Early Childhood Pioneers

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Early Childhood Pioneers

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Pioneers of Play

Friedrich Froebel 1782-1852
Froebel pioneered the view that play acts as an organising function which integrates learning and helps children apply their knowledge and understanding in relation to their developing ideas, feelings, physical bodies and relationships. Froebel thought that schools should be communities in which the parents are welcome to join their children. He believed that parents were the first educators of their child. He thought that children learned outdoors as well as indoors. He encouraged movement, games and the study of natural science in the garden. He invented finger play, songs and rhymes. He encouraged the arts and crafts and a love for literature as well as mathematical understandings. He thought that children should have freedom of movement, clothes which were easy to move about in, and sensible food which was not too rich. Foebel deeply valued symbolic behaviour and encouraged this in very young children. He realised how important it is for children to understand that they can make one thing stand for another. He thought that the best way for children to try out symbolic behaviour was in their play. He thought that as they pretend and imagine things, children show their highest level of learning. Similarly to Vygotsky he thought that children’s best thinking is done when they are playing. He also designed various items and activities to help symbolic behaviour. He encouraged children to draw, make collages and model with clay. He encouraged play with special wooden blocks (Gifts) and made up songs, movements, dancing AND crafts (occupations). He allowed children to use Gifts and Occupations as they wished thus introducing what is called now free flow play. He emphasised the expressive arts, mathematics, literature, sciences, creativity and aesthetic things. He believed that each brought important but different kinds of knowledge and understanding. He also place great emphasis on ideas, feelings and relationships.

Influence on current practice and curriculum models
Most mainstream settings encourage learning through first hand experience and play remains central to provision for children’s learning, including language development through rhymes and finger plays. Most early years settings encourage imagination to flow freely in play, and symbolic play is seen as very important for children’s development. Early years settings integrate care and education and today this is emphasised more than ever. Children’s development is still encouraged through provision of a wide range of materials and activities tailored to the needs of the individual child. Current best practice still emphasises creativity, science and the humanities and learning opportunities are integrated across curriculum partnerships.

Maria Montessori (1870- 1952)
Montessori devised a structured teaching programme which she based on her observations of children who were mentally challenged, and she believed she was making Froebel’s work more scientifically rigorous in doing this. There are Montessori schools in the UK within the private sector. Children are seen as active learners who go through sensitive periods in their development when they are more open to learning particular skills and concepts. Montessori designed a set of didactic materials which encouraged children to use their hands. Her method involves a series of graded activities through which every child progress working through specially designed materials. Each material isolates one quality for the child to discover e.g. size, colour or shape. The materials are self correcting. Whereas Froebel stressed the importance of relationships, feelings and being part of a community, Montessori stressed that children should work alone. She thought that this helped children to become independent learners. For her the highest moment in child’s learning was what she called the polarisation of the attention. This means...
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