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The Kindergarten Movement and Social Activism in the U.S. and Abroad

Based on document project "How Did the Kindergarten Movement Provide Women with Opportunities for Professional Development and Social Activism in the United States and Internationally" by Ann Taylor Allen, Barbara Beatty, and Roberta Wollons. 2012.

The document project on which this lesson plan is based is available by subscription only from Alexander Street Press.

Jessica Derleth
Binghamton University

Introduction

While seemingly ubiquitous today, kindergartens began appearing in the United States in the 1860s as a form of educational reform that used guided play, observation, and concrete experience in order to bring learning to the earlier years of childhood. "Called" to kindergarten teaching by religious or ethical convictions, women of this early movement created a female form of professionalism that coincided with the rise in industrialization and corresponding increase in reform movements of all types (from health and dress reform, to temperance and suffrage). Nearing the twentieth century, "free" kindergartens became open to the urban poor, often with the hope of improving social ills and Americanizing immigrant populations. By 1930, kindergartens were integrated into the public school system after advocates pushed the state to take on more responsibility for the welfare of its citizens.

Objectives

Lesson Ideas

How does document 4 help to explain and describe many of the pressing social, political, and economic issues of the late 1800s?

Read document 5. Why would women be enthusiastic about becoming involved in the kindergarten movement? What opportunities might it offer them? Why would the editors of this woman suffrage journal have been interested in the kindergarten movement?

See document 3. Read the first four pages of the excerpt from the 1886 writing of Elizabeth Peabody, a leader of the early private kindergarten movement in the United States. What role did religion seem to play in the early kindergarten movement? What was the role of the female kindergartner (the title given to kindergarten teachers)? How would kindergartners impact the moral and religious upbringing of children?

Read pages 2, 3, and 5 of document 25. In this excerpt the author focuses on how kindergartens provide the perfect opportunity to make Americans. What do you think he means by this? Who is he trying to "make American" and why? Why is this so important? Can you think of anyone at the time who may have agreed or disagreed with the author's position?

Many of the principles, methods, and practices of the kindergarten were transplanted from America to Japan. Compare these images from American and Japanese kindergarten books: documents 11B/11C and 13C/13D. What in the pairs of images changes and what stays the same? What do the differences say about differences in American and Japanese cultures at this date?

Short Creative Assignments

Group One: The early phase of the kindergarten movement, from 1860 to 1880, was characterized by vocational opportunities for women. Using document 3 for reference, create an ad campaign that would have drawn women into the vocation of kindergartner. Be prepared to present your campaign to the rest of the class and explain how it will successfully reach your target audience and draw them into training schools for kindergartners.

Group Two: In the second phase of the kindergarten movement, from 1880-1900, there was a focus on social reform through helping the urban poor. Create an ad campaign that will draw immigrant children into an urban kindergarten center. Using document 4 or 21 for reference, explain to the class how this center will rival even the Hull House.

Group Three: In the third phase of the movement, from 1900 to 1930, kindergartens became a part of the public-school system. Create and present an advertising campaign that could be utilized by a school district intending to incorporate kindergartens but needing the approval of school boards, parents, and voters. Draw on document 25 to consider some of the potential issues at stake.

Longer Assignment

A growing debate among historians is whether United States history can be studied in isolation or whether we have to consider the US in a global and international context. For your paper consider how the history of kindergartens adds to this historiographical debate. If you are studying, teaching, or learning about United States history, does examining the importation of kindergartens from Germany and then the American export of them to Japan make a difference in how we understand the kindergarten movement? Go back to the original document project ("How Did the Kindergarten Movement Provide Women with Opportunities for Professional Development and Social Activism in the United States and Internationally?") to consider what this history would look like solely from the American perspective, and then how it is altered when one considers Germany and Japan.

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