During the day instructive play things are distributed according to the hours of sleep and feeding because, as Orlov writes, "From our point of view these are the two main processes which influence a child's mental and physical well-being." Therefore, simple materials, well known to the children and requiring no special effort on their part, should be given before feeding and sleeping, except to those children who are under one year of age, who should be occupied with nothing at that time. Materials requiring complicated mental and physical functions should be given after the children have eaten and slept. However, immediately after feeding children should be given lighter materials requiring no mental effort and easy physical movements in order to use up that energy which accumulated while they were at the table and still not disturb the digestive processes. Before the end of the play period, intricate playthings should be exchanged for objects requiring easy and quiet play.

The anonymous authors who, from the experiments they describe in their book, Analysis of Creche Regime, are probably connected with the State Scientific Institute in Moscow, write: "In our experiments we have discovered that the metabolism and therefore the mood of a child not only oscillates during the day but it varies on different days of the week. This is especially noticeable in older children." The authors go on into a lengthy description of how, in dealing with older children of creche age, in respect to giving them materials for play and organised occupation, they were forced to take into active consideration the various kinds of materials to be given and the character of the activities they would stimulate. They decided that complicated types of organised occupation should be preceded and succeeded by easy play with familiar objects. In the thesis on their experiments which was read at the Leningrad Conference, they quickly passed over the regime for the younger children because it was agreed that it should be kept as simple as possible but they went into the daily regime for the older children at great length. However, before tackling the problem of a detailed daily regime for children from two to three years of age, some of the psychologists at the conference maintained that the group regimes should be slightly changed at least twice a year and that these changes should be suggested by the weather conditions so that the children could feel that there was a logical reason for the change. The head of one creche in Moscow explained how she and her staff had managed that problem: "From May to November we fulfilled the main principles outlined by this conference for creche regimes of older children, i.e., a walk before breakfast; then materials which required easy movements on the part of the children in order that they might use up the excess energy accumulated while eating. We provided difficult organised occupation only when ten or fifteen minutes had elapsed after eating. In the winter time, because of the exceedingly cold weather and the inadequate facilities of our creche building which was on the second floor of an old private home whose staircase was very bad, we never had out-of-door sleep and play. The children therefore played in a light and airy room at the top of the house, and because they could not walk before breakfast, their organised play took place at that time." This is a good example of how housing and weather conditions can affect a regime during- certain parts of the year. I noticed in my visits to various creches in MOSCOW that although they were all following the same principles in child training still their actual daily programmes varied to a considerable extent and these differences seemed to be mainly due to differences in the creche buildings and their locations.

In addition to the general principles of the daily distribution of materials there are also special factors which have a considerable effect upon that distribution. They are mainly due to a difference in the metabolism of children from day to day. After reading the material set before the Leningrad Conference and talking to the child experts in Moscow, it seems that they modify the daily distribution of materials because of a child's metabolism, in the following way: [Note: The Russian week differs from ours in that the people in that country either work four days a week and rest the fifth (a system innovated at the time of the Five Year Plan to hasten its progress by continual production) or they work five days and rest the sixth. In the case of the six day week everything stops on the sixth day and consequently production is not continuous. At the time of the Leningrad Conference the old seven day week was still used and so the experiments were based on that schedule. The shorter week has not greatly modified these results because it merely gives one or two fewer normal days and relieves some of the nervous inertia typical of the last day of the week.]


On this day the children, as on other days after holidays, are more excited than usual. Consequently the first part of the day should be made easier and the Russian psychologists have found that dolls induce the easiest and quietest form of play. Drawing, or at least the handling of pencils and crayons, has been found to be the simplest type of organised occupation if it is not continued for more than five or ten minutes at a time. After drawing, time should again be allowed for playing with dolls. Then during the afternoon the continual and slightly exciting movements which result from playing with toys on wheels such as wagons, etc., are the best for unorganised play. This should be followed with five to ten minutes of listening to good music. Encouraging the children to talk, which includes the teaching of pronunciation and the illustration of the meanings of words, should take from ten to fifteen minutes more of the time allotted for organised occupation, because it not only teaches but also gives a chance for small movements. The rest of the time should be given to quiet play and as a rule after talking lessons children are given large pieces of brightly coloured cloth with which they drape themselves and each other.


The behaviour and metabolism of a child are considered normal on this day of the week and so a full programme of organised occupation can be used. Work with plasticine is almost always used for it is an organised occupation requiring considerable attention on the part of the children and its nature is such that it can be continued for comparatively long periods of time, from twenty to thirty minutes. It is, of course, preceded and succeeded by play with easy and well-known materials, such as wooden cups, wooden eggs, beads, etc. If children are placed in circles instead of rows during their easy play, they have a chance for more varied movements and thus do not tire so easily. It has been found that they can usually play in a circle for half an hour longer than they can in rows without becoming tired.

During a Tuesday afternoon it is best to introduce music to which the children can march or dance as they like, and to give them simple musical instruments such as trumpets and tuning forks for their unorganised play since music has a quieting effect and also teaches the value of tone without requiring the children to dispense an undue amount of energy. Large-sized building blocks and complicated construction material made of metal can be used for a half-hour of organised play without tiring them.


This is also a normal day from the point of view of a child's metabolism. Occupation with sand can be used for organised play and is considered so difficult that it should not be carried on under direction for more than fifteen to twenty minutes. It should be preceded and succeeded by easy material for creative play, such as representation of family life if the children have already learned how to form this complect in their organised play. Another type of easy recreation which is very good because it stimulates the large muscles of the arms, legs, and back, is the pushing of wagons in which other children are sitting, small wooden hobbyhorses, or boats on wheels. In the afternoon short talks about pictures which the children are shown make excellent organised play. These pictures should always be either painted or pasted into albums made of tough thin sheets of wood, of which the leaves must be carefully rounded so that the children run no risk of hurting themselves. Looking at pictures requires a great deal of attention and for that reason it should always be followed by simple toys which will amuse them for a long time. Dolls are the best to serve this purpose.


In the morning the collective bath takes place and for this purpose the two elder groups of children are united, those from one to two years and those from two to three years. In such a large group the easiest way to keep the children quiet while they are waiting for their baths is to give them dolls. Musical occupation which requires close attention can come later in the morning and it should be preceded and succeeded with easy material for creative play. Learning to climb staircases is a difficult task which can be used in the afternoon for organised occupation. (In each nursery I visited there was a staircase of ten to twelve steps in the corner of the playroom where the children were encouraged to climb up the steps and then to slide down the slide which is on the opposite side). This type of occupation, though rather difficult for children of this age, amuses them highly and therefore may last for at least half an hour. Introduction to the Pioneer Movement (the Russian Boy and Girl Scouts), which involves marching to music with flags and drums, can also be used as organised play and it should be succeeded by play with coloured blocks, rings and pyramids. When these toys are given, the children should be seated at tables which are arranged in circles.


This is another normal day and the children should receive the full programme. Learning how to handle water is a good organised occupation. For this, the children are given tubs of water, bottles, funnels, rubber pipes, and wooden bowls. Aside from these, there should be nothing in the playroom. They are shown how to transfer water from one receptacle to another and they soon learn how to do so without spilling any. However, every time I have watched this phase of organised play, I have noticed that towards the end of the period when the children are growing a little tired, they invariably get into the tubs of water and sit down. It is not an unusual sight in a Russian creche to see a row of solemn-faced children sitting quietly in tubs of water. After they have been dried and redressed it is necessary to have extremely quiet play which can best be encouraged by giving them dolls and wooden pyramids.


This day is not altogether normal for the children usually show a slight tendency towards inertia. Because of this, they should be allowed to choose materials for individual play. However, it is best to give them wooden albums of pictures and allow them to use them as they like and even go into rooms by themselves if they so desire. When they are tired of the albums they should be given dolls. The only organised form of occupation which should come on Saturday is tea drinking which should come about half an hour after dinner is served. At this time they are taught to use glasses instead of the unbreakable cups such as they use at their meals.

No matter what weekly programme a creche is under, all the foregoing forms of occupation are used and always with reference to the average daily metabolism.