History of the development of early childhood education

Updated April 17, 2017

The history of early childhood education shows a movement from private charity to public-sponsored programs in the early 19th century through the 20th century. While Great Britain led the way in private nursery school programs in the 19th century, the first public kindergarten programs were founded in Canada, the United States and Germany. The U.S. continued to lead in some aspects of early childhood education with such landmarks as mandatory statewide kindergarten in Mississippi in 1982.

Educational Theories

Many theories for educating young children were put forth before the practice actually took place. Martin Luther encouraged public support for universal education of children in 1524. John Amos Comenius advocated an educational model that followed various laws nature and would begin in a child's early years. In his book "Emile," Jean-Jacques Rousseau supported using a child's interests to educate her. Robert Raikes began the study of the religion through the Sunday school program in 1780.

Early Childhood Educational Models

Friedrich Froebel, a great influence on the kindergarten movement, set up his first kindergarten in Germany in 1837. Horace Mann began work for the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837. He would continue to be a major factor in the public elementary schools in the United States through the common school movement. John Dewey began studies of how children learn through life experiences at his laboratory school in Chicago in 1896. Maria Montessori opened a school based upon the theory that children learn best by themselves in the proper environment in 1907.

Great Britain

The first nursery school was opened in England in 1816. The program, which encouraged unstructured play, was a model for later programs. The nursery school provided day care for the children of cotton mill workers. Mandatory education for English children ages five and up was established in 1870. Due to poor living conditions for some citizens, schools often let younger children attend. Board of Education inspectors ended this practice in 1905 and recommended separate facilities for children under age five.

Teacher Training

The Oshkosh Normal School in Philadelphia offered the first kindergarten training program in 1880. The Nursery School Bureau of Educational Experiments was established in 1919. This New York institution would eventually become the Bank Street College of Education.

Educational Resources

The American Association of Elementary, Kindergarten and Nursery School Educators was established in 1884. In 1892, the International Kindergarten Union was founded. The International Kindergarten Union published the first professional journal for early childhood education in 1924. The National Committee on Nursery Schools was established at Columbia Teachers College to provide consultation and guidance for teachers in 1926.

Recent History

There has been a increase in attendance of public pre-K programs in the last 25 years. Causes for this increase include societal changes such as dual-income families, single parent families, an increase in teen parents and a decrease in extended families availability. Increased public support, increased awareness and evidence of school student success have contributed as well.

Success of Early Childhood Education

Early childhood educations programs show many benefits for society. There is evidence that they promote drops in delinquency, welfare dependence, later dropout rates and arrest rates. The initial cost of the public programs is ideally recovered thanks to contributions of the students as productive citizens.

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About the Author

Harvey Sells is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing, technology, organization and science. He has been writing short mysteries for several years with a number of stories published on various mystery websites. Sells has won an international mystery writing competition and has published one mystery novel. He holds a Master of Education from the University of Georgia.