Ah kindergarten. So many images. So few memories. Give me a break will ya? I was just a little kid at the time. But from what I do remember I'd do just about anything to be back in kindergarten again.

How awesome would it be to being learning how to count through 100 again as opposed to Algebra Four? To be learning the different between and "a" and an "e" as opposed to why it's a sin against the Revealed Word to use a pronoun without and antecedent? To run out to recess instead of run the track until your lungs burst and your tongue falls out?

There was only one real horrendous crime you could commit as a remember it, at least with my rather high-strung kindergarten teacher: talking to loud. One of the only really defined memory I have from kindergarten were the times when my teacher practically went into anaphalactic shock from yelling at my class to be quiet. It might have had something to so with the fact that the class had thirteen males and one female, again one of the only things I remember about kindergarten. Then there was always the ADD kid named Anthony screaming in the corner. How good it is to remember again the idiosycrasies of the 5 year old child.

Kindergarten was a time of innocence, playfullness, and cloudy memories of screaming children barely out of their diapers with a teacher almost as bad.

"Teacher... TEACHER!"

My head swiftly turns away from the screaming, brown child I am holding in my lap, away and out torwards a jumble of limbs and hair and sweat duking it out on rusty tire swings and slides with the paint slowly cracking off year after year. It is the middle of summer in south Texas, where the intense heat does not warm but instead pulsates and beats down on your face, making you wonder exactly why the logistics of solar energy ever created life at all in this godforsaken hellhole.

I started out on this quirky mission of mine somewhat grudgingly- why spend MY precious time helping these kids when I could, like, be hanging out with friends, or hibernating before the school year starts again? I soon discovered how innocent and raw and in need of help these children were, and little by little, they began to creep into my heart, the images from class simultaneously haunting me and breaking my soul. I saw the children walk into class with shirts depicting sex, cocaine, and condoms; girls who would be afraid to look up in fear of me discovering the black eye that Daddy had given them last night. I saw kids who genuinely loved school, who would everyday ask me "What are we going to do today, Teacher?" and it would wrench my heart when they would cry the next day, telling me that their parents had failed to notice the cards and letters that they had made for them in class. How I wish I didn't have to "teach" them, tell them what's what in the world, when what they see about the world is far more profound than the adventures of Dick and Jane or the multiplication tables. There are places in America that not only parallel but exceed the corruption of many third world nations. I never thought that the kindergarten classroom would be one of them.

My memories of going through kindergarten are actually quite dull. Only sharp impressions exist, like the tang of the Granny Smith apples that I hoarded or the breathe-in, breathe-out mantra I would repeat when I raced in the hundred yard dash. I remember the Kermit the Frog beanbag pillow where I read my first book, The Boy Who Cried Wolf , and my first girl friend (we both thought that we were the first to invent the spit bubbles). Unfortunately, the dark memories still permeate through the good and make me ashamed of my inner nature: making fun of the fat kid with the "gross-out" insect collection, and the girl with the headgear that talked r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I shudder to remember as I see it happening now, in the classroom where I of all people am supposed to instill "moral values" into these young and impressionable minds.

But how can I ever say that I taught anyone? How can I claim to know how to guide someone in life, especially these children that have seen far more than I have, with my classic sheltered white girl upbringing? I wish I could just say "Fuck curriculum" and fling the papers out the window. I'm supposed to teach them about what a store is. A store ! As if they had never seen their parents buying shaving cream or milk at the local Wal-Mart! I hear them talking about things like the red of a ladybug's wings, or what an elephant walking on gravel might sound like. It gives me this insatiable urge to thrust a pencil and paper in front of them and to tell them to write to their little soul's content, thinking that they're the next Langston Hughes or Emily Dickinson. But no, these budding little philosophers get squelched by fake plastic money and stencil in worksheets and coloring in between the lines. Not to mention going home and smelling alcohol on the breath of their parents and anticipating the next beating.

I love how I can look at their happy little spirits and see exactly what they are going to become in life. They are so beautiful it makes me ache inside. And at the same time, I'm scared for them. Scared for me, too. All I can do is hug them and say "everything is going to be all right", and look into their big brown eyes with the utmost sincerity I can muster without sacrificing what the administration calls "professionalism".

Because who is to help them, when I still long to be looked at in that same way, still?

In the early days of organized education, children in the US and Europe began school at age 7, and were plunged into a world of rote memorization and strict discipline. Children of the lower class often did not attend school at all, but were given trade apprenticeships where they learned skills that would support them and their families for the rest of their lives.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote in his radical tract Emile about teachers being guides instead of dispensers of information, and that learning to read too soon interferes with learning how to learn, reason and be. Nearly a century after Emile was published, others had tried to incorporate these ideas into the existing school model, but no one had built a school from the ground up or applied the theories to younger children. Then, in 1840 (to mark the centennial of the invention of the printing press) when Fredrich Froebel opened The Universal German Kindergarten.
Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul.” – F. Froebel
Kindergarten’s innovations were many, and it is amazing to see how many have been kept and how many have been forgotten over the years:
The layout of the classroom - Kindergarten was modeled just as a garden for children. Each child not only had his or her own space in the classroom, but had a small parcel of land on which they could grow their own flowers and vegetables.

Play was important - Froebel often referred to play as the work of children. Nearly all the activities in the day started with a teacher giving the students objects or “gifts“ (see below), and with minimal instruction, letting the children explore the objects themselves.

Creativity was more important than knowledge for young children - Memorization and recitation were not a part of the curriculum at all. Even the ABCs were eschewed in favor of activities that honored art, architecture, music, and nature.

Everyone was welcome - All children no matter what race or creed were welcome at kindergarten. Froebel had tested his ideas in orphanages across Germany and had a respect for even the children who had been left behind. It would remain this way until the Third Reich came to power.

Women were teachers - because these were young children, still babies in the eyes of the academic community, women were seen as the perfect caregivers. Teaching became one of the few careers for women of the 19th and early 20th century.

The Gifts – The materials of learning were the gifts of kindergarten. Froebels’s Gifts for Kindergarten were originally packaged and sold by the Milton Bradley Company. Balls and blocks, paper and string, the Gifts were not toys, and never available for free play, but were given to children with an open ended activity in mind.
Ball on string - these were rubber balls about 1.5 inches in diameter with a cover of knitted wool. The cover extended into a 3-inch string with a small loop at the end. They were made in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

Sphere, cube and cylinder - these were packaged with 3 dowels that could be erected to hang the objects from. Children could explore geometry, art and form. They eventually became the basis for Froebel’s gravestone (see a picture of the site at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7905/images/stein.html)

eight blocks – all one-inch cubes, forming a two inch cube (2x2x2)

eight rectangular blocks- all brick shaped blocks (2x1x1/2) forming a two-inch cube

a box of blocks - Twenty-seven one-inch cubes, three bisected and three quadrisected diagonally, forming a three-inch cube (3x3x3)

even more blocks - Twenty-seven brick-shaped blocks, three bisected longitudinally and six bisected transversely, forming a three-inch cube

Parquetry tiles – square and triangular pieces of paper that could be arranged to form pictures, patterns and abstracts

Lines – small sticks and dowels

RingsWooden, metal or paper rings of various sizes; whole circles, half circles, and quadrants

PointsBeans, lentils, or other seeds, leaves, pebbles, pieces of cardboard, paper, etc.
The Occupations – if the gifts are the materials, the occupations are the activities: molding clay, card-board work (called pricking, holes were poked in cardboard with a needle, sometimes in amazingly intricate designs), wood-carving, paper-folding, paper-cutting, parquetry (making designs with tiles), painting, interlacing, intertwining, weaving, thread games (cat’s cradle and Jacobs ladder are examples), embroidery, drawing, stringing beads, and buttons.

“The occupations furnish material for practice in certain skills, the occupations lead to to invention and give the child power.” - F. Froebel
These first kindergartens would have been revolutionary and wonderful – but what made them amazing were the people that credited kindergarten for their success. Some examples:

R. Buckminster Fuller “One of my first days in kindergarten the teacher brought us some toothpicks and semi-dried peas and told us to make structures. With my bad sight, I was used to seeing only bulks. I had no feeling at all about structural lines. The other children, who had good eyes, were familiar with houses and barns. Because I couldn’t see, I naturally had recourse to my other senses. When the teacher told us to build structures, I tried to make something that would work.”

Frank Lloyd Wright "The maple wood blocks . . . are in my fingers to this day,"
Charles Dickens visited a Kindergarten in London and after observing the children wrote: "By cutting paper, patterns are produced in the Infant Garden that would often, though the work of very little hands, be received in schools of design with acclamation." And they were – the entire Bauhaus Movement used the materials and the language of Froebel’s new method for adult artists – many of whom attended kindergarten themselves.

Children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers.” – F. Froebel
Sources: Inventing Kindergarten by Brosterman
Froebel Web: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/7905/explore.html

Kin"der*gar`ten (?), n. [G., lit., children's garden; kinder (pl. of kind child, akin to E. kin kindred) + garten garden.]

A school for young children, conducted on the theory that education should be begun by gratifying and cultivating the normal aptitude for exercise, play, observation, imitation, and construction; -- a name given by Friedrich Froebel, a German educator, who introduced this method of training, in rooms opening on a garden.

 

© Webster 1913.

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