278 THE DISCOVERY OF THE CHILD
In fact, they are * potentially * able to do so.
Their hand is trained and prepared for writing by means of
ever so many exercises. Only an occasion is needed, one might
say- A kind of magic touch that brings into actual, exterior reality,
this inner potential capacity for writing.
Our children of the Quarter of San Lorenzo have in fact given
this marvellous reaction.
On one winter day in December, a day full of sunshine, we
climbed with the children to the terrace.1 They ran about freely,
playing; some stayed round me. I was sitting near a chimney-
stack, and I said to a child of five who was near me, offering him
a piece of chalk, " Draw this chimney ". He sat down on the
ground obediently and drew the pot on the floor, reproducing it so
that it was quite recognizable. Then, as I always do with my
little ones, I was loud in my praises.
The child looked at me, smiled, stood for a moment as if he
would break out into some joyous act and then shouted " I write,
I write!"; then, bending down, he wrote on the ground 'man*
(hand); then, growing very enthusiastic, he wrote again ' camino *
(chimney), then e tetto * (roof). Whilst he was writing he continued
to shout aloud "I am writing, I can write," so that all the
others were attracted by his cries and made a circle round him
staring in astonishment. Two or three of them in great excite-
ment said to rne " Chalk, I will write too." And in fact they set
about writing various words: mamma, mono, gino, camino, ada.
Not one of them had ever had in his hand chalk or anything
else used for writing; it was the first time that they had written,
and they were writing a whole word, just as, when they spoke for
the first time, they spoke a whole word.
If the first word pronounced by the child gives ineffable joy
to the mother who has chosen this first word, mamma, as her own
1 The meaning of " terrace " (terrazza) differs in Italy from that which
we associate with it in England. The term is applied to a flat roof, or to a
wide, open balcony with which an upper storey of the dwelling communi-