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Definition: Early Childhood Education is a term that refers to educational programs and

strategies geared toward children from birth to the age of eight. This time period is widely
considered the most vulnerable and crucial stage of a person's life.

Early childhood education often focuses on guiding children to learn through play. The term
often refers to preschool or infant/child care programs.

Early Childhood Education

Definition: Early childhood education covers the education of a child from the period from birth
to nine years of age.

The kindergarten became the first large-scale early childhood program in the United States. With
it came the first formal training for teachers of young children.

Kindergartens. Private kindergarten training schools, usually connected to a kindergarten,

spread as the kindergarten spread. The first kindergarten training school was begun in Boston in
1868 by German kindergartners Matilda Kriege and her daughter Alma (the term "kindergartner"
is used both for a child attending a kindergarten and for a teacher at a kindergarten). Matilda
Kriege studied with Baroness von Marenholtz-Buelow, a patroness and disciple of the German
educator Friedrich Froebel (1782 - 1852), the founder of the kindergarten.

Initially kindergartens were German-speaking and were started by German immigrants, many
fleeing the failed 1848 Prussian Revolution. Margarethe Schurz started the first in the United
States in her home in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1855. Schurz had worked in the London
kindergarten run by her sister Bertha Ronge, immigrating to the United States in 1852. In 1859
Schurz and her young daughter Agathe met Elizabeth Peabody by chance in Boston. Impressed
by Agathe, Peabody pressed Schurz to describe the kindergarten. In 1860 Peabody began the first
English-language kindergarten in Boston. In 1867, dissatisfied with her kindergarten, Peabody
traveled to Europe. She visited many kindergartens, including the training class in Hamburg run
by Luise Froebel, Friedrich Froebel's widow. On her return, Peabody advocated tirelessly for
kindergartens and for normal-school training for kindergarten teachers.

In 1873 William Torrey Harris, superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools, opened the first
public kindergarten in the United States, with Susan Blow as head teacher. The kindergarten had
twenty children and twelve kindergartners in training, who, for a year, assisted Blow in the
mornings and studied Froebelian theory in the afternoons. The second year, Blow taught an
advanced class on Saturdays. Blow studied in New York with Maria Kraus-Boelte, who had
trained in Hamburg for two years with Luise Froebel and then worked at Ronge's London
kindergarten. In 1873 Kraus-Boelte opened the New York Seminary for Kindergartners with her
husband, John Kraus, a friend of Froebel. The training consisted of one year of course work and
one year of practice teaching. She trained kindergartners until her retirement in 1913.


Alice Putnam, an early Chicago kindergartner, studied with Kraus-Boelte and Blow. From 1876
she ran kindergarten-training classes at Hull-House and later at the University of Chicago and
Cook County Normal School. Putnam was instrumental in founding the Chicago Free
Kindergarten Association and the Chicago Froebel Association, where many kindergartners
trained. In 1887 Elizabeth Harrison, a Putnam student, founded the Chicago Kindergarten and
Training School, which evolved through many name changes to become National-Louis
University. Another Putnam student, Anna Bryan, founded the Louisville Kindergarten and
Training School in 1887. Patty Smith Hill, the dominant figure in early childhood education in
the early 1900s, was her first student.

Emma Marwedel, a student of Froebel's, came to the United States at Peabody's urging. She ran a
training school in Washington, DC, from 1872 to 1876, then founded a training school in Los
Angeles. Her first graduate, Kate Douglas Wiggin, began the Silver Street Kindergarten Training
School in San Francisco in 1880. Wiggin's student Caroline Dunlap began the first Kindergarten
Training School in Oregon in 1881.

As training schools proliferated, educational publications warned of spurious training schools. In

1894 the president of the National Education Association's (NEA) Department of Kindergarten
Education decried "'so-called trainers' who were turning out all graduates with enough money
to pay for a course" (Hewes, p. 10).

Kindergartens spread rapidly. By 1880, 7,800 children were enrolled in kindergartens in St.
Louis. Milwaukee included kindergartens in the public schools in 1882. In 1884 the NEA
established the Department of Kindergarten Education. One year later, the NEA recommended
kindergartens in all public schools. In 1892, in Sarasota Springs, New York, the International
Kindergarten Union was founded. By 1890, 150 local kindergarten associations had been
formed. By 1900, 189 cities had kindergartens, with 250,000 children attending; by 1910, the
latter number had increased to 360,000. In 1912 there were 7,557 kindergartens and 8,856
teachers. By 1933 public kindergartens enrolled 723,000 children and private kindergartens,

As the kindergarten became part of the public schools, administrators pressed for kindergarten
teachers to meet the same licensure standards as other teachers. Training began to move from
private kindergarten-training schools to normal schools. The New York Normal School began a
short-lived training program in 1870, reopening it in 1874 with a Kraus-Boelte-trained
supervisor. By 1880 some kindergarten training was available at the Milwaukee Normal School.
In 1892 the Wisconsin State Normal School of Milwaukee added a Department of Kindergarten
Education, which required two years of normal school. Students received a kindergarten assistant
certificate after one year and a kindergarten director diploma after two.

Between 1880 and 1895 kindergarten training was incorporated into state normal schools in
Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Winona, Minnesota; Oswego and Fredonia, New York; Emporia, Kansas;
Connecticut; and Michigan; as well as into the city normal schools in New York and Boston, the
Cook County (Illinois) Normal School, and the Philadelphia Girls Normal School.


By 1913, 147 institutions offered kindergarten training. As more normal schools offered
kindergarten training, kindergarten-training schools declined - a 1916 report of 126 teacher-
training programs showed only twenty-four freestanding kindergarten-training schools. During
the 1900s normal schools slowly transformed into colleges and universities. As normal schools
became colleges, training for kindergarten teachers became four-year degree programs.

Nursery schools. With the nursery school movement, early childhood education became
increasingly identified with preschool (prekindergarten) education. The nursery school was
founded in England by Margaret and Rachel McMillan in 1911. The first American nursery
teachers went to England for training, many with the McMillans.

Nursery schools spread rapidly. In 1924 there were twenty-eight nurseries in eleven states; by
1933 the number grew to 1,700. In 1926 Patty Smith Hill invited a select group of early
educators to New York. This group formed the National Committee on Nursery Schools, which
later became the National Association for Nursery Education, and still later the National
Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Nursery schools also became part of
many universities. Between 1924 and 1930, Lawrence Frank, at the Laura Spelman Rockefeller
Memorial Fund, directed funding toward the establishment of many university laboratory nursery
schools, most often in home economics departments, at, for example, Iowa State University, the
Ohio State University, Cornell University, the University of Georgia, Spelman College, and
Michigan State University.

The Merrill-Palmer Nursery School in Detroit and the Ruggles Street Nursery in Boston were
early nursery-teacher-training institutes. By the mid-1920s teacher training was occurring at
nursery laboratory schools at the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, the University of
California - Los Angeles, the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, Yale University,
National Kindergarten and Elementary College, Cleveland Kindergarten - Primary Training
School of Western Reserve University, and normal schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and
Milwaukee. In 1927 the National Committee on Nursery Schools Second Conference
recommended a four-year college degree for nursery teachers to better enable them to deal with
specialists from such fields as nutrition and psychology.

The primary focus at many laboratory schools, however, was research on child development. The
training was seen as important for women in general. Edna Noble White, who founded Merrill-
Palmer, stated in a letter to Lawrence Frank in 1924 that a "laboratory for training young women
in child care should be made part of the training of every young woman since they come in
contact with children in many capacities - mothers, teachers, social workers etc." (Braun and
Edwards, p. 149).

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) set up
emergency nursery schools to provide work for unemployed teachers. As many as 2,500 nursery
schools appeared in the public and private sector by 1940. WPA nursery funding ended in 1942,
the year that the Lanham Act set up about 2,000 day-care centers to enable mothers to enter the
work force to support the war effort. Both programs required rapid and large-scale training, often
of teachers without experience with young children. A survey in the second year of the WPA
nursery schools found that of 3,775 teachers, 158 had nursery experience, 290 had kindergarten
experience, and 64 percent had teaching experience. Many groups were involved in the training,
including the National Association of Nursery Educators, the Association for Childhood
Education, and the National Committee on Parent Education. The training itself is not well

Following World War II, the Lanham Act day care centers closed down. Early schooling returned
to the pre-depression level until the summer of 1965 when Head Start began with 652,000
children in 2,500 centers, employing 41,000 teachers and 250,000 other workers, including
volunteers. Head Start spawned more federally funded early intervention programs, such as
Child Parent Education Centers, which targeted poor young children. In the 1980s and 1990s
individual states began funding preschool programs for young children termed "atrisk." At the
same time, the day-care industry grew rapidly as more women worked outside of the home.