Pioneers of Early Childhood Education: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide

By Barbara Ruth Peltzman | Go to book overview
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Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670)
A Moravian bishop who believed in social reform through education, Comenius developed a system of education from infancy to the university. Comenius believed in a universal education with a step-by-step plan of sequentially graded instruction based on learning from real objects. He wrote The Great Didactic, a guide suggesting education be divided into age levels, that nothing be taught before a child was ready to understand the concepts, and that education should begin in early childhood to build a basis for later learning. He suggested a teaching method which followed the child's developmental pattern using the five senses and advised that play, games, physical activity, music, and fairy tales should be used to teach children until age 6. Young children from birth to age 6 should be taught at home where they would experience real objects and develop their senses to distinguish between objects. These early experiences with the real world plant the seeds of knowledge which will grow with later experiences. Orbus Pictus, the first picture book was introduced by Comenius to reinforce the recognition of everyday objects, develop language skills, and help children learn to use books. He believed that ideas were innate and required first-hand experiences for them to unfold and suggested that six-year old children attend a vernacular school to learn religion, singing, morals, mechanical arts, reading, writing, and mathematics. One of his most important contributions was the belief that education for young children should be an active process involving both the mind and the body in things children enjoy doing. The Great Didactic was ignored until mid-nineteenth-century German educators rediscovered Comenius. His work proved ahead of its time and served as a model for later educational reforms. Many of the principles of education adopted in the nineteenth century were developed in the seventeenth century by Comenius.
PRIMARY SOURCES
1. "Opera Didactica Omnia". Amsterdam: Aedilus Academiae Scientiarum Bohemoslovenical, 1657. [ The Great Didactic. Trans. Maurice W. Keatinge . 2 volumes. London: A. & C. Black, Ltd., 1921- 1923. Didactica Magna. Trans. Wilhelm Altemoller. Paderborn, Prussia: Ferdinand Schonigh, 1905.] Comenius' philosophy of education containing thirtythree chapters discussing the aim, purpose, organization, content, methods of teaching, discipline, and textbooks to be used. It contains everything necessary to develop a modern system of education including a psychology of human nature, a discussion of the connection between methods and the laws of human growth, and a discussion of the role of education in society.

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