The Morphing of an Innovation into Classroom Practice: Kindergartens in U.S. Schools (Part 1)

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

School reformers, mostly middle-class white women, invented kindergartens in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. The innovation of the “Kindergarten” was an import relying on the ideas and practices of a 19th century German reformer named Frederich Froebel. Using his ideas, civic-minded women created kindergartens in response to concerns about so many urban children left on their own daily as immigrant parents worked long hours in factories and sweatshops.

By the 1920s, many school districts had installed this innovation into their grammar school thus converting the 1-to-8 age graded school into the now familiar K-6 elementary school.

The history of kindergartens revealed tensions between play and learning basic academics such as reading, adding numbers, following directions, working in a group and treating one another well. These tensions unfolded in training kindergarten teachers how they should teach. That debate over whether kindergartners should spend more time on play or academics continues…

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