If we are to have social progress, children must be better endowed or better trained than their parents. This means that opportunities for good health and for physical, intellectual and moral growth must be superior to those enjoyed by their parents.
The criteria to be used in gauging the homes in which children grow up should be the same as those by which we test the school, the church or the settlement house or playground. Whether the purpose of the individual life is construed in terms of happiness, interest fulfilment or self realization, progressive achievement of life's purpose is dependent upon appreciation of values, free access to values, and active participation in the creation of values.
Life's highest values since Plato have usually been expressed as Truth, Beauty and Goodness - with subsequent Christian emphasis upon Goodness. Mediating and contributory values of Love, Freedom, breadth and depth of Self Expression, and Service inevitably command our greatest attention. One who has his eyes exclusively on the goal inevitably stumbles over some object in the foreground. The ultimate goal must, nevertheless, be known and viewed from time to time in order to get sense of direction; and then attention may safely and wisely be concentrated upon the objects which lie in the path just ahead.
With our goal in mind the function of the home is to serve as the initial and chief training center of human beings during the most impressionable years of their lives. Here they learn the often difficult lesson of accommodating their interests to those of others. Here chiefly they acquire those interests which dominate their lives. Here they may grow in wisdom, as well as in stature, and acquire an appreciation of life's values and receive their apprenticeship in the cultivation and creation or development of knowledge, of beauty, and of character.
The homes in which our future citizens are to grow up must first be judged with reference to standards of safety, healthfulness, convenience and comfort. An unsafe home cuts life short or handicaps the child's development. A home that is unsafe, or insanitary, or inconvenient, or uncomfortable, may produce such constant irritation that life's energy is focused chiefly upon annoying details rather than upon fundamentals. It is indispensable that parents as well as children should be relieved of needless irritations and drudgery. For, the attitudes of parents are imitated by or reflected in the life of the child and may preclude wholesome rounded development.
The first essential is that every growing child should be able to grow up in a private dwelling, located in a convenient, quiet, attractive and wholesome neighborhood. No tenement or apartment, even in the so-called "model" class, can meet as well the deeper needs of childhood-though it is admitted that such buildings may often be entirely adequate for families in which there are no children.
The reason for insisting upon a private dwelling, preferably detached, is that it can be made to provide sunshine and cross ventilation for every room, and thus a maximum of the life-giving forces which Nature affords. It also makes possible much more of privacy, independence and self expression than are afforded by the multiple dwelling.
It makes possible also a backyard for play, and space for a garden, which are among the fundamental requisites of early childhood. Home ownership further facilitates cooperative activity for common ends on the part of all members of the household, providing an apprenticeship in cooperative social living and in citizenship, which is almost always missed by the dwellers in the tenement or apartment districts of our cities.
Safety requirements of children involve adequate protection from fire and accident. In building a private dwelling sound construction and adequate fire stopping must be taken into consideration. Small children should not be obliged to sleep on a third floor which has only one means of egress. But assuming that the house is safe and built in conformity with the Veiller Model Housing Law, and that there is sound construction so that there will be no danger from falling ceilings, insecure railings and broken treads or boarding, there should still be certain additional requirements for the safety of children. These would include a low handrail on steep or winding stair-cases - such as may be found in old houses - a gate at the top of each flight of stairs where there are very young children, and screens around the radiators and fireplaces to prevent burning.
To provide for the health needs of growing children their bedrooms and play rooms should be adequately sunned and easily aired. No house is wholly satisfactory which does not have double exposure for each room; for, otherwise, the air will become pocketed and stale. Sunshine is the cheapest and most effective germicide and fortunately reaches the floor, which is the area inhabited by the infant; dust is thus sterilized. But sun-shine also contributes greatly to cheerfulness and to efficient metabolism and glowing health.
Children at all ages also should have the advantages of a sleeping porch or sun porch, and of a backyard in which to play. The health values of outdoor play are sufficiently obvious. Safety requires that the backyard should be fenced - at least until the children are of school age - unless many backyards are thrown together and a play director put in charge of the play activities of all children. The fenced backyard makes it possible for the mother, while engaged in her work in the kitchen, to supervise her children's out-of-doors play and choose their play associates. But the apartment house child is condemned to play altogether indoors or else to run the physical and social risk of playing on the street out of sight of its mother.
The health and safety of children have received more attention than their convenience and comfort. Our homes and furniture have been built for grown-ups rather than for children. To the infant who is just beginning to toddle, each room is a forest of table legs and chair legs, with many tempting articles just beyond reach. His convenience and comfort are not provided for, unless there is a comfortable low chair, stool or hassock for his use in each room of the house.
In the dining room he is especially handicapped. Dr. John M. Gries in his admirable article on "Homes Equipped for Children" in the April, 1927, issue of the Child Welfare Magazine, writes graphically on this subject in the following words:
.... In the dining room it is undoubtedly preferable to have things high, especially drawer knobs and door handles. Some children never meddle, and others in the same family cannot be kept out of mischief. But just as they should have their small-sized rockers in the living room, so should they have dining chairs of the proper height. In some families the children eat at a side table. This may be low with chairs to correspond, or it may be full height. In this case the problem is the same as if they sat at the table with the grownups. They too often graduate from the high-chair directly to a dining chair with the addition of a hassock, box, or dictionary to raise their eyes above the level of the table. But this is an awkward and inconvenient arrangement, and long before the child is large enough, he is using the same height chair that his parents use. From that time until he is grown, he is told at every meal that his table manners grow worse every day, and that he eats worse than he did when he was a baby. This may be true. A man or woman who can conduct a spoonful of soup or eat meat from a plate on a level with his or her chin, and not look like a cartoon might be qualified to criticise a child's awkwardness. Poor table manners are often directly traceable to low chairs, while knives, forks, spoons and tumblers too large for small hands come in for their share.
There are many other things we should do for the child's comfort, and for the parents' as well. A hall closet, which can be reached without going through any room, is indispensable for outdoor things. A colleague of mine has a rather large family; to take care of the problem of overshoes, he built a box in his closet with a compartment for the overshoes of each child and with the child's name properly attached on top of his own special cover. The bottom of that box was so designed that it could be removed, making it possible to clean it out periodically; for the overshoes were usually muddy when thrown into the box.
There are many expedients of that sort which are useful and save an immense amount of time and worry and, perhaps, quarreling. Low hooks are also important, otherwise the child will jump for his coat and probably break the hanger and perhaps tear the coat, or will throw it down on a chair or on the floor rather than hang it up, if the hook is not within easy reach.
There are other inconveniences; bathroom and kitchen fixtures are too high for small children. A movable box seems to be the only expedient- unless one can afford to put in a special bathroom for children or a special place for children to wash in the kitchen - a box so constructed that it will be safe for the child and can be easily put out of the way while the child is at school.
The next desideratum is an adequate place in which to play and to keep one's prized possessions. When parents say that children are always underfoot, it is usually because no adequate provision has been made for this fundamental need of childhood.
Play is a child's chief means of experiencing life at its best and of training for adult living through experimental verification of life's values. The best of play gives scope to imagination, develops independence and resourcefulness, and ability to do an ever increasing number of things and do them well. It is important that such constructive opportunities should not needlessly be interfered with.
This means that the battalion of tin soldiers, or the sand village or the electric train, must not be torn up every night; but allowed, within reason, to be ever expanding projects, until abandoned from lack of interest. This rule is consistent with orderliness - which can be taught simultaneously-but with a minimum of interruption of the project. Low drawers and cupboards within the child's reach are essential to store away all toys with which he has finished; and, of course, such drawers must be so designed that they may be opened easily and closed by the child himself. If the family cannot afford a playroom, a corner of some other room may be consecrated to this use. This playroom for growing children may be converted into a study when they reach high school age.
Another essential is a workshop where there can be a work bench and shelves and an adequate assortment of tools to construct all sorts of things in which the boy - or tom-boy girl - delights. That workshop should be either in the basement or attic in the city home. In the country there are sheds and barns which can be used, but the city boy is not so privileged. If it is in the basement, it should be well sunned and dry. Here the son will serve an apprenticeship to his father; or, rather, they will work cooperatively in the pursuit of a common interest - a vastly important thing. For, since the passing of the guild system - ever since the industrial revolution - the boy has been deprived of an opportunity of association with the father in his work. And in the present generation the daughter may be deprived of association with her mother in the housework of the family - due to the ever increasing cramping of the kitchen and the multiplication of outside interests for the child.
In addition to the workshop, there should be the girl's sewing corner, or corner where she can keep her doll nursery when she is quite young. Studio equipment for drawing or painting is also essential. Low bookshelves which will hold the oversized books of the small child also are desirable, as such books can seldom be accommodated in the family library.
Of course, an open attic is the delight of any child's heart and makes possible more extensive play operations than any ordinary playroom would afford. The rural child is still more blessed because the sheds, barns and stables each add to the scope and fun of his play. But, unfortunately, in this generation many children have to be deprived of the joys of living in the country - at least during nine months of the year.
If we paid more attention to the most fundamental of all housing problems, that of industrial and residential decentralization, we would have much more opportunity for providing these essentials for children. No problem in the entire field is so important, to my mind, as that of persuading industries to move out of our cities and of building suitable residences in Garden Suburbs nearby.
The single-family suburban house makes possible a backyard and garage which will partly take care of these fundamental needs of children. The backyard can provide for all ages - from the youngest to the eldest - and its equipment may range from the sand box of the younger children to the targets for archery or the basket ball cages supplied for those who are older. Swings, seesaws, horizontal bars, standards for high jumping and apparatus for bean bags, quoits, clock golf or croquet can be provided in a relatively small space.
The book entitled "Home Play," issued by the Playground and Recreation Association of America, shows how the equipment for both indoor and outdoor play can be made at home at minimum cost. During Better Homes Week of 1928, the Better Homes Committee of Erie County, in cooperation with the Recreation Division of the City Planning Commission of Buffalo, arranged for a demonstration of home playground equipment made in the homes of the city and also showed such equipment in use. Similar demonstrations have been conducted in scores of other cities during Better Homes Week through the cooperation of public recreation departments with local Better Homes committees.
The more fundamental needs of childhood - safety and health and convenience and comfort - have been examined. These are vastly important and the basis on which our superstructure must be built. But the child must also have continuous access to Truth and Beauty and Goodness.
There should be opportunity for close association of children with their parents. Every home needs a library - not just one book, as a friend of mine found in a house which he rented, furnished, in Washington. Original drawing and painting should be encouraged on the part of children at all ages.
As for goodness, it is everywhere within reach; but the family should recognize the need of providing "temptations to be good." A settlement worker once inquired of me, "Why is it that the bad is so interesting and the good so uninteresting?" It is because the good has been wrongly presented. Cooperative activities on the part of the parents and children will give them an opportunity to know each other very much better and to share their interests, their knowledge and their wisdom.
One of the chief essentials for development, in both wisdom and goodness, is privacy. Every child should have a room of its own. Though serious harm may not be done by having the sons of the household sleep in one room, and the daughters in another, when those rooms have adequate ventilation, the practice is likely to interfere with sleep, which is one of the essential factors in the production of good health. A restless child will keep its roommate awake and the one who retires last or rises first may cut short the other's sleep. This is perhaps less serious in the case of the congregate sleeping porch because sleep there is more sound and the conditions are much more favorable to health.
Wherever possible the child should have a room of its own where it can work and play without interruption. Independence, resourcefulness, and individuality are essential for most effective living, but their development is interfered with seriously by the necessity of enduring frequent interruptions.
The need for privacy becomes still more apparent when the child reaches the age when it must bring home lessons from school. The concentration which is essential to success in intellectual pursuits can be developed by some in spite of confusion and interruption, but, probably, all children would be better off if they could do their lessons in complete privacy.
It is erroneously assumed that education and schooling are synonymous. But if children are to be trained to an efficiency greater than that of their parents they must have opportunity not only to solve their school problems in privacy, but also to read widely, to make things, to paint or sketch; and, wherever such Oriental values are possible in this crowded materialistic civilization of ours - to meditate.
Many a child probably misses life's deepest spiritual values because of the fact that it has no opportunity for intimate discussion of the deeper spiritual and moral problems of life with either parent except when other children are around - "listening in." The deepest moments of life are inevitably solitary and the child that does not have privacy may develop into a stereotyped adult personality, crowd-minded, uninteresting and devoid of the attributes which make for moral leadership.
Homes equipped for children must therefore provide the equipment and facilities which make for safety, health, convenience and comfort. Comfort and convenience must be construed in terms of the child's age, size and interests.
But if we aim to develop all innate capacities in our future citizens and to give each one the opportunity to develop all of his given latent abilities, we must not be content with mere health and comfort; but must provide conditions favorable for intellectual, moral and spiritual growth.
Character is set by home conditions. Few are able to surmount such conditions. Practically all of the impressions of the first six years of life come from the home; and, in the subsequent years, from one-third to one-half of the life of the child is spent in the home environment. Moreover, the child is in that environment during the most impressionable hours of the day, namely, the early morning and late evening.
Unless therefore it has privacy and is surrounded with opportunity for self-development, it may never develop broad interests, the habit of working things out to their logical conclusion, resourcefulness, or depth of inner life. But if provided with the environment which we have outlined and with wise parents, creative living becomes possible.
It is well to consider the following objectives in planning a house: (1) Amount of money to be spent; (2) health - good circulation of air throughout, cross ventilation, and sunlight in all rooms if possible; (3) comfort and convenience - easy access, particularly between living room and dining room and dining room and kitchen, convenient location of bathroom, built-in furniture and equipment, proper placing of stationary equipment; (4) needs, activities, and desires of individual members of the family; (5) privacy; (6) beauty - simplicity, well-proportioned rooms, pleasing outlook, views and vistas.
The plan and exterior of the house should be developed together and each should express the other. The architectural style is governed somewhat by the house plan, for any style cannot be built around any plan. The plan in turn is governed somewhat by the building site. Consider furniture placement while planning the house, particularly in small houses. Provisions for the needs and desires of children which may be included with little additional expense should not be overlooked in planning.
In regard to the various rooms it is well to consider the following: (1) The living room should be sufficiently large to meet its particular needs, provide for the placement of furniture, be well lighted and cheerful, with direct access to the dining room. (2) Bedrooms should be planned with cross ventilation, close to the bath, opening into a hall, and with sufficient wall space for a good location of the bed and necessary furniture. (3) The dining room should be no larger than necessary - three feet clear around the table is considered essential. Plenty of light and direct communication with the kitchen are important. (4) Kitchens should be planned around the operations conducted in them with no more floor space than is actually needed. Provision should be made for cross ventilation and easy access to dining room, front and back doors, telephone, and stairs to the second floor and basement.