Kindergarten was created by German educator Friedrich Froebel, who saw people as inherently good, with knowledge that could be awakened. Froebel built his schools recognizing that children were spiritual and rational beings, and he wanted them to reflect the divine through the learning of practical work and specific activities incorporated into their environment.
Forms of Knowledge
Froebel wanted children to learn about forms of life, such as caring for animals; forms of beauty, including that found in art and dance; and forms of math. He argued that the ability to imagine a different future is what separates humans from other animals, and that creativity and corresponding play activities are how children make meaning of their environments and develop their imaginations. Froebel insisted that learning must start with the concrete and move to the more abstract because perceptual ability develops before abstract thinking skills.
Goals of Kindergarten
Froebel institutionalized these beliefs in part because he did not trust that mothers could implement them. Ironically, he trained women and staffed his kindergartens with women because he believed that many skills were based on the maternal instinct. He saw kindergarten as a transition between home and school, and he sought to promote the qualities of independence and social responsibility through dance and large muscle activities, outdoor experiences such as observing and nurturing plants, and the use of toys he designed.
Children Over Content
Kindergarten teachers tend to focus more on children than on curriculum, and this behavior is supported by the research. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, teachers must prioritize the nurturing and guiding of children over the teaching of content. However, University of Wisconsin professor Elizabeth Graue points out that kindergartens are a blend of the nurturing relationships of early childhood and the focus on content found in elementary schools.
In kindergartens today there is more emphasis on free play, music and art, literacy development, social interactions and field trips. There remains an effort to maintain kindergarten as a unique experience and approach to learning, but increasing pressure has arisen to incorporate curriculum that supports the standards and testing found in later elementary years, and in some cases kindergartners are given standardized tests. NAEYC cautions against this trend: “children are not miniature adults, kindergarten is not miniature school.”