How the brain of a child develops depends upon (1) heredity, (2) education by the mother and family and associates, and (3) the condition of the health—chiefly of the digestive organs. This is an observation made by Thomas.C.Duncan in his 30 years of study on child development….

An Abstract of a Paper by the Author.

We read and hear much about “child study,” as if it was something new. Every one should study children. Most people do in one way or another. But to make this a new department in the public schools is another matter.

Children have an individuality and must be developed and managed accordingly. Some are timid and need encouragement. Others are dull and ugly, and these have to be stimulated and controlled. Other children are rushers and try to control the school or class and home. To understand how to manage these boys and girls of various ages requires tact. All do best when governed by a sense of justice. To help to understand these various children and how best to manage them great help was found by the author, when a teacher in the long ago, in the study of phrenology as it was then understood. All the discoveries in brain physiology have confirmed the general ideas advanced in craniology. There is, however, a vast dessert in brain territory yet unexplored. How the brain develops or should develop is a problem not well understood, and it would seem that the common school is not the place to institute the scientific study of the physiological psychology of the child. It is a good thing for the universities, pedagogical schools, the colleges for physicians, and especially the chair of children’s diseases to institute something of the kind.

This study should interest every mother, every teacher, every physician, and every statesman. Neither can carry this out alone and reach any practical conclusions. The mother may think her Johnnie is a darling;he is so loving, so affectionate. The teacher’s verdict is that he is a stupid little brat. The Sunday- school teacher may think that he is a good little boy, while the physician finds a weak stomach, a delicate chest, catarrhal nose, and, on the whole, a pampered, imperfectly developed child.

There is a physiological basis for mental development that we must all know more about before much can be definitely taught as solid psychological fact. The progress along this line during the century has not been great. The study has been along central and objective lines. On the post-mortem examination of the brains of children of various ages it has been found that they are harder at the base along the blood vessels and toward the top of the head, according to the age of the child. The top of the infant brain, in fact all but a small part of the base, is like a mass of jelly. If it is a fact that the brain comes into activity from the base and then develops backward and forward along the sulci and finally on the dome, it would seem that the training and education of the young brain should be along these lines also.

Put a tape measure around the head of a new-born infant. It may measure fifteen inches, at the school age the head should measure twenty or more inches. How has this come about? In what direction has it developed–backward, forward, or sidewise? Only the mother and family physician can tell. During the first four years is the best time for child study. The physician can record the physical measurements, and the mother can record the character of the child as it unfolds, or possibly is developed, both it is believed. The soft mass was moulded, and will develop the hereditary type, while the subsequent growth may be developmental. The acid child will appear precocious. It will be very forward, while the large alkaline child may seem stupid, but give it time.

How the brain develops depends upon (1) heredity, (2) education by the mother and family and associates, and (3) the condition of the health—chiefly of the digestive organs. I have made quite a study of child developmental for thirty years, and believe that defective nutrition is responsible for the abnormal condition of many children. It may seem a little singular, but there is no established standard for children in America for the various ages. In Germany, France, and England they have attempted it. Insurance companies in the United States do not accept even their standard of height and weight.

[See How to be Plump for weight and height.] Children of Chicago who drink milk from the lime-stone regions west of the city grow taller than those who drink milk from the marshy (sandy) region to the south and east of the city. Children that take much liquid food will increase in weight over those who are always on the go live on dry food. The outlines of the body tell little about the development of the brain and mental activity. The condition of the heart has much to do here, as well as the respiratory capacity and activity. These facts the family physician could furnish. He is supposed to keep tab on the child development from birth on up during all the weeks, months, and years of life. He doubtless could do more along these lines were he given full control as medical adviser.

Neither the school board nor the board of health should try to usurp the place of the family medical adviser. It is not as well for the family, the city or state.

The boy with a weak heart will live in “fear and trembling all his days.” The brain will not get blood enough to keep the average in class. The boy with a vigorous heart may be equally as listless and as poor a scholar because of the diversion of his mental activity away from school studies. These children cannot be managed or instructed by the same methods. A sharp word will arrest the weak heart for a moment and the child will act stupid.

He needs gentle, sensible encouragement to do his best. The rushing heart of the vigorous boy will make him confused. He will act stupid. His attention must be captured and held by side studies that are side lights. Teachers have discovered this and old principals and teachers have established certain land marks to judge scholars by, and have been successful. Some teachers manage the lower grades better than the upper, for they know how to capture and hold the attention. They use many objective methods and do not depend upon one sense alone. Hearing in a child is a poorly developed sense. Other children rebel at dictatorial methods that younger brains, less developed brains, do not notice.

To govern and instruct are the two difficult problems in teaching. Here the parents’ aid may help make or mar the child. Then the teacher has the child, say, six hours a day. She should see that the physique does not suffer. Along the lines of nutrition and exercise she can do much. A growing child is a plant–it needs and must have plenty of water. If a bird, a young cuckoo, weighing three ounces, consumes two and one-half ounces of food a day, how much should a child weighing forty pounds (and three feet tall) consume? The first food of the child is 80 per cent. of water. A growing child should drink every half hour. If it does not it will lose in weight and lack in brain and mental activity. A growing child must have oxygen from air and water.

Shut off the oxygen and the child gets drowsy. The lungs should have an oxygen bath as often as the child drinks. The best way to drink in oxygen is by deep breathing, taking them at least three times a day or oftener, three or more times in succession. The breathing should be taken standing, rising on the toes as the air is inhaled through the nose. Children should be taught to breathe only through the nose.

The study of child development is one of the greatest problems of the age. It should interest statesmen and all people. There should be a national bureau established for this purpose. It might be made a part of the Agricultural Department, as children are both vegetables and animals of the highest types.

All could help, but the expense of “child study” should not be saddled upon the taxpayers of any one municipality. The State or Nation should take it up for the good of the present and future generations. Let us do what we can to improve the race. “The proper study of mankind is man.”–Pope.

Thomas C. Duncan
Thomas C.Duncan, M.D., Ph.D., LL.D. Consulting Physician to the Chicago Foundlings' Home.
Editor of The United States Medical Investigator. Member of the Chicago Paedological Society. First President of the American Paedological Society Author of: Diseases of infants and children, with their homoeopathic treatment. Published 1878 and Hand book on the diseases of the heart and their homeopathic treatment. by Thomas C. Duncan, M.D. Published 1898