Life Begins (Arnold Gesell, 1939)

Life Begins (Arnold Gesell, 1939)


[A Baby’s Day at Twelve Weeks] [Narrator:] How should a young infant spend his day? To get a true understanding of his mental life, we must know how he distributes his energies in the course of 24 hours. This boy wakes at 6:00. When he was born, he slept almost continuously. But now, he is 12 weeks old and he must arouse himself to the [?]. By gradations, he disturbs himself into the full waking state. By yawning, he drives more blood to his drowsy brain. By stretching, he hastens the flow of blood through his swelling chest, causing his heart to beat with new vigor. It is time for him to be alert. He has business to attend to and so has his mother. The certainty of seeing his mother with each awakening, brings a sense of security. In the first weeks after birth, he was not aware of her presence, but surely he knows her now. Each day he becomes more socialized. And each social experience promotes his psychological growth. In his mother also, nature has made the best of all provisions for his bodily growth. Sleep is still an important item in the daily program. This boy takes a long morning nap after his first feeding. Babies show their individuality even in the way they sleep, and in the way they wake up. This boy likes to sleep on his side. Many another baby prefers to lie on his back, or even on his stomach. You see again how he stretches and yawns to stimulate the circulation of his blood. It is well to give him plenty of time to wake up in his own individual way. And now, for the most important event of the day, the bath. It brings a welcome relief from clothes and a healthy freedom for body, legs, and arms. It also brings cod liver oil and orange juice as a safeguard against rickets and infectious disease. No danger here that the cod liver oil will stain his clothes. The sun is streaming through the open window. On a warm summer day this makes a fine hour for an air bath, and an indoor sun bath. Vitamins, ultraviolet waves, and body cleansing all in one setting. The mother places him confidently in the tub. She lets him sit supported for a few minutes, so that he may become accustomed to the water. She gives him a chance to exercise his visual perception. She washes him, but she also wisely uses the occasion to give the baby natural exercise. She does not have to resort to artificial calisthenics when the baby has this fine opportunity to exercise his postural muscles. His eye muscles even, are brought into play. He cannot grasp this floating toy with his hands, but he can pursue it with his moving eyes. He coos with pleasure as he does so. He is now exercising his eye muscles, just as before he exercised his leg muscles. Nearly all babies enjoy water. You see the bath has psychological values as well as sanitary values. The mother dries him with dispatch by wrapping him in the ample folds of a tingling towel. One more contribution to his sense of security. A 12-week-old baby is much too young to learn the game of pattycake by imitation. At this age, he can scarcely straighten his arms by his own will. His arms and fingers are most of the time flexed, yet in his way he is reacting socially to all these vast situations. It is not surprising that by this time he has an excellent appetite. Nor is it surprising that he shows a little impatience if that appetite is not promptly appeased. Nor is it surprising if he shows impatience, when it is not continuously appeased. But he should not be permitted to get his food too fast. He needs the vigorous exercise of his lips, tongue and throat which he gets to fullest advantage when he nurses at the breast. Another nap, and a long one, from half past ten ’til two. The child benefits from that long stretch of sleep, during these profound courses, nature gets in her handiwork, and organizes the growth of all his bodily tissues. Once more, his mother comes to greet him and to feed him. Such appeasing is favorable to his psychological development. He needs the drinking as much as he does his food and his sleep. His food serves two purposes. It supplies the building materials for his body’s growth. It furnishes energy for the many activities of each day. After the feeding, the baby is shifted to a new position to relieve some of the gas distention. Bubbling the baby, I believe it is called. Sleep, food, and play in proper proportions make the baby’s day. The floor, when it is clean and warm is an excellent place for the baby to play even at this young age. This boy is hardly ready to play with a rattle. He cannot grasp it on his own initiative. His fingers remain clenched in a balled fist so characteristic of early infancy. Still, he is getting valuable experience on the floor through his postural activity and through the exercise of his senses of sight and of touch. Now, he waits for another nap, bathed in sunshine. This is his third daytime nap, his second sunning. When the weather is seasonable, he does most of his sleeping out of doors, or near an open window. The hood of the bassinet protects his eyes from the direct glare of the sun. Once more he is greeted by his mother as he awakes. These greetings count up, through such repeated conditioning, he is gradually becoming socialized. Five o’clock is a good time for floor play. He is not yet quite ready to manipulate the blocks, but he does play with them with his eyes. Postural activity he enjoys, especially on his back, but again, you see, he is not quite ready to grasp the rattle. Some infants at 12 weeks also enjoy a brief bit of exercise in the stomach position. There is no need of forcing any of these postural reactions. The main thing is to make ample opportunity for the infant to exercise all of his postural abilities naturally. Giving him plenty of freedom to play in his own way, which is usually the wisest way. One more feeding. He is on a four-hour schedule. This is his fourth meal. There are three prime essentials for the baby’s physical and mental growth: adequate food, healthy activity, and bountiful sleep. This baby has had these three essentials, and now we bid him goodnight after his eventful day. He will, however, demand the fifth feeding at 10 o’clock at night. A feeding that scarcely interrupts slumber. And while he sleeps, he grows. At 12 weeks of age, the infant sleeps almost 20 hours out of every 24. Such is the cycle of his behavior days. How does an infant learn? Does learning depend upon experience, or upon natural growth? What are the possibilities and the limitations of training? This boy may help us to answer some of our questions if we follow the development of his behavior patterns. Here he is at behavior 24 weeks. He is ready to learn, and his admiring brothers are ready to help him. What he will learn is governed by laws of growth, similar to those that shape the leaf that he now holds in his hands. He can crumple the leaf, but he cannot yet play pattycake. At 28 weeks, this nursery game is quite beyond him. He does not have within himself the necessary patterns of movement, nor does this girl have them at the age of 32 weeks. Her mother cannot induce the patting response, because the baby has a dominant arm-waving pattern, and time has not yet matured the basic pattern necessary for hand clapping. Even at 36 weeks, this baby with all her attentiveness is not ready to respond successfully. At 40 weeks, however, you can see that the rudiments of the pattycake response are clearly emerging. This boy, at 48 weeks, has attained the level of at least a one-handed pat. The whole situation delights him heartily. Here is the girl who at 32 weeks could only wave her arms. At 48 weeks, she pats to perfection. She can imitate now, because the necessary motor abilities have matured. We will now return to the boy and his ball. He is 36 weeks old. Can he solve the simple problem of getting the ball? Can we teach him to do it? Not at present. His nervous system is too immature. He lifts his hips, but he cannot creep. He strives toward the ball, but he is so uncoordinated that he actually pivots away from it. In the rattle situation, he improves his performance in pivoting toward his goal. Such specific improvement is a symptom of learning. But the basic general ability to pivot or to creep is determined by processes of natural growth. You’ll note incidentally that as a reaction to failure, this child temporarily mouths his hand. When this boy is 40 weeks old, we make an examination of his behavior patterns with the aid of a clinical crib. Again, we see that his powers of pivoting and creeping are still immature. He cannot, therefore, make an adequate posture adjustment to his goal. His powers of standing likewise are incomplete. Though sturdy enough to support his weight, he will not be able to balance himself until certain growing nerve centers have reached a riper maturity. Now, note his powers of manipulation. He can hold two cubes, and he can direct his activity toward a third cube. He cannot build a tower, however, even when it is demonstrated for his benefit. Can he reproduce a demonstration when paper and crayon are presented? He knows how to handle paper and crayon in his own way, but perhaps not in the examiner’s way. At present, he is following his own devices. Even repeated demonstrations will have no effect on the course of his reactions. In about 12 weeks he will scribble of his own accord. Then, but not until then, will he be able to respond fully to a demonstration. Imitation of a movement can occur only when that movement through growth has already become part of the child’s working equipment. Note the patterns of spontaneous reaction to the performance box. At 40 weeks of age, he can rub the rod against the box. But he pays slight heed to the holes. He can poke his finger, but not a rod into the middle hole. Again, examiner’s demonstration fails because the infant is too young. Nevertheless, for his age, his performance is creditable. His learning is naturally limited by his maturity. The crude manipulation of this form board reflects a meager perception of space and of form. He reacts to the large fundamental properties of the board, and not to its geometric details. He almost ignores the holes. Even with the round block in hand, he neglects the round holes. Ah, happy accident. Will he learn from it? Another lucky scoot. Will he capitalize?
Apparently not. Experience is a good teacher, only when we are ready for the instruction. Lessons for children are often set too early. Therefore, the examiner’s guiding gesture is futile now, but in a dozen weeks, this boy will place the block in the hole without any help whatsoever. We now present a ring tied to a string. He grasps the string, tugs it, and then he captures the ring. He lifts, drops, re-secures, and bangs and waves the ring, and fingers the string. In numerous ways, he explores typical characteristics and spatial relationships. When the ring and string are presented the second time, he exploits them as before. But always with variations. Two such pieces of exploitation, his growing abilities are blocked into adjustment with his environment. With almost insatiable exploitation keeps removing itself. Recreating problems and rediscovering solutions. This is self-activity. This is the universal, natural method of self-learning. We now elongate the string and transfer the ring and string problem to the floor, where we may observe the influence of posture on early learning. Unable to creep, this boy, at 36 weeks, can only contemplate what lies before him. At 40 weeks, he makes a fuller approach to the string. He brings all his forces to bear on the situation. He leans, he reaches, he twists, and reaches again. But he cannot bridge the perplexing 12-inch gap between himself and the alluring string. He then prostrates and find re-solace in his toes. We bridge the gap for him, by bringing the string within his reach. He beams with a sense of accomplishment, and through his manipulation he soon acquires fundamental information concerning distances and position. In eight more weeks, he is able to bridge the gap himself. He can creep and he uses this newly-grown ability to conquer distance and to appropriate remote objects. Nature gave him the general capacity to creep, and he is now learning to apply his new ability. Through early locomotion as well as through manipulation, he builds up his elementary knowledge of places and of spaces. And you see that the normal infant rarely wastes a moment. Every bit of waking time is put to use in some form of activity, experimental or otherwise. Again, we present the ring and the string. Already, he has learned how to economize his energy. This time, he saves his legs by a hand-over-hand pull of the string. He does not go to the goal, he follows it to his feet, and to his hands. For that unceasing, inquisitive investigation, which is part and parcel of learning and goals. We conclude with another glimpse of his behavior repeated in slowed motion. You see a certain competence in his reaction, in spite of his immaturity. We detect beauty in the grace and purposefulness of his postural attitudes. All skills are relevant. The infant has his, we have ours. In the growing behavior of infancy, teachers and parents will find the natural laws which limit and which govern learning in later childhood. Amazingly early, the human infant shows that he is a social being. When only eight weeks old, he smiles. This boy is smiling socially in response to his mother’s face and her voice. At 12 weeks, he not only smiles, but he chuckles. Arms and legs join merrily in the social reaction. Here’s another 12-weeks-old boy. The mother’s face fascinates him, but so does his own hand. This girl at 16 weeks is making mouth movements in imitative response to her mother’s talking. At 16 weeks, this boy shows a deep absorption in his mother, both with his eyes and contact-seeking hands. You saw this boy when he was eight weeks old. Now, he is 20 weeks old. Already you sense the nature of his individuality. For even as a young infant, he shows distinctive behavior characteristics, social and personal. He is expressive, agile, spirited. He is observant, alert, and remarkably inquisitive about his physical environment. He remains socially reactive to his mother, and responsive to her ministrations, but he can play by himself contentedly when left alone. He shows rather advanced powers of manipulation in his fingering of the beads. He surveys his surroundings with characteristic curiosity, but not to the neglect of his mother. He is beginning to distinguish between what is animate and what is inanimate in his environment. He divides his attention between persons and things, and thus obtains a balance in his social behavior. He is not a constant reader of the printed page, but he is in fact, exercising powers of posture and of eye movement which are fundamental to later reading ability. Again, he displays the roving exploratory inspection so characteristic of him. Personality traits are already coming into evidence. Interpret for yourself his candid countenance. But do not regard it as being altogether angelic. At 28 weeks, he makes a lusty protest when the pleasure of a bath ends, but to no avail. His mother carries through with wholesome calmness and certainty. By such experience, the infant learns the demand of family and society. At 36 weeks, another similar protest suggests a tendency on his part to influence his environment by emotional methods. The eager investigator is now 44 weeks old. Again, he displays his inquisitive, mechanical aptitude. It is a complex task for the infant to distinguish between himself and other persons. The mirror confuses him at first, but ultimately, it promotes self-knowledge. At 32 weeks, he smiles with friendliness at his own image. He leans forward trying to make tangible contact with his intangible visitor in the mirror. With excellent insight, he pursues, tests out, and induces movement in his image. Friendly approach, experimental approach, recognition, bewilderment, and smiles. A strange mixture of social and of personal reactions. At 36 weeks, wonderment still continues. He creeps toward his mystifying comrade. He vocalizes when he confronts him. And then forward as though seeking social intercourse. Even at 52 weeks, the mirror mysteries remain unsolved. He searches, he fears, he chases, he waits, and he looks. Later he tries again to overtake, or to outwit that elusive image. In all his behavior, he consistently reveals his forceful, dynamic personality. Inborn factors determine the basis of individuality. Individual differences therefore declare themselves even in infancy. Note the differences in these six babies. Girl A is a keen, sensitive, expressive child. Capable of lasting moods. Girl B is a more robust type. Not given to moods, almost uniformly friendly and superior in motor control. Sturdy but affectionate is Boy A, amiable to persons as well as to his dog. In Boy B, we have a quiet, self-possessed, deliberate, trustful, somewhat unemotional individual. Boy C is sociable, emotionally reactive, but well-adjusted, restless with a strong sense of rhythm. Boy D you have seen in the mirror. He is forceful, dynamic, alert, and facile with his hands. A cultural group, the baby becomes socialized through the household. On the other hand, the baby also socializes the household. The bath is a social institution. It calls for responses from adults and child alike. Including the admiring, helpful brother, age 4, ready to cooperate at every turn. Here’s another big brother relationship. The junior member is 20 weeks old, the senior member, five years old. The same two brothers four weeks later. Amateur photography. When children play together, they socialize each other. They learn the fundamental lessons of give and take. A social reaction to a stranger. This baby at the age of 32 weeks is excited by the approach of a new person, whom she has never seen before. With mouth, tongue, eyes, arms, and bouncing body, the baby gives full expression to her interest in friendliness. A highly sociable temperament is revealed. The infant reacts to the adult, but the adult also reacts to the infant. Social interaction is manifestly at work. Son and father. Son aged 32 weeks, father about as many years. A sense of humor is a social gift. It is probably inborn, but it needs cultivation even in the nursery. This good-natured boy profits every day from domestic experiences like this. Normal patterns and attitudes of social behavior grow out of wholesome parent-child relationships. This boy has the social stimulus of two brothers. And they in turn are enormously benefited by having a baby to protect and to play with. There is an excellent spirit of juvenile companionship in this particular home. Children educate each other, in the domestic life of a well-constituted household, and in the spontaneous day activities of children, we find the most favoring conditions for the early growth of social behavior. And now you have seen how the mind of the infant grows. The mind is an organic living structure. Just as real as the body. The cinema with its all-seeing eye gives us a new insight into the life and growth of the human infant. To parents, teachers, and students, it reveals the lawfulness of psychological growth. Education and mental hygiene begin with birth. They rest on natural laws. Science is defining these laws. Each infant has an inborn individuality, which determines his manner of growth and his capacity to learn. This individuality is entitled to a better understanding and more systematic guidance by home, school and society. Periodic health examinations safeguard the physical welfare of the infant. We safeguard him by the supervision of nutrition, but this is not enough. We must add a type of supervision, which will safeguard his mental growth for the benefit of the child and of the community into which he is born. [Lullaby]

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