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The Kindergarten of the Future, established 1837
Ben Somner
3rd March 2020

Born in Germany in 1782, Friedrich Fröbel was the inventor of the kindergarten. With a profound understanding of the importance of the activity of a child in its learning, he founded his first “Play and Activity Institute” in 1837, which took a revolutionary approach to preschool learning increasing the engagement of children with structured, activity based learning such as singing, dancing and gardening.

He also encouraged independent play with educational toys made from simple geometric forms, known as ‘Fröbel’s Gifts’ – encouraging children to think abstractly and to relate ideas, objects and symbols. Those attending the early kindergartens included the world renowned architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller and artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, all inspired very early on by this ordered and linear focus on shape, form and colour.

These pioneering learning techniques of the 19th Century are still as relevant today with the focus on activity based learning, or “learning-by-doing”, central to the philosophies of modern kindergartens and schools.

The design of these environments, in which future generations shape their early physical, cognitive and social development, is fundamentally important. We must put the child right at the heart of the design process, to understand the psychological and behavioural patterns behind how they learn and how they play.

Learning through play

Research demonstrates that developmentally-appropriate play is one of the key factors in a child’s development. The Wellcome Collection’s current exhibition in London, Play Well, explores this theme, investigating how play develops social bonds, emotional resilience and physical wellbeing.

Fröbel’s gifts have today morphed into the more sophisticated Lego and Kinex and will no doubt soon be superseded by AI applications, although the principles essentially remain the same – to encourage young imaginations, and to learn collaboration and creativity through making and doing.

Embracing the outdoors

In a world whose environmental future is in grave danger, it’s imperative to introduce children to nature at the earliest possible opportunity. Enjoying and understanding the natural world encourages children to take care of it and to become the custodians of the future.

The garden was central to Fröbel’s original kindergarten concept and today’s best learning environments incorporate nature in all its aspects – form, energy, substance, sound and colour - providing a rich sensory experience for growing minds and enabling children to learn in nature, just about nature. Gardens for growing fruit and vegetables and planted areas to encourage wildlife foster a sense of curiosity and are the perfect space for inquisitive minds.

Outdoor play also gives children the opportunity to experience adventure, risk and challenge and for whole-bodied, expansive physical exercise. Designing in wild areas with long grass and uneven ground offer spaces for exploration and imagination, and quiet grassed areas with hammocks or cosy nooks give children space for gentle contemplation.

There is significant evidence that outdoor education can improve behavioural issues and wellness, ultimately leading to greater academic achievement.

Teaching for an undiscovered future

The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution disrupting almost every industry in every country, emerging technologies such as robotics, AI, 3D printing, quantum computing, the Internet of Things (IoT) and autonomous vehicles will dramatically change the world we are preparing children for.

This cannot be solved by just introducing technology to enhance learning, it’s about using experiential teaching methods to equip children in their early stages of education with soft skills such as communication, problem solving and decision making, and encouraging lifelong learning to enable these future generations to adapt and evolve to suit the prospective job markets.

Friedrich Fröbel's ideas, conceived almost 200 years ago at the brink of the first Industrial Revolution, could not it seem be more relevant today.