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Hygiene of the Nursery.

Chapter II.

The Nursery.


Every well-regulated house in which there are children should be provided with two nurseries, one for occupation by day, the other by night.

Before entering further into the subject, however, attention must be directed to the fact that the American city-bred child, belonging to the class in which it is possible to provide separate rooms for nurseries, is to a greater or less degree a migratory creature. For when the first warm days of May or early June make the parents bask at open windows, the child is hurried off to a suburban hotel or farmhouse or to the sea-coast. Again, so soon as the cold evenings of late September suggest the comfort of an open fire, equal energy is exhibited to get him back to cosy winter quarters. In summer, most of the waking hours are spent in the open air, in winder, the greater proportion indoors, hence the day nursery must be regarded as a winter resort, and as such must possess qualities that would render it uninhabitable by the child in hot weather. The night nursery should have, though to a much less degree, the same qualities. In other words, to put the whole subject in a nut-shell, the nurseries for winter use should be warm and freely exposed to the sun; for summer use, cool and rather shaded, though always perfectly dry.

Since the child spends so much time in the open air during warm weather, the nurseries will be discussed in this chapter purely from their winter standpoint, and will be described under the following heads.

Situation. -- Any room in the house will not do for a day nursery. Rather, on the contrary, must the best room be selected. It should have a southwest exposure, and be, if possible, so situated in the building as to allow of at least two broad windows [1], one in the southern end and one in the western side. Into such a room the sun plays with full force from a few hours after rising until nearly the time of setting. The third floor of a house is a better elevation for the nursery, especially if there be an attic above, than either of the lower floors, partly because such rooms are remote from the ordinary domestic disturbances, but chiefly because they are drier and more readily heated, and being elevated, are less cut off from sunlight by surrounding buildings.

The night, should, if possible, adjoin and communicate with the day nursery, though this feature is less important than proximity to the parents' sleeping room. It should have a good-sized window so placed that it will freely admit sunlight during the day. When the nurseries connect, the opening of communication must be capable of being completely closed by a well-fitting door or folding doors, so that one room may be thoroughly aired without chilling the other.

Neither apartment ought to communicate with a bath-room having sewer connections; in fact, although it may be an object of complaint from the nurse, the further off such a bath-room is the better for the health of the child.

While it is a matter of difficulty to accomplish in an ordinary city house, it is, nevertheless, a necessary thing to have the nurseries in close proximity to, or even in communication with, the apartment in which the parents sleep; for then the nurse is forced to be morally purer and physically more attentive than if she have a section of the house to herself.

Many mothers prefer to keep their children at night. Under this condition, the bedroom becomes the night nursery, and its situation must be as carefully selected, and its hygiene as particularly guarded, as the regular night nursery; when, too, there are several children in the family, the risk of overcrowding in such apartments must be recognized and carefully guarded against. The factor of disturbed rest, by the different hours of retirement of children and parents, is, also, one of importance. On all of these accounts, a night nursery, under the control of a competent nurse, is, in my opinion, to be preferred.

Size. -- The amount of atmospheric air required by a healthy child to accomplish thorough oxidation of the blood through respiration is about the same as that demanded by adults. Therefore the smallest admissible room for either a day or night nursery for a single child must have a capacity of eight feet cube. For more than one child the rule ordinarily given is, to multiply this figure -- eight feet cube -- by the number of individuals. This rule works well enough for a family of two or three children, but if the number be greater, the size of apartments required would much exceed any that could be found in ordinary houses. Lack of space, then, must be made up by more perfect methods of ventilation. To put the question in a more practical form, a room nine or ten feet high, twenty feet long, and fifteen feet broad will readily accommodate, either for playing or sleeping purposes, two or three children, with one attendant, provided foul air be constantly removed and fresh air supplied by ventilation.

In every room the undermost stratum of air, and the one in which the child must pass the greater part of his time, whether awake or asleep, has a much lower temperature than the middle, and this, again, than the highest -- the tendency of the heated air being always to rise to the top. Now, the greater the height of the apartment, the cooler will be the floor and its neighborhood; consequently, a lofty ceiling -- namely, one over ten, or, at most, twelve feet -- while it makes an imposing show, is far from being desirable for a nursery, where ease of heating and the comfort and health of the occupants are the ends to be attained. On the other hand, a ceiling less than eight feet will tend to make the room close, stuffy and over-warm, and correspondingly unhealthy.

Lighting. -- As already indicated, the only permissible light for a day nursery is that derived from the sun, and the more plentiful this is, and the more directly it enters, the better. The night nursery may be illuminated by gas, by an oil lamp, by a candle or a night light. Writers ordinarily recommend the last three, upon the supposition that gas, while burning, not only consumes a considerable proportion of the oxygen of the air, but gives off certain injurious products of combustion. This may be true to a certain extent, but the disadvantages are greatly discounted by the increase in convenience and the greater safety, so far as causing fire is concerned.

Gas certainly may be used in the late afternoon and evening; so far as the night hours are concerned, should a light be constantly required, the best means of obtaining it is from one of the regular night lights.

A very admirable form of such lights is shown in Fig. 7. This light, called the "Pyramid Night Light," consists of a low, brass stand, having a movable pyramidal glass chimney, and provided with a porcelain cup upon which the candle rests. The candle itself is about one inch and a half in height and breadth, and is so constructed that the combustible material is completely incased in a fireproof plaster-of-Paris cup. Each candle will burn eight or ten hours. These lights are perfectly safe and may be utilized for the further purpose of keeping food or water warm.

Figure 7. Pyramid Night Light.

For occasional use at night, nothing can be better or of more ready service than gas.

The safest way to make a light is to use a safety-match, and the taking of a flame from an open fire or the use of ordinary friction matches are dangerous and to be strongly discouraged.

Furnishing. -- This heading may be made to include the finish of the floor, walls, and ceiling, as well as the necessary articles of furniture and their arrangement.

The floor, which ought to be laid with good yellow pine boards, should have a hard finish. To accomplish this, the crevices between the boards and all the nail holes must first be filled with putty, then, after this has dried, coated with a rapidly-drying, hard shellac varnish, next sandpapered, when the varnish has had time to harden thoroughly, and, finally, finished by a second coat of shellac. This gives a light-colored floor that brightens the room and at the same time is readily cleaned. A dark staining, besides being sombre, always looks soiled. A painted floor is not easily cleaned. Should either of the latter be already in a nursery, their defects may be overcome by a well-laid parquet floor.

A carpet tacked to the floor is not to be recommended; far better is it to have rugs, which can be frequently taken up and well shaken, the housemaid having in the meanwhile free access to the floor itself.

Paint is the best finish for the walls. Individual taste will of course weigh in the selection of the color and amount of decoration, though a light tint, but still one not trying to the eyes, is most desirable. Next to paint, varnished paper is to be preferred. Within the past few years light and soft tinted fabrics, covered with the representations in figure of familiar nursery legends, have been for sale by paper dealers. Such papers render the nursery attractive to older children, and, to a great extent, take the place of pictures. Paint, however, has the advantage, in that it may be washed and thoroughly disinfected in case of the occurrence of contagious disease.

To return to the subject of pictures, it is best to interdict any that are valuable or expensively framed. A few highly-colored, striking prints taken from one of the good weekly illustrated papers, and fixed to the painted wall by glue, will give as much pleasure to the childish eyes as the works of the best artists. They can, too, be changed from time to time, and after exposure to contagious germs can, without regret, be removed and burned, in the process of cleaning.

The ceiling of the rooms should always be painted with some light color, and be perfectly free from ornamentation.

In the matter of furniture, the day nursery should contain a table at which the older children may take their meals or use in play and study; one or more large chairs and several small ones; a plentiful supply of toys and picture books, and, if there be room enough, a chest of drawers or wardrobe for clothing, and so on. All the furniture must be plain, that it may be more easily kept clean.

The centre of the room must be kept clear, to give an opportunity for play. The table, therefore, should be a folding one, that it may be placed out of the way against the wall and take up the least space possible when not in use. Any other heavy article of furniture must also occupy a position against the wall and be fitted with castors, so that it can be readily moved to facilitate cleaning the floor beneath.

The toys may vary in character with the age of the child -- soft, white India-rubber ones for infants, more complicated mechanism for older children; but inexpensive toys are the best, because they can be most frequently changed. The same is true of books. For both, by the way, there should be a special drawer or closet provided, where they can be put out of the way when not required.

A few plants, a bird or a globe of fish add brightness to the child's room and greatly assist in cultivating good taste and in affording amusement.

The night nursery must contain the beds, the bathing and toilet utensils, several chairs -- one being a rocker -- a small table, a medicine closet and a chest of drawers or other convenient receptacle for clothing and extra bed covering.

It is essential to have a separate bed for the nurse and one for each child; they should be placed so as to be protected from any chance draught of air, be far enough apart to allow of a free passage between, and the bed of the youngest, or of an ill child, ought to be nearest the one belonging to the nurser.

Old-fashioned pitchers and basins are to be preferred to stationary washstands. The latter, though, are so convenient -- especially when supplied with hot- and cold-water faucets -- that they may be permitted when the waste pipe is short and runs directly through the wall into a rain spout, instead of communicating with the sewer, and when the nurse can be trusted not to use them as a convenient means of disposing of the ordinary chamber waste.

Each child should have his or her own brushes, combs, sponges, soap and towels, and all of them must be kept clean and sweet and have a place of their own.

The medicine closet must be allowed to contain only such articles as may be often required, and can be used with safety by a person of average intelligence; for example, olive oil, vaseline, oxide of zinc ointment, talcum powder, soda mint, sweet spirits of nitre, syrup of ipecacuanha, chalk mixture, etc. Any preparation containing opium -- even paregoric -- is especially out of place in the nursery medicine chest.

Feeding bottles, implements for the heating and preparation of food and for bathing, also belong to the furniture of the nurseries, but their consideration may be conveniently postponed to later sections.

Heating. -- Each room requires an accurate thermometer, so hung that it may record the mean temperature; not too close to the fireplace nor the windows, where it runs the chance of being unduly heated or chilled.

The temperature of the day nursery should range between 68° and 70° F., that of the night nursery from 64° to 68° F.

The proper method of heating is by an open fireplace in which either wood or coal is burnt. Either of these fires is superior to a furnace, simply because they serve a double purpose, namely, heating and ventilating. My personal preference is for an old-fashioned hearth, where oak or other quietly burning logs can be used, since a wood fire is more readily lighted and regulated, and is a better ventilator than one of coals. Still, in our climate, with its manifold and sudden changes, it is so essential to have a source of heat constantly at hand that it is difficult to banish the furnace register from any living room. Therefore, while recognizing the disadvantage of furnace heat, in that it makes the air too dry, it is well to supply the nurseries with both means of heating, using the open fire in moderate weather and the furnace only in the presence of severe cold.

In my experience, where the nurseries are so situated as to receive direct sunlight through ample windows, there is rarely any need of furnace heat except in the early morning, before the servants have time to make up the wood or coal fire.

Care must be taken to guard every open fireplace with a high fender, one that can neither be knocked down nor climbed over by an active child.

Ventilation. -- In addition to furnishing ample space in the nurseries, it is necessary to provide a constant supply of fresh air by ventilation.

By all odds the best ventilator is an open fireplace in which wood is burnt. Such a fire, by creating a draught up the chimney, carries off the impure air, and there are few doors and windows so closely fitting that they prevent the entrance of fresh air to supply the place of that so removed.

Should this not prove sufficient, one of the windows may be utilized, the upper sash being slightly lowered and the lower sash slightly raised, the openings being sufficient to allow of the entrance and exit of air, but not enough to cause a current or draught in the room.

When the rooms are heated by a furnace or stove, some permanent ventilator must be used. For the egress of foul air an opening may be made in the chimney at a convenient distance from the floor; this may be guarded by an ordinary adjustable register, such as is used to regulate the entrance of heated air from the furnace flue.

The same purpose may also be accomplished by making an opening in the upper part of the door; this should be guarded by a movable sash, or by one of the ventilating appliances to be mentioned later.

To allow of the free entrance of pure air, one of the glass lights may be replaced by a plate of tin having a multitude of minute perforations, or a ventilator made to fit the window may be used.

The best of these are shown in the four following figures.

One apparatus, Fig. 8, consists of two pieces of board, one of which slides upon the other, so that it may be readily adapted to any breadth of window frame. Each portion has a circular opening to which is fitted a tin or sheet-iron pipe, eight inches long by four inches in diameter, and having a slight upward bend. These pipes are provided with a solid diaphragm, Fig. 9, readily moved by a handle, and intended to regulate the quantity of air admitted. When in position, the pipes, of course, project inward.

The wheel ventilator, Fig. 10, consists of a movable diaphragm and a revolving wheel, the whole varying from six to eight inches in diameter. When placed in position, which is readily done by cutting a circular hole in a window pane or in the door, the difference in temperature between the interior and exterior of the rooms will create a current, and cause the wheel to revolve noiselessly. The revolving wheel, while it prevents a draught, allows of the passage of two currents, that of fresh air inward and foul air outward, and the diaphragm enables one to control the supply of air.

An admirable domestic arrangement for ventilation consists of a board eight or ten inches in height placed across, and close to, the window sill, as in Fig. 11.

This, when the lower sash is raised, as indicated by the dotted lines, allows of a free entrance of air without a draught, the current being directed upward (as shown by the arrows).

Together with the above careful provision for constant purification of the atmosphere, it is essential to "air" thoroughly both of the nurseries through widely opened windows. With the day nursery this must be done whenever the child leaves it for any length of time, care being taken to close the windows, and get the temperature to the proper degree before his return. The night nursery should be aired after the children leave it in the morning, and after the midday nap.

The air of the nurseries should, of course, never be unnecessarily contaminated. Cooking or smoking in the rooms are to be especially avoided. In regard to the latter, there is no doubt that children are often made sick by the fumes of tobacco, and that, of all forms, cigarette smoke is the most injurious.

Cleaning. -- It is hardly necessary to say that the nurseries must be kept perfectly clean. Napkins and bed clothing that have been soiled by discharges from the bladder or the bowels must be removed at once from the room, and the practice of hanging diapers wet with urine before the nursery fire to dry should be emphatically discouraged. Equal care must be taken to promptly empty and clean chamber vessels after use.

The furniture, woodwork and window glass, as well as the floors, must be kept clean and free from dust by wiping with a damp cloth at least once a week.

Should there be a stationary washstand in either room, it is most important to thoroughly clean the basin every day, and to disinfect the waste pipe, however short it may be, twice every week. The latter may be done with ammonia, copperas or Platt's Chlorides. The process is very simple, and consists in pouring down the pipe a gallon or more of a diluted solution of either of the above articles. Copperas is the cheapest and in my opinion the best; a double handful of it in an ordinary bucketful of water forms an efficient disinfectant and deodorizer.

The substance known as Household Ammonia may be employed in the strength of two tablespoonfuls to a gallon of water, and is especially useful where there is a suspicion that the interior of the waste pipe has become coated with a layer of soap.

Platt's Chlorides is used in the proportion of one part to four of water, and is very efficient, though more expensive than either of the other materials.

The nurseries must never be cleaned whilst the children are occupying them.


[1] Nursery windows must always be strongly barred.

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Created 11/27/97 / Last modified 11/30/97
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