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influence of Friedrich Froebel

Froebel's dream was mystical.

He considered that a necessary and self-conditioned law of life was that the child proceeded from some invisible, unchangeable implicit unity which acted in harmony with a corresponding cosmic unity and that the link between the nature and life of the child with the nature and life of the cosmos was made through playthings. These were designed in geometrical forms and through handling, observing and imitating actions arising from them, symbolical and meaningful play resulted. The sphere and the cube together represented Knowledge, Beauty and Life, the sphere predominantly corresponding with the feelings or heart, (affective) and the cube to the thought and intellect (cognitive). The conceptual understanding of geometrical cubic forms occurred through a metaphorical dance in which the child became acquainted with surfaces, sides, edges and lines which Froebel called dance forms. In Pedagogics of the Kindergarten (1851), he illustrated his ideas in the form of what he termed 'Movement Plays' imaginative experiences in dance, drama and music arising from a basic stimulus leading to doing and creating.

Froebel's dreams drifted around for half a century before finding their way into the grad-grind realities of many a Victorian classroom in England and although the practical application of Froebel's ideas were first introduced into the private schools when 'kindergarten' units were opened, for the public sector of education the impetus came during the early years of the twentieth century, when through the auspices of the Froebel Society (founded 1874) changes in curriculum content and teaching approaches were made. This was aided by the Elementary Code of 1904 which allowed more liberal approaches to infiltrate prescribed practice. Teachers were able to offer fundamental work in science and the humanities and observation, reasoning and thoughtful expression were seen as modes of acquiring knowledge. Mrs. Roadknight, an inspector for the City of Nottingham Education Committee from its instigation in 1902 until her retirement in 1919 was a local visionary, a progressive, free-thinking person who was highly respected by the teachers in the Nottingham schools. The changes she made were essentially Froebellian, indeed she encouraged the formation of the Nottingham Branch of the Froebel Society in 1906. The foremost speakers in education were given a platform for their ideas and in this way Froebel's idealistic vision became an actuality in this industrial city where teachers themselves were working experimentally to discover effective means of learning.

Mrs. Roadknight's legacy, recorded through her annual reports between the years 1903 - 1915, reveals the growing importance of the arts activities as part of an holistic educational process. Children were taught to draw large objects in coloured chalks on straw boards, on the floor or on boards placed round the walls which were used for free and memory drawing. Designing and building were taught by means of Kindergarten gifts, small wooden bricks, tablets, sticks, thread, rings, shells, beans and seeds. Early experiments with painting took place, picture lessons cultivated language development with intelligent verbal descriptions while rational exercises, movement plays, and Kindergarten Games were taken in the playground when the weather permitted. Social outings were organised and conferences were held between the members, teachers and inspectors encouraging intelligent co-ordination of work and collaboration. The set purpose in the Infant Schools was to form and strengthen Thought, Power, Imagination, and Individuality more readily achieved as antiquated galleries were removed from the schools creating greater space for movement.

Teachers were taking full advantage of the freedom given to them by the Code, and were adopting to the new order of things with zeal and enthusiasm and by 1913/14 the Infant Schools of the City ranked amongst the first in the country owing, wrote Mrs. Roadknight, 'to the zeal, sympathy and intelligent co-operation of the teachers, and to the valuable lectures and demonstrations given under the auspices of the Nottingham Branch of the Froebel Society.' (2) She had continued to attend meetings, and visit teachers in their schools throughout the city, travelling each day by train and tram, encouraging teachers to make systematic observations of children's work, note and record them and succeeding in raising the profile of the arts and deepening the understanding of them - 'expression plays, dramatising of fairy tales, and simple eurhythmics form a part of all well-thought out schemes of work.' (3)

notes:
(2) City of Nottingham Education Committee Minutes. 1913/14.
(3) City of Nottingham Education Committee Minutes. 1913/14.

Please cite as: Bloomfield, A. (1996). Dreams and destinations: The quest for excellence through educational research in the arts .Issues In Educational Research, 6(1), 1-12. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/gen/iier/iier6/bloomfield.htm


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