The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Kindergarten, The

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Kindergarten, The
Edition of 1920. See also Kindergarten on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

KINDERGARTEN, The, a system of education for young children from four to six years of age, which came into existence in Germany about the year 1837. Frederic Froebel, the originator of the movement, had grown more interested in the neglect, and the undeveloped possibilities of this period of childhood, from his extraordinary success as a teacher of older boys in the elementary and high school period, and at his school for boys at Keilhau which has won the interest of progressive thinkers in Germany. But, because of its radical innovations in education and the atmosphere of freedom which prevailed in the school, his work was under the constant inspection of Prussian officials, which finally resulted in the prohibition of kindergartens just before Froebel's death in 1851.


Americana 1920 Kindergarten Group Plan.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Learning to Cooperate.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Doll Dress Patterns.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Building Furniture.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Wash and Iron.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten New and Old Sewing.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Playing Inside of House.jpg
Americana 1920 Kindergarten Cooperative Play.jpg
Courtesy Teachers College, New York     


 1   Learning to work and play together in carrying out group plan 2   Learning to wash and iron doll clothes
3   Learning to cooperate. Building two-story houses large enough to play inside 4   Comparison of old and new method of sewing — old, on cards; new, on doll clothes
5   First, second and third attempt at patterns for doll dresses 6   Playing inside of house built of large blocks
7   Building Furniture with small blocks 8   Cooperative play with large floor blocks. Plan initiated and executed by group of three


Americana 1920 Kindergarten Stimulate Large Muscles.jpg
Courtesy Teachers College, New York


Physical Apparatus to stimulate play with large muscles of body


Froebel was a remarkably close student of child life, searching eagerly; for the causes of difficulty in their early learning and instruction. As he lived, worked and played with boys of school age, he was convinced that much of the difficulty in later education was due to starting children wrong in the first place. As be traced these difficulties back into the earlier years of instruction, his interest in the pre-school period increased. Thus began his study of the pre-scbool period, which finally resulted in the establishment of kindergartens for the education of the child at this period.

He thought first of remedying the neglect of children at this pre-school period through educating mothers. It was not until this scheme failed that he decided to try an experiment with a group of young children under his care in an orphanage in Switzerland where he had been called because of his success in teaching in his native land. He accepted this opportunity, because Switiertand offered a freer field for experiments in education than Germany. After having convinced himself through this short experiment that many powers go to waste by postponing the education of the child to the sixth year, he returned to Germany to make an investigation as to what was being done for children of this age in any institutions where children of this age were to be found. When he returned to Berlin he found that the crèche, or day nursery, had been founded — one as early as 1801. He found that these were opened to give relief to mothers engaged in bread-winning for their families. He also discovered that the day nurseries and orphan homes were the only institutions interested in the pre-school age. When he visited them for suggestion he was impressed with the fact that no effort was being made to develop the intellectual interests and powers of children at this period of development. The care given was almost exclusively along physical lines, and poor care at that.

Had this been a day of international interest and intercourse Froebel would have found a greater interest in young children in Great Britain and France, where some interesting efforts had been made to rescue young children from neglect and crime. This disintegrating influence on home life was caused by the introduction of steam into industries, transforming the small shop into the factory. In England especially the rural populations had moved into the cities in large numbers in order to secure work in the factories and mines. The lack of proper housing conditions, the crowding of families into limited areas and quarters, due to limited space, higher rentals and the higher cost of food and fuel, soon drove the mothers and older children out of the homes into the mines and factories, and the younger children in the families were deserted and neglected. Disease, filth and crime resulted, and society had to meet this new social problem by some effort to care for, protect and develop the young children who were too young for the school or the factory. Among those philanthropists and religious leaders who made initial eftorts to rescue these pitiful specimens of humanity in Great Britain were Robert Owen, James Buchanan, David Stow, Samuel Wilderspin and Joseph Wilson. Pastor Oberlin had tried to do the same work for young children in Alsace as far back as 1767, and Madame Pastoret, Madame Millet and Monsieur Cochin were absorbed in a like effort to solve this social problem for France. Some of these preceded Froebel, while others were contemporaries and successors, but as far as we know Froebel knew nothing of them or their work on the problem which he had in hand.

It would seem from a comparison of the work done by Great Britain and France with that accomplished by Froebel, that, while they were working for the children of the poor from a philanthropic and preventive point of view, Froebel had in mind the develomnent and education of children of all classes. There was no industrial problem to speak of in the isolated locality in which Froebel lived in Germany. He was surrounded by simple plain folk, largely undisturbed by the changed industrial and social conditions which were stirring the municipal centres of Great Britain.

There were two motives which stirred Froebel in his experiments with these young children — first, the practical one which grew out of his experiences in teaching older boys. Here he saw the effects of a poor foundation laid in early education, as well as the neglect of powers which developed before the school age. In the second place, his interest in the education of women and young children was greatly stimulated by his contact with the Romantic and Idealistic philosophy which was influencing thought and action so profoundly at this period. Romanticism particularly, with its emphasis on feeling, intuition and the study of nature, brought a new sentiment toward both women and children — a sentiment which easily slipped into sentimentality. In his early education experiments Froebel was distinctly under the influence of Romanticism, but later he came into touch with the Idealistic movement — the kindergarten being the most noted attempt to apply the ideals and principles of this philosophy in education.

While we know that Froebel was unfamiliar with what was being done in Great Britain and France with children of the pre-school age, we have every evidence that he was somewhat familiar with Rousseau and his emphasis upon nature as the surest guide in reconstructing education and social life. We also know that Froebel was familiar with Comenius, and while be studied wjth Pestalozzi, and was profoundly influenced by him, he was never in complete sympathy with many of his most fundamental ideas. Pestalozzi emphasized the importance of sense impression and industrial training, but to Froebel, self-expression in play and creative work was the keynote of education. In this sense he was in closer sympathy with Rousseau's “return to nature” than with Pestalozzi's “A B C of sense perception,” and training for the immediate, practical demands of industry.

There are times when Froebel comes very close to the idea that education is a mere matter of removing obstacles, so that the self may have unrestricted freedom in expression; but in practice he puts much time and attention on the educational value of the outer world and environment, especially as it affects young children. In this he is not always consistent, as there would be no need of planning the externals of environment so carefully for young children with a selected educative stimuli if education consists solely in removing all obstacles that nature may have free play and an unrestricted expression. In fact the kindergarten may be defined as one of the first conscious efforts to provide young children with a careftilly selected, educative environment, — an environment which offers not only the best sensory impressions, but what to Froebel was a still more important point, the very best materials as stimuli to the self-activity of the child. To Froebel, children were by nature good, and he looked upon humanity, nature and God as one. He was an optimist, as well as an idealist, and was so convinced of the possibilities in education that he said, “I see in every child the possibility of a perfect man.”

While Froebel lived in a day when psychology as a science was just dawning, and scientific child-study an unknown factor, he undoubtedly saw, as no predecessor or contemporary, that the natural powers of the child must be used. He sincerely believed that the native instincts of children could all be utilized so as to gain the child's co-operation in his own education. As he believed that child nature and human nature were inherently good, he looked upon every expression of child life as worthy of respect and reverence. His deeply-rooted faith in the oneness of God, nature and man made him take this new attitude toward the apparently aimless activities of play and the so-called bad child. As Rousseau laid the blame for most of the evils in society upon civilization, so Froebel traced most of the evil tendencies in child life to wrong curricula in the schools. For this reason he tried to create a new curriculum — a curriculum made to fit the nature and the needs of the child. He firmly believed that if we could create such a curriculum, the old war between the child and the curriculum, the pupil and the teacher would cease and peace be declared. In his daily contact with children we see practical evidence of his faith in the native instincts and interests of children as worthy of study and utilization. He believed that happiness indirectly resulted when the needs of nature were met with an intelligence and sympathy which provided the right kind of materials for children to act upon.

The keynote of his interpretation of child life was self-activity. He at once set to work to make a self-active school where children could actually learn through activity — through play. As a result, we see a curriculum, not of the three R's simplified for children of the pre-school stage as in England and France, but one made up of songs, games, dances, pictures, nature, art and manual training to meet the native tendencies of young diildren. These were given an honorable place in the curriculum, and respected as highly as the reading and writing approved by all education. Thus the school was transformed; the silent child was allowed to sing and talk; the suppressed child to work and play. The schools under his care were a combination of workshops, studios, playgrounds, laboratories and gardens, where children were singing, playing, talking, looking at pictures, listening to stories, gardening, painting, drawing, modelling, sewing and weaving. While this is commonplace to-day, the transformation was very largely due to Froebel. It is due to his influence, more than to any other educator, that the still child began to move, to act, to think, to work, to play; the silent child to sing, to talk, to ask questions, and thus we see the emphasis of education laid upon activity, growth, development, freedom, happiness and interest.

Froebel's extraordinary sympathetic insight into children stood him in good stead at a period when little was known of the science of child study as we know it to-day. He made many mistakes in applying his theories, but a new epoch was undoubtedly the result of his effort.

The kindergarten was brought to America by a student of Froebel, Miss Meyer, who afterward married Carl Schurz. Through Mrs. Schurz's work with her own children Miss Elizabeth Peabody of Boston became interested. Miss Peabody was a member of the celebrated Peabody family of Massachusetts — one sister marrying Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other, Horace Mann, She was prominent in the transcendental group of thinkers in the Concord School of Philosophy which influenced many of the pioneer workers in the kindergarten field. Dr. William T. Harris, Miss Susan Blow and Dr. Denton Snyder, as well as Miss Peabody herself, were profoundly influenced by this school of thought, and all in turn devoted themselves to the promotion of the kindergarten idea. After reading Froebel's theories in 1867, Miss Peabody opened a kindergarten in Boston, but without any training. While her kindergarten was pronounced a success by her patrons, to her it was not a true embodiment of the theories of Froebel as she interpreted them. For this reason she closed her kindergarten and sailed for Germany to study at the fountain source. In the meantime Miss Maria Boelte, a young woman trained by Froebel's widow in Germany, was called from London to New York, where she opened a kindergarten in 1872. This was a great success, and finally developed into a training school for kindergartners. Madame Kraus Boelte, after her marriage with Dr. John Kraus, had charge of the work with both children and normal students for many years. She, in New York, Miss Elizabeth Peabody in Boston, Miss Susan Blow in Saint Louis and Mrs. Alice Putnam in Chicago, were the best-known pioneer leaders in the introduction of the kindergarten into America, where it spread with unprecedented rapidity and success. The United States still leads in its appreciation and care of children at the pre-school age, there being between five and six hundred thousand children in the kindergartens in this country in the statistics of 1916. It is a part of the public school system in all of our large cities, and the majority of the cities of the second, third and fourth class.

The training of kindergartners was for many years in the hands of private normal schools, but in the last decade most city and State normal schools in the United States have opened kindergarten departments, and a goodly number of the universities as well. This has proved to be an effective means in unifying the kindergarten and primary work. In the past the kindergarten child who entered the primary was at a serious disadvantage, due to the different educational ideals held by the teachers of both kindergarten and primary. This great difference in ideals was gradually altered as the kindergarten went into the public schools That the kindergarten, in time, reconstructed the practice in primary education is a generally accepted fact by students of educational history. Self-activity came to be the cardinal principle in elementary education as well as in the kindergarten, and in many modern schools the kindergarten and primary are so closely organized that a child passes from one to the other without waste of time or energy in adjusting himself to the new work peculiar to the primary grade. These happy changes are due to several causes — first, to the training of kindergartners in city and State normal schools and in universities, with other teachers, instead of the isolated private schools of the early days. Second, to an increasing effort to train teachers of young children in both kindergarten and primary. In the third place, to a movement in favor of training supervisors in both kindergarten and primary, so that the schools may have the advantage of one supervisor who is an expert in each field.

It is unfortunately true that there was a tendency in kindergarten circles for many years to cling too tenaciously to Froebelian theory and practice. In the early history of the kindergarten, it was far in advance of primary education, in both theory and practice. This explains the transformation of primary practice wherever kindergartens were introduced. In time, however, an unwholesome pedagogic self-satisfaction grew up within the kindergarten ranks, which finally resulted in a period of arrested development for the kindergartners and the system. This followed the reconstruction of the primary in the light of kindergarten principles and practice.


Americana 1920 Kindergarten early small objects versus later larger ones.jpg


Comparison of Small Ball and Block of Past with Large Ones of To-day.


When the new science of child study came into education, kindergartners as a whole turned a cold shoulder to its observations and returns, if they did not coincide with the interpretations of child nature made by Froebel and his inunediate followers. It must be acknowledged, however, that a small minority of kindergartners gladly gave ear to the new science of child study, especially when it seemed to correspond to their daily experiences in studying and training young children. Difference of opinion was very decided, and gradually and unconsciously, kindergartners divided into two parties — those in favor of modification and reconstruction of kindergarten procedure in the light of modern psychology and child study, and those who clung with loyalty and devotion to the traditions of the past. The progressive movement among kindergartners immediately won the support of psychologists, physicians and the leading educators of the day, all of whom cooperated in reconstructing kindergarten practice. The first form of the reoonstructive movement was noticed in the demand for larger handwork for the children in the place of the small processes and materials involved in the perforating, weaving and sewing in use in the early kindergartens. Later, this way either discarded or enlarged, as psychologists, oculists and nerve specialists repeatedly criticised this minute work in both kindergarten and primary. They were equally urgent in demanding that there be less minute accuracy in the use of the small undeveloped muscles of the eye and hand in all of the work done by the children in the kindergarten. Another criticism which followed was that the work with the hand was cultivated at the cost of play with the larger muscles of the body. Sedentary habits were encouraged, when children should be running, jumping, climbing and throwing. It was urged that larger materials be introduced, where the fundamental muscles of the legs, arms, hands, back, thorax and abdomen be called into play. The vigorous use of these larger muscles was urged, because through this type of play respiration and circulatiion are deepened, promoting the health of the child at a period when physical growth is more important than any intellectual acquirement the child may make. As a result, the so-called new school of kindergarten introduced swings, slides, seesaws, ropes, etc., in order to offer every inducement to the children to vigorous physical activity. There was also a demand for introducing larger and more durable materials for the handwork, instead of sewing and weaving with narrow paper strips and cardboard. Weaving with strips of cloth, and sewing more in accord With the type of sewing in use in the schools and society, gradually came into use. One of the first effects of this type of work was seen in the health of the child, but equally beneficial intellectual stimulus was observable. With this larger and more durable material the child could make articles which were both interesting and useful in his play and home life. Instead of sewing geometric designs on cardboard, the child was given a coarse needle, thread and cloth, with which dolls could be dressed. As a substitute for paper strips which were woven into geometric designs in a flat paper matt which was of no use to him or to society, the children were given opportunities to make rugs, or hats, or hammocks for the dolls. Instead of folding, cutting and pasting a geometric figure vaguely resembling a kite, the children were given material which made it possible to construct a real kite which could be taken into the open air for experiment. The immediate efiect was deepened interest, and marked increase in effort and self-initiative. As a result the necessity for direction and help from the teacher declined and ability to pursue an end with detennination and perseverance increased.

All kindergartners who experimented in the reconstruction of the kindergarten were convinced that this new type of work exemplified Froebel's principles of self-activity and creativity far better than the traditional handwork supposed to have been originated by Froebel himself. As time passed, less emphasis was laid upon the practice of Froebel, and more time and attention was given to better applications of his fundamental principles. Froebel's small building blocks were either enlarged, or new ones invented, better adapted to stimulate healthful, active play. The very mediocre music of the children's songs and games composed for Froebel gave place to standard folk music or modern music written especially for the kindergarten by musicians of high grade. Gradually the whole scheme of practice, including songs, games and stories, building and occupation materials, was reshaped, until, in many of the most progressive kindergartens of to-day, little of the traditional material is left. The kindergartners grew bolder in throwing off tradition, introducing not only better materials, but better methods, in their effort to meet the nature and needs of young children, untrammeled by rhe interpretations of Froebel and the pioneer workers.

The effort to cling to Froebelian material and methods is dying out, and kindergartners on the whole seem to be more than eager in their study of children, and their search for better means of educating them. This reconstructive movement was greatly increased by the appearance of the first rival institution for educating children of the kindergarten age. At first there was some marked difference of opinion regarding the value of Dr. Montessori's experiment with children of kindergarten age. Some kindergartners utterly denounced the whole movement without investigation, while others, with equal lack of discrimination, went over into the Montessori ranks, with little evidence of distinguishing between the values of the two systems of education. It seems fair to say, however, that in America kindergartners have made an intelligent adaptation of the values of the Montessori System to kindergarten practice, making an effort to discard the weaknesses of both, and organizing their strong points into a new and most promising education for children of this period.

To-day it can be truthfully said that there is no body of teachers more earnestly reconstructing their theory and practice than the kindergartners. They are to be found in large numbers in all summer schools — whether in normal schools or universities, and the number of teachers asking for leave of absence to secure their degrees in the universities gives unquestioned evidence of the fact that the ambition of the kindergartner of to-day is to hold as high a standard for her preparation as a teacher as that required for the teachers in high schools and colleges.

Bibliography. — Atwood, N., ‘The Theory and Practice of the Kindergarten’ (Boston); Blow, Hill and Harrison, ‘The Kindergarten’ (Boston); Boyd, W., ‘From Locke to Montessori’ (New York); Burk, F., ‘A Study of the Kindergarten Problem’ in Kindergarten and First Grade (Feb. to Dec. 1917, Springfield, Mass.); Burnham, W. H., ‘The Hygiene of the Kindergarten’ in Kindergarten Review (June 1909); Eby, F., ‘Reconstruction of the Kindergarten’ (Vol VII, Pedagogical Seminary, Worcester, Mass.); Findlay and Steele, ‘Educative Toys’ (London); Froebel, ‘Mother Play Songs and Games’; and ‘Education of Man’ (New York); Hill, P. S., ‘Experimental Studies in Kindergarten Education’ in Publications, Teachers' College (New York); Jennings, Watson, Meyer and Thomas, ‘Some Suggestions of Modern Science Concerning Education’ (New York); Kilpatrick, W. H., ‘Froebel's Kindergarten Principles Critically Examined’ (New York); and ‘The Montessori System Examined’ (Boston); McVannel and Hill, P. S., ‘Kindergarten Problems’ in Teachers College Record (New York Nov. 1909); Mizuno, T., ‘The Kindergarten in Japan’ (Boston); Montessori, M., ‘The Montessori Method’; and ‘Spontaneous Activity in Education’ (New York); Read, M., ‘Mothercraft Manual’ (Boston); Scates, G., and Dewey, J., ‘The Subprimary (Kindergarten) Department’ in Elementary School Record, No. 5 (Chicago 1900); Sisson, G, ‘Studies in Education’ in Barnes, E., ‘Children's Plays’ (Vol. I); Temple, A., ‘Survey of the Kindergartens of Richmond, Ind.’ (Chicago); Terman, L. M., ‘The Hygiene of the School Child’ (Boston); Thorndike, E. L., ‘Notes on Psychology for Kindergartners’ (in Teachers' College Record, Vol. V, New York Nov. 1903); Tyler, J. M., ‘Growth and Education’ (Boston); and ‘The Kindergarten Child’ in Kindergarten Review (Jan. 1910); Vandewalker, N., ‘The Kindergarten in American Education’ (New York). Consult also ‘The Kindergarten in Relation to Elementary Education,’ Pt. II, 6th Year Book; and ‘The Coordination of the Kindergarten and the Elementary School,’ 7th Year Book; National Society for Scientific Study of Education (Chicago).

Patty S. Hill,
Associate Professor in Education and Director of Lower Primary Education, Teachers' College, Columbia University, New York City.