In case you missed it, April 21 was officially Kindergarten Day. This obscure holiday honors the birth of Friedrich Frobel, who started the first Children’s Garden in Germany in 1837. Of course, life has changed tremendously in the 179 years since Frobel created his play-based, socialization program to transition young children from home to school — and so, too, has school itself. But what hasn’t changed in all this time, not one iota, is the developmental trajectory of the preschoolers Frobel was thinking about when he created what we now call kindergarten.
Frobel, a German teacher, strongly believed that children learn through play and by using open-ended materials like blocks, which he called “gifts .” His approach was a radical departure from the way children were viewed and taught at the time. Prior to Frobel, children were thought of as mini-adults who were educated through lectures and rote recitation. How ironic that today kindergarteners, and even preschoolers, are once again being subjected to these inappropriate methods of instruction. This despite all we have learned about child development in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Through research, we now have a clear understanding of how young children learn best. According to child psychologist Alissa Levy Chung (who happens to be my daughter):