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As little as 50 years ago our public school system was turning out students from their halls that could think, read and write. What did they do back then? What was taught? Here is a glimpse into the past...

Some History of Kindergarten

The first kindergarten was founded by Marguerite Schurz in 1856 at Watertown, Wisconsin. The public school kindergarten enrollment was over 1,000,000 in 1950.

Although administrative retrenchment in school services during the depression years and also a decreasing birth rate were reflected in a decline in enrollment during the decade ending in 1940, the reversal of these factors has resulted in the largest kindergarten enrollment at the present time in the history of the kindergarten.

Probably 25 percent of the five-year-olds had the services of a kindergarten.

The percentage was larger in urban than in rural areas. The consolidation of schools in rural areas, however, made it possible for the enrichment of the rural school program. Improved roads and methods of transportation reduced distances. The rural school had in many instances shown a keen and realistic appreciation of the place of the school as a community or neighborhood center. Some of the most modern and successful kindergartens were in central rural schools.

The Kindergarten Philosophy in the 1950’s

Even in one-teacher and two-teacher schools there was in some instances a growing awareness of the needs of the four- and five-year-old, and he should no longer subjected to the regimen of the first grade.

The kindergarten program was not prescribed nor rigidly set. There were no required subjects in the generally understood sense. The program of the modern kindergarten resembles very much that of the nursery school with appropriate adaptations to the increased maturity of individual children. In fact, the nursery school and kindergarten can and should be considered as comprising a sequential preschool unit.

The kindergarten—like the nursery school—emphasizes health work, play, security, adventure, friendship, and love.

From the days of its earliest introduction, the kindergarten has made much use of music, singing, rhythms, and dramatizing. The work and play are both individual and group, both indoors and out.

Kindergarten 1953

In his first year at school the child will learn more about such things as how:

• To care for himself and his belongings

• To attend to his own bathroom needs

• To hang up his clothes, to return each toy and tool to its place at pickup time

• Taking turns

• Learning the rules

• To eat with others

• To relax, to practice good manners, to enjoy new foods

• To care for pets and plants, what they eat how they grow, keeping them clean or watered

• To “write” by dictating along with the rest of the class, stories, letters, invitations for teacher to write down

• To count number of children in class books needed for story time, how many children can fit at the clay table

• To play vigorously in the out-of-doors developing big muscles

• To think of others, a gift for Mother, a note to a sick classmate

• To protect himself and to know those whose duty it is to protect him

I find it interesting how stress free and un-academic the Kindergarten of the time was. And these very same children went on to be very good students with out the early emphasis on academics.

The Reason For a K Program?

The kindergarten’s main function is to help parents in the care and development of children and, like the nursery school, it has functioned as a center for parent education.

This emphasis on close relationship with the home was with the kindergarten from its inception. Although, at times, this integral phase of the kindergarten program has been neglected, it invariably comes back, for it is essential to the attainment of the objectives of early childhood education.

Today, where kindergartens exist, parents generally are better acquainted with the kindergarten program than with that of any other school level except in those school systems which have nursery schools.

From the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1953. Now known as the NEA

The Latest Reading Research of 1952

Today authorities agree that children can read with a greater degree of success if specific instruction in reading is postponed until they have reached the mental age of six and one-half. Rich and varied experiences, with personal and vicarious, will help children develop an inquisitive mind. An important instructional job of the classroom teacher during the pupil-preparatory period is the development of language. A command of oral English is essential to the mastery of reading because reading is only one step removed from the child’s world of auditory symbols.

The teacher must consciously attempt to add new usable words to the child’s speaking vocabulary, and he must make the child curious about the meanings of these new words. At the same time he must teach the child correct pronunciation and enunciation.

Since meaningful concepts lead the child to new words, we must judge the importance of the experiences which we give the child in terms of real life values.

Children should learn what is going on in their communities and homes. Firsthand experiences should prepare children to carry on meaningful reading. Construction activities should be real and important, emphasizing the value of the experiences involved, not the type of material used.

Vocabulary and reading success are very closely related and during the readiness period the teacher must develop correct meanings. Filmstrips are an excellent help, if they are used wisely and if they are suited to the age group. The children who attended the Tulane University Reading Laboratory’ were greatly motivated by the use of these strips; they realized that the printed symbols conveyed thought. They would ask, “And what does it say under the picture ?“

The pre-reading instruction should provide training in chart reading. These chart stories are meant to introduce reading thru the avenues of thought, experience, and the present understanding of the child. They make an easy bridge from talking about something to reading about it.

The children are not reading to find out anything when they read a chart story because the experience recorded has happened to them. This rote reading, or memory reading, is not real reading; it is not meant to be. It is a readiness technique designed to provide an easy approach to reading.