They bring their pets and go to sleep
By PETER THOMPSON
Mothers of Hoddesdon (Herts) can send their youngest children ( two to five) all day to a Catholic nursery school. Under the care of a nun the children play and sleep and learn the uses of their senses and receive an awareness of Christianity.
Tlic school, which was once a stable, has been set up by the Rev. Vincent Scully, C.R.L., rector of St. Augustine's, Hoddesdon.
For mothers with large families, or with obligation to go out to work to augment sufficiently the family income the advantage is huge and the eost is only a shilling a week.
The building had once been a stable; part of the equipment of a large house of red brick and slate
gabled roofs which a brewer had built for his retirement in Good Victoria's Golden Days when almost the only recreation open to the poor was to get drunk.
Now most of one wall is of glass and the other walls arc painted cream and blue. Pictures illustrating nursery rhymes and fairy tales hang on these walls. MESSY OPERATION There are toys on the floor and on the small tables; and the broad cupboard three or four feet high which fits the width of one wall is filled with toys and with implements—smooth pieces of wood to count, pieces of canvas to button and unbutton, to hook and unhook, to lace and unlace, brightly coloured shapes to feel and estimate and fit one upon the other—to train young senses.
On the top of the cupboard stands a procession of wooden animals. They have emerged—in correct formation— from a large Noah's Ark.
High on a wall hangs a crucifix.
The transformation of the stable has been worked through the Rev. Vincent Scully, C.R.L., who has seen how necessary it is that the mothers of his parish, particularly those who have so many children they don't know what to do, should be able to send their children during the days of their adventurous years (from two to live) before school begins, to some place where they may strengthen and grow freely with sharp awareness of Christianity and of the significance of the things about them: tables, dusters, marigolds, tooth brushes, beds, cups, blankets, combs, washbasins, apples. . . .
In his parish of Hoddesdon there was no such place, so Fr. Scully set up this nursery school.
ATE TOO MUCH CARE I went into the school with him on Friday morning. Some of the children were sitting at their small painted tables of powder blue, pale green, beige and pink, others were sitting on the tables. and others were running about the room. There was shouting and laughter. It was the period of free play, just before lunch.
The nun in charge of the school occasionally put a restraining hand on a child crawliag too perilously about the little tables or quietened those with the heartiest lungs when the noise became cataclysmal.
Some of the children ran up to the priest as he entered and clung to his Cassock in greeting, but most of them continued with their playing and took no notice of us.
There were not so many children as usual for there had been a tea party the afternoon before and some had eaten too much cake or had revelled too vigorously.
The nun explained to me some of the Montessori method of sense training, and talked to me about the daily routine in the school.
The children come to the school at nine in the morning and leave at four in the afternoon. They may go home to lunch, or have their lunch at school.
When they come in the morning they change into overalls, dust their tables and their chairs, and go out to water the plants in their gardens. .Afterwards the nun talks to them about the things they may have brought to school—their pets, toys, flowers. Then follow physical exercises, sense training and the washing of hands and the setting of tables for the mid-morning meal. While the meal is being prepared they look at picture books.
After the meal. usually of milk and some biscuits or fruit, the children wash up their cups and plates. This being a fairly messy operation they enjoy themselves unreservedly. Any excess of pleasure, however, is balanced by the fact that after the washing up comes the cleaning of teeth.
AN ELEPHANT OR A CANDLE
Music or poetry or singing games, story telling and free play fill lip the rest of the time till the interval for the mid-day meal.
Before they take this meal the children go to the wash room. The walls here are gay in colour as in the rest of the school. There are small wash basins all along two of the wails.
In the middle of the room are small shelves compactly divided. In each division there is a cup of light unbreakable material, a tooth brush, a tomb, a towel and a face flannel. Upon each division there is pasted a small drawing of an
elephant, or rabbit, or a sunset or a candle or some other thing. Each child that comes to the school is given one of these drawings which is to be his sign of possession, for he is too young to know what his own name looks like.
In the afternoon the children sleep for en hour. They have their beds— canvas stretched loosely on wooden legs painted the same colours as the tables and chairs—ln a room with a vivid green wardrobe in which are kept, neatly folded, the blanket and pillow for each bed.
When they have slept the children work with crayons or plasticine, or perhaps go for a walk in the fields by the school and pick flowers and play. Then at four their mothers, or their elder brothers and sisters, call for them.
It costs one shilling a week for a child to attend the school. There are at present only fifteen in the school, but Fr. Scully is confident that the maximum of thirty will soon be attained. Only a few of the fifteen axe Catholics.
CAN'T AFFORD BOTH
representative of the local government authorities, who looked over the school recently, was delighted with it. He liked the design, the fittings, the children, and the way the school was controlled. He liked everything and said so. He also said, " We want these schools in every town in England."
We're not likely to get them just yet awhile. Not even Britain can afford all those nursery schools (if there hadn't been a stable at Hoddesdon to tramsform, it would have cost #4,040 to have built a school with similar equipment and slightly less accommodation) and an" air force in many respects the finest in the world." A nursery school in every town cannot be a practical possibility so long as we have to keep a military airplane station in every other field.
However, when or if we ever get those nursery schools Catholics will have to make sure that their children receive an initiation into all the exciting common things of life—flowers, furniture, velvet and toothbrushes—as thoroughly Christian and imaginative as that given to the children of Hoddesdon.