Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


The children in the third group are trained gradually and consequently advance slowly in organized occupation. As has already been stated, organized occupation is always a definite training in self-care. Briefly then, a child is expected to be able to eat by himself as soon as he is a year old, and at the age of two years he should be able to eat without spilling anything. At the age of two and one-half years his table manners should be perfect. As soon as he reaches the second group, he is given wooden or enamel bowls and spoons and is never fed, no matter how backward he may be in learning to eat by himself. Training in table manners is infinitely easier on the creche employees and on the children than training in other types of self-care, because the children are hungry; and even little babies, especially when they have to feed themselves, can see that it is easier for them to get their food if they do as they are shown and do not spill what is given them. As in everything else, they learn by watching their teachers and each other. It is, therefore, not very remarkable that children who have had such training should be able to feed themselves before they can talk.

Russian pedologists consider it unusual for a child less than a year and one-half old to let his nurse know when he wishes to urinate, but soon after that he can be expected to do so. By the time he is two years and one-half old, he should never have to urinate except at the set times in his daily regime. (See creche programme.) But should he wish to go to the toilet, he should be able to do so alone.

Beginning at the age of one year and four months, all children are shown how to wash their hands and faces. Four months later they ought to be able to wash both hands and faces without getting themselves wet. In training children to keep themselves clean, it is especially important that the necessary equipment be within easy reach, i. e., low wash basins, towels of appropriate size hung on low pegs, and soap which is small enough for very young children to handle.

At the age of one year and two months, children should know how to stretch their arms and legs in order to help their nurses undress them; by the time they have reached a year and one-half, normal children are able to take off their own stockings and should be trying to put them on again; at two years and one-half, they should not only be able to undress themselves, but also should be able to put on their own shoes, stockings, underwear and outer garments, although they are expected to button one of these for themselves except their own shoes. However, when the children reach two and a half years the aid of nurses in dressing and undressing the children is not at all necessary, for they should be able to partially care for themselves and be able to button the clothes of their playmates. It is necessary, of course, that they have very low benches on which to sit when they are putting on and taking off their shoes and stockings. Then at the age of one year and nine months, any normal intelligent child should be able to undress himself, put his clothes neatly on a bench, and climb into bed. By the time he is two and one-half years old, he should be able to make his bed after he has slept in it, and re-dress himself.

As has already been stated, there is always a staircase and slide in the playroom of the first and second groups. A child at two years is expected to be able to climb stairs without holding on to the banisters. (I noticed that most of them did not do this, however.) At two years and nine months, a child should be able to walk downstairs without holding on to the banisters.

At two and one-half years of age, children should be able to clean up the dining-room after they have eaten, which means that they are expected to wipe off the tables, carry the cups and spoons to the pantry, and sweep up the floor. At two years and eleven months, they can help with washing dishes and can take turns at serving the food. Russian pedologists insist that such work, especially since it involves occupation with water, is considered as play by the children when it is properly taught. Finally, before they leave the creches they are given instruction in washing linen, the care of flowers, aquaria, household pets, etc.

At the age of one year, a child is considered backward unless he can walk indoors; however, when he is outdoors he must be pushed in carriages and sleds. At the age of two years, he should be able to walk and play by himself in the snow; and before he is three years of age, he should be able to push a sled on which one or more children are sitting.

Outdoor recreation depends almost entirely on where the creche is located. If it be in the city, there is very little opportunity for the children to learn about plants and animals from their actual surroundings as can the children in the village and co-operative farm creches. The city children, therefore, receive special instruction in how to cross busy streets without danger to themselves, and how to play on cement playgrounds. They are also taught how to care for a garden, in order that they may observe plant life for themselves. I remember seeing the children in city creches during their outdoor walks in the fall, watching men chop wood, which is practically the only fuel used in Moscow today. Since the chopping of wood is a daily occurrence In their own homes during the wintertime, they are sometimes allowed to learn how to split wood in the basement or some suitable room of the creche. Chopping wood is by no means a regular creche occupation. I cite it only to show what the Russians think a child can learn to do before he reaches the age of three years.

It can be seen by this fairly general outline of what is expected of creche children of various ages, that the training they receive in their organized occupation tends to make them very nearly self-sufficient before they are three years of age. This means that every normal child entering the kindergarten, if he be a creche graduate, never needs even the supervision of an adult in the performance of his daily living habits. The success of this intensive training in self-care is obvious to anyone who visits the third group of a Russian creche or a Soviet kindergarten. Creche training is pointed to by Communist teachers as a good example of what collective action can do for the individual. In other words, when groups of children depend almost entirely upon themselves and each other from birth, they can at the age of three years live independently except for cooking their own food. The only drawback which occurs in this type of intensified child training is that it tends to make some children slightly nervous, for it is well known that those children who are developed above the average before adolescence tend to be abnormally lazy, mentally and physically, when they grow older. Soviet psychologists follow the Germans, from whom they derive most of their principles, in saying that this is really not intensified training but merely the organization of the child's environment in a pleasant and useful way so that he will learn useful habits instead of ones which he will later be forced to break. In making this working hypothesis, it is necessary that the children are not forced to learn too quickly, which is always a temptation to parents and nurses. In talking to the psychologists at the experimental nursery in the "Institute for the Protection of Mother and Child," where creche workers are trained, I found that these experts laid special stress on the idea that no child should be pushed into learning anything: and above all, that each individual should be allowed to be as backward as he likes, on the principle that children learn from each other at whatever rate it is healthy for them to do so. The essential thing for the instructor to remember is that the children should never get the idea that the performance of their daily living habits is work, for it is necessary, in order to get the best results, that they approach each function as though it were a game in which each child tries to excel the other.