THE MECHANISM OF WRITING 275
<ywn compartment. The exercise is so fascinating that, the children
begin to compose words long before they know all the letters of
the alphabet. Once a girl asked the mistress: " How is the letter
* t' ? " The mistress who wished to follow a certain order in their
presentation had not yet shown the letter * t * which is one of the
last letters of the alphabet. The girl then explained: " I want to
make * Teresa % but I do not know which is c t V* The teaching
of new letters was thus often stimulated by the ambition of the
children who went faster than the mistress!
Once the interest is aroused, i.e. when the principle of the
alphabet, " each sound can be represented by a sign," has come
into contact with the inner deposit of spoken language, a kind of
spontaneous procedure is liable to follow which promotes progress
in the teaching of the written word. The mistress finds her
position changed, she is no longer a teacher, but has merely to
* correspond' to the needs of the children. Indeed, many children
were convinced that they had learned by themselves.
This fact of finding an intense interest in the analysis of one's
own words and an immense pleasure in seeing, them translated into
objects placed in a row, will perhaps not be met with in children
of older age.
This phenomenon can be explained only when realizing that
the child of four years of age finds himself still in the formative
.period of language. He lives in a * sensitive period' of his psychic
development. All the marvellous phenomena that revealed them-
selves in our experience in this field will be understood only when
this fact is admitted; a creative period, an intensification of life .is
building up and completing the language of man.
At five years of age already this sensitivity is diminishing,
because the " creative period " is about to end.
Another phenomenon that amazed many people was that such
small'children composed entire words without being in need of
having it repeated as soon as they heard it dictated in a'clear
manner. This was the case also with long words, or with words
that in themselves were incomprehensible to them, e.g. with foreign