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How To Teach Kindergarten At Home

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

MOTHERS are the best kindergarten teachers. They taught Frederick William Froebel all that is best in "the Kindergarten system." As he tried to make a system out of what the best mothers he knew taught him as he watched them playing with their Raising Children, the system is now almost lost in the number of books about it. Out of the best of these books, including those Froebel wrote on his kindergarten or child-garden schools, we will now try to tell mothers how each one, in the way she finds best for her own children and their little friends, can use this knowledge.

1. Remember first that the home is the "garden" and the children the flowers in it. This is the first and greatest of Froebel's ideas. The child must be helped to grow from the time it is born. The great question is, "How must it be helped?" The answer is that it must be helped as a flower is helped to bloom its best, by helping its own nature, not by crossing its nature.

2. Remember next and always that anything a child must be compelled to do or to learn is outside of the kindergarten system. Keep all commandments and compulsion outside of "mother-play" in kindergarten teaching. You will get every-thing more and more nearly right by remembering that under Froebel's plan, "the child's mind develops its own best through the child's own voluntary activities."

3. To use this principle in the best way, think of yourself as an older child, playing with your children. Teach them all the games you please as long as the games please them. Try to put the best and most useful things you know about life into games and plays. But never make a lesson of it. Do not be too methodical. Make play of it and teach the children to play. If they are pleased with it, it is play. If they are not, it is a lesson. Put it off for their lesson-time and in their kindergarten time find something they are pleased in playing.

These are the three most important rules of all success in kindergarten teaching. You ought to know why. Remember that this is why Froebel thought them most important. He thought that every child has God's nature in it. He believed children begin trying to think God's thoughts as soon as they begin to see what is best and most beautiful in the world. He said that every thought of God is a deed, an act making some-thing beautiful, or changing something ugly or shapeless to what is beautiful and good. As he watched children playing with their mothers or with other Raising Children, he saw that even the youngest children are anxious to turn their thoughts into deeds, to make something good and beautiful. They are trying to learn order from God.

Give a little girl of three years old a doll. Watch her try to be a mother to it. Watch girls a little older trying to make dresses for their dolls in their own way, before any one tries to teach them at all. Then you will understand the "why" of the mother's kindergarten. The thought of God is beginning to grow into the child's life through its play. If this is why children are happy in play and why grown people are happy in life, then we are to learn how to use this knowledge to help our own children to greater happiness from their first year of life, through all their lives. The kindergarten ways of doing this are through "gifts" and "occupations." Do not make tasks of the occupations. Time them so they will be enjoyed. Use them to help your children enjoy the gifts. What are the best gifts? These are rules for finding and using the best for your own children :

1. Choose those which will help your child to enjoy the use of its eyes.

2. Choose those which help the child most to enjoy the use of its hands.

You can use Froebel's "gifts" and you can select your own by learning his simple principle. It is this : We see every-thing in two ways at once (a) in color and (b) in form. As we see in autumn, a brown leaf hanging on the same twig with another of the same form that is bright red, we look first at the red leaf. So we learn that color draws our attention to form.


Begin the gifts with a ball of worsted, as soon as the baby can crawl and is first beginning to talk. Give it a red ball. Tie a string to the ball. Let the baby and the kitten play together with the ball as they please. Play with them as far as you can without interfering with their play.

To appreciate what the baby is beginning to learn, think of the earth as a ball, rolling through space. Roll the ball and teach the baby that a ball rolls. Teach it the words "ball" and "roll." When it learns these, give it another ball of the same kind and size. This should be a blue ball. As soon as the child sees that both are balls and that both roll? take away the blue ball ; hold the red ball up before it and repeat the word "red" over and over. Change for the blue ball. Repeat the word "blue" in the same way. Let the baby play with the red and blue balls, day after day, with as many games as you can invent, until it knows the colors red and blue by comparison and can say the words. Then give it a yellow ball and let it learn the color yellow by playing with the yellow ball.

The red, yellow and blue balls will be enough for a long time. Red is the "warm" and blue is the "cold" color. Red, yellow and blue make all other colors. As soon as the child begins to talk, give it other balls until it has played with them in six colors, red, orange, yellow; green, blue and violet. Teach it to play with the balls so that it will know all these colors by name and at sight. When it is five years old, you can show it how to mix orange, green and violet out of red, yellow and blue water colors.

Make a new set of six balls when the colors of these have faded. Then begin giving the child flowers and other things in bright colors until it can name the colors of each by what it has learned from the balls. This is the first great "gift." The gift is education for the sense of color. The child is learning to know and love color, first with three and then with six colors to measure all the shades of color you can easily teach it as it grows older. Nothing will add more to the pleasure of life than this early beginning of power to enjoy the colors of nature. It is one of the highest "gifts of genius.." Nature uses color to please us and teach us to learn its forms.

When you give the baby the first ball, think: "This is the form used in making the earth and the planets." You will see then that you are beginning to think for the child, so that ten years later, its mind will grow into your power of thought through its play.

The next gift is the cube. You can buy a set of "square" (cubical) alphabet blocks and put off teaching the alphabet until the child has played all the kindergarten games with them. Or you may buy the regular kindergarten blocks, if that is convenient.

Give the child four of the blocks. Show it one side or surface of a single block and teach it the word "square." Then cut squares of paper for it until it can begin to feel what a square means. Show it how to put four of the blocks together into a single cube. Give it four more of the blocks. Let it make them into another four parted cube. It may try to put these two cubes together. Help it. When it does so, give it four more blocks, so that it will have twelve in all. When it can make these into three cubes of four blocks each, and put them all together, it will feel that something is missing. Give it finally four blocks more and let it make a fourth cube of them. Then if it does not start trying to put all sixteen of these blocks together into a single cube, help it. Show it how to play by putting the blocks together in fours with each cube of four an inch from the other. Then join all to make the cube of sixteen blocks.

Think yourself while doing this, how far it is reaching into mathematics, and then think afterwards only of making this an amusement for the child. Do not trouble any child under six years old with mathematics. It is learning geometry by play. But remember yourself that when a baby two years old puts sixteen blocks together out of four times four blocks, its mind is getting the order of Sir Isaac Newton's laws.

After this, give it also a wooden ball or sphere and a wooden cylinder (the form of a rolling pin or tree-trunk). Call the cylinder a roller. Let the child play with it by rolling it. Tie a string to the middle of it and revolve it rapidly. Then the child may play with the ball, the cylinder and the wooden cubes, as it pleases. You can get all these from a kindergarten supply store, or improvise them.

At three years old, children are old enough to have at least 64 blocks. Teach them to play building houses, gates, etc., with them as they please. Show them how to count, four blocks at a time (4, 8, 12, 16 32, 36, 40, 44, etc..), putting the blocks together by fours, until they have a great cube of 64 blocks. But do not push this into mathematics. Let it be played. At the same time, sing the numbers to them up to ten and teach them to count by tens, from one to a hundred. In this way, you may give them powers of mind, most people never develop further than they are driven into it. But if the children do not like it as play, do not drive them in the least. Give them other gifts and wait.


Come back now to the six colors of the worsted balls. When a child is five years old, give it paper to fold and cut in all the six colors. Tell it that red and yellow mix into orange; yellow and blue into green, blue and red into violet. Show it how to cut paper of each color into squares and by folding the squares, how to cut triangles. Be careful to make the squares exact. Show it how to put squares of different colors together to make a larger square. Play at changing these color squares in putting them together, until you as well as the children see which colors contrast and harmonize most beautifully.

Out of white and colored paper and cardboard, cut all the regular and beautiful mathematical forms you find in nature or in books. Cut pentagons or five-sided figures and stars. Show the children how to fold paper so that cutting any figure into it when folded, will repeat the figure as a design.

Give the children boxes of cheap colors. Play at mixing them to color squares drawn on white pasteboard. Then begin to cut animal and bird figures out of pasteboard and play at coloring these. When the children are in the least tired of the regular mathematical forms, let them cut animal figures. Paste a picture of a duck on pasteboard and cut out the board to make a model. So of other animals and birds. Give them scrapbooks and paste to collect animal and bird pictures. Keep their pictures in a scrapbook.

Give the children modeling clay, wax or soft putty and let them try to model animals and birds out of it.

Make singing short and simple songs and telling short and simple stories part of all this play. As soon as they begin to grow the least tired, tell them a short story. Make up a story yourself about the bird or animal they are trying to cut out. The more of a childish "play-story" you make it, the better. Trust yourself to make stories. Read stories in books to find the best. Few are childish enough. Make them so. Put love into them, your own love, the love of birds for their young ; the love that is in everything children see, as they see it. Look at everything as the children do and you will succeed.. It will develop your own genius.

If you wish to learn kindergarten science, get "Froebel'a Gifts" and "Froebel,'s Occupations" in "The Republic of Childhood" series by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith. Read any book on the Kindergarten system that is recommended. Such books will help and not hurt, if you do not take them too seriously. We are trying to take the public kindergarten too seriously when we make systematic work out of it, keeping the "little tots" away from play to educate them, while we are pretending we are playing with them. This makes playthings of them. Do not do that. Play with them in their ways. Read and use the stories of this volume in your own way. If you need more, read the stories such good storytellers as Kate Douglas Wiggin write for kindergartens and then make them over into stories of your own. Make short stories and more stories and still more stories, about everything you know, if you can make it childish. As soon as the children are in the least tired of any game, tell them a story and sing with them. Use songs with the colors when you begin with the colored worsteds. Draw squares, triangles, rosettes, stars and five-sided figures on cardboard. Stick holes along the lines. Show the children how to fill in these with colored threads. Use all the six colors in this way. Then trace leaves on the cardboard and follow their outlines with colored threads.

Look at any sort of a design you like. Notice that it pleases you because its parts are repeated so as to balance each other. Make it simple. Draw it and play with the children in working it out in different colors in worsted perforated work.

Cut as many designs as you can by folding paper, "nicking" it when folded and opening it to show. the repetition. Teach them to sew as far as this is play for them, but no further. Put off for worktime all sewing in the forms in which it is work. Teach the girls to cut their doll clothes and to use the six colors in threads when making borders, etc. Teach them to cut dresses of different colors from paper for paper dolls. Teach boys to make small boxes, first of cardboard and with paste, and then of small, thin boards with headless tacks. Give the boy wood to work in.

Take smooth sticks of the same length. An inch will do. You can make them by cutting the heads carefully from matches. Put these sticks together in designs beginning with triangles and squares. Work them into all the figures you can make. Look at a book with. an ornamental alphabet in it. Play making all the letters out of the sticks until the children can make them and tell you the names of most. Then spell a few words of one syllable in the same way, but do not try to force them either to learn their letters or to spell in these games.

Change the forms of play. Suppose you are thinking of cutting patterns, sewing, weaving, drawing and coloring. Cut paper of different colors into patterns for squares, rosettes, triangles, and stars. The next day draw a rosette and a star on cardboard and play at sewing an outline around it in colored worsted or silk. Draw a tomato, a lemon and an apple on thin cardboard. Sew around the outline and color the apple red, the tomato orange red, and the lemon bright yellow. In teaching children to follow an outline with the needle, Iet it be something that interests them. Give them especially simple leaf and flower forms.

Remember the difference between boy nature and girl nature. You feel what the girls like best to make, but boys have to be discovered. Find out what they like best to make and play at helping them, keeping your own principles at work on them while you are "playing boy" with them. Your principles are those of form and color, put together into designs. They are the same for boys and girls but after five years old, they are the same with the difference there is between boy nature and girl nature, not in ideas but in action.

If your thought is design in weaving, think of a checker board; draw the squares; teach both boys and girls to weave the squares in two different colors, by drawing slips of paper, over and under, through slits cut to receive them, with the squares and the colors in regular order. Then you may cut the slips narrower and use more colors until you have first three, then four, then finally all six of your colors woven regularly into the same squares.

This is an outline of "mother-gardening" according to Froebel's principles, but you can shorten it or invent your own variations to please your own children and their little friends. If you please them, you are succeeding. If not, try another way until you do please them.

All this works out finally into drawing and coloring. Work all this into drawing from the beginning. Let them rule regular figures. But from the beginning let them draw as they please, what they please. They will begin with "Indian pictures." That is, their drawings will be as rude as those of the rudest tribes of men. But this is a first great success. Help them to color their own drawings with the colors they like best. Then play at making other drawings and color them as you like best. At first, do not try to draw much better than they do. Make your own drawings childish. Then draw your best and show them how to draw from things. Show them the edges of a square and its angles. Show them how to draw a "square corner." Teach them what a regular curve means and help them to draw it. Do not try to teach them to draw cubes until they are older. That means "perspective." Keep close to the things you see they wish to do. If you cannot draw much better than they can, the drawing game is all the better. But keep both boys and girls coming back to the drawing game until they are using all the rest they are learning in drawing and coloring.

In winter, give them albums for picture postals. In sum.. mer, help them to make albums of pressed flowers and write the name under each flower. A sandpile in the open air will be a blessing to them. All the games you can play with them in the open air are the best part of the kindergarten system. Teach them to stop occasionally when they are playing and look closely at something. "Look into it" yourself. Let them count the petals of flowers with four petals; and then with five and six. Let them see you noticing how the spots on a butter-fly's wings are arranged, Show them how a butterfly is folded up in its chrysalis in making its "design." If you find a toadstool, play you are finding something strange when you find that on the underside it is beautifully designed. Play at discovering all the wonders of design in nature and at being so surprised, you cannot help telling the rest of the children. It will soon cease to be "make-believe" for you will find more and more of the wonders of a beautiful world around you. This is the child's own world. Make believe you are back in it with your own children and their friends and you can learn to teach the teachers who have no children of their own. Teach free play; teach fair play; teach the play children love; and if they do not love what you think they should, put that off for lessons. Put the lessons off always until the kindergarten play is over and if you are not a famous mother-teacher soon, you may have famous children to bless your play even more than their later lessons.

You may put this and what you invent yourself into "courses" to suit your own convenience and that of the children. If you begin with children one year old, you can make it into a five year "course" without being too systematic about it. Make up each week's course and each day's course for its own sake, keeping only the connecting idea of the whole. If you repeat, so much the better, if it is enjoyed. Repetition, made so that it gives pleasure, is the great principle of design and of all beauty. It is also the first principle of memory. Repeat any "occupation" or game that is pleasing, but repeat it with a slight difference which will make it more pleasing, a day, a week or a month later. Repetition with a pleasing difference is the principle of art in poetry. So you need not be afraid of repeating, if you keep the thought of what all you are doing means as it works out the whole idea of "mother play" in helping child-flowers to bloom, each in its own best way, in the home-garden.

As you know, children learn most by "changing the subject" often. Decide how long a single game, a single story, or any other single "method" ought to be continued on any single day. If children begin to feel the "method," it is too long. Five minutes is a long time for a child in some things. It may be longer than half an hour in others. Decide this on the spot, for it is most important. The "system" fails only when joy in it fails. It ought never to be used to take from children the joy of their own free playtime. We may watch over children when they are playing in their own way, to keep the world from hurting them. But if we will stop to think that when innocent children are playing together in their own way, they are "playing with God," it will help to keep us from using our theories to make millions of children into millions of little machines which will all work alike for exhibition purposes when we "press the button." Remember always that they are God's children as well as ours and that God gave them immortal souls to have for their "very own."

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