Academic journal article Education

Frederick Froebel's Illuminations on Kindergarten Children's Relatedness to Nature

Academic journal article Education

Frederick Froebel's Illuminations on Kindergarten Children's Relatedness to Nature

Article excerpt

Most science programs for the primary grades do not acknowledge or effect the very special connection young children have with the natural world. If they did understand the child's extraordinary relatedness in exploring, observing, and interacting with this domain, they would not rush to teach systematically the properties of matter.

Lessons that purport to teach singular properties of matter as isolated principles fail to capture the natural world's power to provoke the child's thought. This failure happens even when lessons are offered to them within a wide array of natural materials. Why? Children's interest in nature follows its own thought processes. The lesson structured didactically toward foregone conclusions usually interferes with the process. It is the purpose of this article to examine closely the special connection children have with the natural domain. The thoughts of Frederick Froebel provide a key to the organic relatedness of children to nature.

More than any other educational philosopher, Froebel saw how nature's domain invited the child to uncover its secretes. Unless severely damaged in infancy, each child has a strong impulse to know why they love nature's manifold. Froebel says in The Education of Man: "Therefore the child would know himself why he loves the thing; he would know all its properties, its innermost nature, that he may learn to understand himself in his attachment" (p. 73). Froebel describes how the child gains knowledge through observation and experiment.

A child has found a pebble. In order to determine by experiment its properties, he has rubbed it on a board nearby, and has discovered it property of imparting color. It is a fragment of lime, clay, red stone or chalk. See how he delights in the newly discovered property, and how easily he makes use of it. Soon the whole surface of the board is changed. At first the boy took delight in the new property, then in the changed surface - now red, now white, now black, now brown - but soon he began to find pleasure in the winding, straight, curved and other forms that appear. These linear phenomena direct his attention to the linear properties of surrounding objects ... (pp. 75-76).

The child's primary route to knowledge begins with an instinct for activity which issues from a deep interest in nature and not from a conscious thought. The adult, unknowingly, can kill this creative instinct. On a recent visit to a classroom, I saw a child bring a shell to the teacher. He asked her to listen to its sound. She insisted he drop it and go to the work table to complete a mathematics worksheet. Froebel says that if the child obeys you and drops his treasures, he gives up a considerable portion of his powers. Unknowingly, the teacher requested that he drop his thought.

The teacher's further insistence that the child complete a worksheet requiring him to identify numerals with a picture collection of objects was short-sighted. The worksheet activity imposed the reductive goals of the adult mind on the child, forcing him to operate consciously to achieve minimal and abstract goals.

The classroom contained large collections of natural materials - rocks, shells, pine cones, leaves, bark, enough for several children to classify, count, compare.

Left to his own devices, the child does much more with natural objects than to pair them with numerical answers. He compares, counts, and classifies; he observes texture, shape, color, and odor; and he makes analogies. Give the child time and a variety of expressive media or tools, and his explorations will be extended, elaborated, and will provoke further thought.

Observing, Discussing, Representing

Elizabeth Cole (Fall, 1990) describes children's exploration of nature after visiting a Froebelian nursery school. On this day, the classroom teacher brings in from the garden a sunflower that the children have planted months earlier. The teacher encourages the children to observe the shape, texture, and colors of this bright yellow sunflower which reaches far above their heads. …

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