In many ways, the modern kindergarten (in early childhood rather than primary school) owes its existence to German educator Friedrich Froebel. In 1837, when few others were engaged in educating pre-school aged children, Froebel created a program for young children based on 'play and activity' and 'the nurturing of creativity' to help children develop and grow.
Froebel was the first to recognise that children experience significant brain development in their first three years of life and his kindergartens (children's gardens) were based on the philosophy that humans are essentially creative beings that need to be given the opportunity to experience, learn and develop on their own terms and in their own timeframe.
"Children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in a community of peers," is a famous quote which captures Froebel's views.
Froebel's approach, methods and thinking influenced and inspired many of the more well known early childhood education advocates including Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner.
Froebel believed that young children possess unique capabilities and needs, and that adults should serve as the "gardeners" of children's potential. Froebel asserted that young children learn best in settings that provide a stimulating and prepared environment where they can explore and learn from their own experiences and perspectives.
Because Froebel believed that a child's education begins in infancy he saw mothers as the best first teachers and women as the most appropriate teachers for his kindergartens. As such, Froebel kindergartens offered women a career option outside the home in a time when there weren’t many options available.
Key Features of the Froebel approach to education
Froebel education stresses that parents are the first educators for children, and that there should be close links between home and school. The main goal of a Froebel education is to teach the whole child in all developmental areas: socially, academically, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
There are four main components of the Froebellian Approach: motor expression, social participation, free self-expression and creativity.
The Froebel Approach stresses that:
- Play Drives Learning
Play meets the biological need to discover how things work. Froebel education believes that play is purposeful and not idle, and that meaning is created through hands-on play activities.
- Children can only learn what they are ready for
Children develop differently and should be allowed to learn at their own developmental pace.
- The teacher should serve as a guide
Teachers should not be viewed as the keepers of knowledge, but instead as guides who can help lead a child to understanding.
- The classroom should be a prepared environment
Although Froebellian classrooms may look like they are designed for free play, they are very carefully prepared, presenting children with the tools and materials that are optimal for their level of development.
- Movement is imperative for young learners
Froebellian classrooms are alive with finger plays, songs, and all forms of movement.
A unique component of a Froebel classroom is the use of the materials referred to as the Froebel Gifts and Occupations.
The Gifts are a series of sets specially designed materials with a fixed form, which provide hands-on explorations of solids, surfaces, lines, rings and points. The sets are comprised of blocks and balls which can be manipulated and stacked in open ended play to help children explore principles of movement, math, and construction.
The Occupations are a set of activities designed to provide further hands-on explorations and practice with skills like clay work, woodwork, lacing, weaving, drawing, and cutting. Again, these materials are designed to allow children uninterrupted periods of play where they construct their own meaning of how things work.
Another inherent aspect of the Froebellian approach is the study and appreciation of plants and nature. Froebel thought it was important for children to grow up with an understanding of the importance of the natural environment and can experience nature in its many forms.
The Froebel Trust, a not for profit organisation in the UK committed to keeping Froebel's philosophies alive, summarises the key Froebellian principles education and care providers of children aged zero-eight need to keep in mind to maximise development and wellbeing:
- The integrity of childhood in its own right
- The relationship of every child to family, community and to nature, culture and society
- The uniqueness of every child's capacity and potential
- The holistic nature and development of every child
- The role of play and creativity as central integrating elements in development and learning
- The right of children to protection from harm or abuse and to the promotion of their overall wellbeing.
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