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CAMPAGNARO M (2018). Touch and Feel: The Body, Senses, Books and Narration in Childhood. In NANTE A., CAMPAGNARO M. (eds.), The Body. Ninth International Exhibition of Illustration. p. 73-92, PADOVA: Museo Diocesano di Padova/Medigraf Edizioni, ISBN: 978-88-8848-435-8

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The body is a human’s first home. It is the first physical substance we come into contact with, and the first impression of ourselves we offer. It thus goes without saying that our introduction to the world is through our body. In the first months of life, touch is the most effective sense after hearing for understanding the physical characteristics of our immediate environment. It enables children to find their way around more confidently and is often the most accurate means for sensing danger, e.g. being near or in direct physical contact with fire. Although touch plays a key role in a child’s growth, still today very little is being done to fulfil its educational potential. Touching and being encouraged to touch is an educational principle that should be explored and exploited fully throughout a child’s development.
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20
il corpo
Il corpo al centro della vita
di Andrea Nante
The Body and its Central Role in Life
Il corpo vivente
di Giorgio Bonaccorso
The Living Body
Essere tattile
Corporeità, sensorialità, libri e narrazioni nell’infanzia
di Marnie Campagnaro
Touch and Feel
The Body, Senses, Books and Narration in Childhood
La rappresentazione del corpo
nei libri per l’infanzia
di Giulia Mirandola
The Representation of the Body
in Children’s Books
Schede biografiche degli illustratori
Illustators’ biographies
29
35
45
57
73
82
93
103
164
nella pagina a fianco:
Sylvie Bello
La Speranza
in A. Nante, S. Bello, Essere umani.
Il corpo nell’arte, dalla Preistoria a oggi
© Topipittori 2017
8382
“And yet it moves”: a short tale of liberation
The body is a human’s first home. It is the first physical
substance we come into contact with, and the first impres-
sion of ourselves we offer. It thus goes without saying that
our introduction to the world is through our body. In the
first months of life, touch is the most effective sense after
hearing for understanding the physical characteristics of
our immediate environment. It enables children to find
their way around more confidently and is often the most
accurate means for sensing danger, e.g. being near or in
direct physical contact with fire. Although touch plays a
key role in a child’s growth, still today very little is being
done to fulfil its educational potential. Touching and be-
ing encouraged to touch is an educational principle that
should be explored and exploited fully throughout a
child’s development. Yet, the history of childhood shows
that this knowledge, which now has scientific backing, is
only a recent discovery.
Research by the US historian Lloyd deMause (1983)
revealed that there were periods in the history of ed-
ucation when contact with the world had terrible con-
sequences. There were cases, he wrote, of “mothers
[who] dunk their infants into ice water each morning
to ‘strengthen’ them, and the children die from the
practice” (p. 5). In others, no contact ever took place.
Touching things, including one’s own body, was long
considered a forbidden act and great lengths were tak-
en to prevent a child from doing so. For centuries, it was
feared that children could scratch their eyes out, tear
their ears off, break their legs, or distort their bones (p.
33). Full swaddling of a newborn’s body was introduced
to alleviate these concerns and it was adopted in many
countries from the dawn of history. It is told that there
were cases in ancient Egypt that consisted:
in entirely depriving the child of the use of its limbs, by
enveloping them in an endless length bandage, so as
to not unaptly resemble billets of wood; and by which,
the skin is sometimes excoriated; the flesh compressed,
almost to gangrene; the circulation nearly arrested; and
the child without the slightest power of motion. Its little
waist is surrounded by stays… Its head is compressed into
the form the fancy of the midwife might suggest; and its
shape maintained by properly adjusted pressure. Swad-
dling was often so complicated it took up to two hours to
dress an infant. (p. 33)
In Collodi’s “Pinocchio”, the fantastical idea of giving
life to a block of wood is not so far removed from histor-
ical fact. Generally, newborns were completely swaddled
for the first four months of their life, after which their
arms were freed. It was only at around nine months that
the bandages were removed from their legs. In Europe,
swaddling fell into disuse as late as the 19th century.
deMause says that it was extremely popular because it
had numerous benefits; these benefits, however, were
entirely for adults.
Its convenience to adults was enormous-they rarely had
to pay any attention to infants once they were tied up. As
a recent medical study of swaddling has shown, swaddled
infants are extremely passive, their hearts slow down,
they cry le ss, they sleep far more, and in general they
are so withd rawn and inert that the doctors who did the
study wondered if sw addling shouldn’t be tried again.
(p. 33)
A child’s calvary, however, was far from over once the
swaddling bands came off. Some social classes intro-
duced a host of other physical oppressions to hinder
free movement, as the body had to be taught to main-
tain a certain posture and an appropriate position. One
of the most common practices was to keep children
bound to a chair so that they could not crawl around
on all fours; only animals did this and it was to be pre-
vented at all costs. Children were also forced to wear
bone corsets and iron collars for their back, and to
have their feet immobilised by wooden stocks (p. 34).
These, plus a host of other ‘educational’ contraptions,
were devised by adult educators in a bid to shape and/
or correct children’s way of “being in the world”, one
in which all forms of free, creative and extensive use of
the body had no place.
Today, children are free to move, stand, crawl, climb,
walk and touch anything inside and outside of the
home “without impediment”. Nevertheless, as men-
tioned above, a child’s way of “being in the world” is
the result of a long and arduous path towards freedom
littered with physical assault and constraint. Full re-
spect for children’s bodies, freedom and autonomy of
movement and trust in their movements are a recent
victory and the result of 20th-century theory. The same
applies to renewed focus on the physical domain, the
relationship between body and objects, and the educa-
tional things that accompany children on their path of
development.
During the Enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in-
troduced the concept of education by being in contact
“with things”. This concept, however, was based on
“indirect contact”, which was completely subordinate
to didactic and educational hierarchies. A more prac-
tical proposal was put forward by Friedrich Fröbel at
the height of Romanticism. Fröbel wrote about the im-
portance of providing children with child-sized educa-
tional items with which they could interact. These items
were sets of shaped objects, including balls, cubes and
cylinders, and were known as “Froebel gifts”. Handling
these “gifts” during educational play had a fundamental
role in Fröbel’s thought. However, it was not until the
century of the “new man” and the “new school” that the
body was completely liberated and investments made
in sensory education. Maria Montessori, John Dewey
and Jean Piaget, as well as a host of other major mid-to-
late 20th-century educators and innovative education-
al movements, succeeded in opening the doors of the
world to children and to putting the power of touch
- and the other senses - at the heart of learning-by-do-
ing. Touching, moving, exploring, playing and experi-
menting with one’s body, as well as with things and with
objects, would become central to education. Without
this introduction, it would be extremely difficult to un-
derstand why children’s bodies, encouraging them to
interact with their surroundings and their portrayal in
children’s literature have found their rightful place in
today’s modern world.
Small bodies grow, move and read
The discoveries of developmental psychology reveal
a great deal about the special relationship between a
child’s physical and sensory development and the cogni-
tive, affective, relational and social domains. Children’s
lives are built upon perceptive, sensory and physical
memories, and these are intertwined with the develop-
ment of their bodies and their ability to interact with life.
In the first few weeks of life, newborns are tiny, fragile
creatures who have yet to discover and develop the abil-
ity to move. During this time, the one true social rela-
tionship they build is with their mother. The hallmark
of this two-way relationship is its tight physical close-
ness and strong emotional bond: the voice (hearing)
and the nearness of their mother’s face (sight) are the
fulcrum of this exchange. Interest in the surrounding
world develops around the four/five-month mark, i.e.
when a child’s perception system is consolidated and
strong. Around this time, children’s vision, which is lim-
ited to about 20/30 cm in the first few weeks, develops
and becomes comparable with that of an adult’s. Their
ability to stretch out their arms and grasp objects be-
comes much more refined. Touching things takes on an
increasingly central meaning within children’s develop-
ment and will help them, day-by-day, experience-by-ex-
perience, to gain confidence with their family, cultural
and social surroundings.
Against this backdrop also lies the theory and crit-
ical thought behind the pedagogy of literature for
pre-schoolers, which stresses the importance of provid-
ing children with reading material in the first few years
of their lives. “Reading” is an educational adventure
based on parents and/or caregivers sharing strange
items called “books” with their young pre-readers.
In this phase, the hallmarks of these “books” is their
wealth of figures, sounds and textured features, such as
holes, windows, punch-outs, moving parts and inserts
made of thread, cloth, wool, fur, plastic and velcro, to
name just some. With this approach, the aim of read-
ing to children is not to foster precociousness: quite
the opposite. Its aim is to encourage children to take
a positive attitude towards reading and knowledge pro-
cesses: turning the pages, reading the figures, touching
the inserts, creating dialogues around these features,
relating them to the text, and linking the story to life
experience, all with the support of an adult mediator,
are vital to a child’s harmonious development. The
benefits of this educational experience, which should
be continued and repeated within the family and other
educational situations, have been studied extensively
both in Italy and abroad. At just a few months old, chil-
dren start to manipulate, turn and taste things, includ-
ing books. They suck them, nibble the corners, scratch
at them, and try to grab the illustrations. A child’s in-
terest in reading, however, really takes off at nine-to-ten
months. From this stage, regularly proposing books will
help nurture children’s natural curiosity and encourage
them to discover and explore the world around them.
As children grow, reading and books are two things that
will enable them to develop social communication skills
that are increasingly integrated with their environment,
or at least this should be one of the primary objectives
to pursue during their growth. They will learn to un-
derstand complex emotional states, such as anger, joy,
disgust, fear, satisfaction, pride, shame and guilt, and
how to manage them. Finding words, forms and way
of expressing and representing these emotions will be-
come a basic skill.
In light of this, children’s literature provides a range of
interesting suggestions and stimuli. Below are a range
of books that encourage children to use their senses
in unique ways on their road towards physical, psycho-
logical, social and cultural maturity. Clearly, however,
this vast complex issue cannot be covered adequately
in just a few pages, and a more indepth look would
Touch and Feel
The Body, Senses, Books and Narration in Childhood
by Marnie Campagnaro
Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Pedagogy and Applied Psychology (FISPPA), University of Padova
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