The Froebel Experience: Part One

I intend to write two – maybe three blogs about my trip to Keilhau, Germany from 4th – 7th May 2016 as there are several aspects I want to pick up on.
This first blog is going to be an overview of the trip – just descriptions about what I did – with just a few personal thoughts thrown in.

Pre Amble
So to start – how come I was included in this trip?
Well I was invited when another person could not make the trip and a friend who was going recommend me as a replacement. When I got the email inviting me – I was so excited – a trip to ‘Re discover Froebel’ based in Keilhau, Germany where Froebel establish his first school.

A quick look at the other people invited and it is easy to see that I am a bit of an outsider.
Alice Sharp ; Claire Warden ; Dan Spry ; Felicity Thomas ; Helen Tovey ; Jan White ; Jane Dyke ; Jane Read ; Jenny Gibson ; Julian Grenier ; June O’Sullivan; Laura Henry ; Lynn McNair ; Marie Doherty ; Nicola Amies ; Ruth Thomson ; Stella Louis ; Wendy Scott

Before the trip I had only met around half the people (and admit I had to google some of the names). I quickly realised that I was to be with a group of researchers, authors, CEO’s, and lead people in their field. At first I was a little unsure about going but then I realised that I already connected with such people and so really it was just a case of connecting with a few more.
More of an issue was the fact that my passport had expired around 10 years ago – and I had never flown anywhere – as I am just not a good traveler.

The passport issue was quickly sorted and with a few days I had my new one. I was then able to contact Community Playthings who were organising this trip to confirm I had a passport and wanted to take up the place.

I am sure most people are aware of Community Playthings – I certainly was, and had their wonderful wooden blocks and other things on my ‘wish list’. I also had used their training resources to deliver training to childminding colleagues. If by chance you are not aware of Community Playthings you can find out more by visiting their website.

As readers of my blog will know the couple of weeks before the planned trip to Keilhau were rather busy as I was hosting my celebration event on 30th April and to be honest I hardly had time to even think about the trip to Germany. I did manage to reply to emails and print out information, provide my contact details and so on – but I did very little else in way of preparation as will be seen later on.

Roll on to 1st May, my event was over and although I was shattered, I finally turned by mind to the forth coming trip to Germany – in that I got a suitcase out of the loft, packed some outdoor type clothes, and checked that my friend Laura Henry was still able to meet me at Paddington Station and ‘hold my hand’ to ensure I made it to Heathrow due to my first time flying nerves. I also checked that my friends Sally and Mick were still OK to pick me up from Heathrow and provide overnight accommodation when I returned on 7th May.

And that was the end of my preparations!

Start of my adventure
On the morning of Wednesday 4th May, I got up around 4am after a restless night of worry, and then after usual morning routines, I set of at just after 5am to walk to the train station and to catch the early morning direct train to London Marylebone. Of course I am now very familiar with this journey due to the number of times I go to London for volunteering and campaigning reason. However, I don’t usually have a suitcase in tow – and I certainly noticed the difference on the demands of my body and energy levels, especially once I reached London. The tube from Marylebone did not stop at Paddington (which is where I needed to go) due to essential upgrades. As I don’t really know the tube well enough to plot a different route, I decided to follow the advice on the signs at Marylebone and exit the tube at Edgeware Road. Once at Edgeware I realised it was a choice of lift or stairs to get to street level – and as I hate lifts where you are squashed in – I decided to take the stairs. BIG MISTAKE! It is one thing to use the stairs when just me and a handbag – it is another thing when me, a handbag and a suitcase!! Half way up I thought I was going to pass out and was really struggling – however a very nice young man offered to carry my suitcase the rest of the way up the stairs – and even waited at the top until I got there. A huge thank you to that young man.

Once at street level I followed the signs to Paddington without any difficultly and made my way into the station. Just had to find Laura now! Actually I found her quite easily, and so together we headed for the shuttle train to Heathrow. It was on this train that we both had a bit of a shock when we brought tickets on the train (there had been no barriers or signs before we got on the train). It cost us £27 each for the one way journey – £5 of which was because we had not brought a ticket before boarding the train – next time I will do a little more research so I am better prepared.

Once at Heathrow we headed for the arrivals lounge – our shared dyslexia causing us issues – as of course we needed the departure lounge! Luckily we realised and headed back to the beginning and made our way to the right lounge. We decided to have a coffee while we waited as we were in good time. We met up with Kim from Community Playthings who was leading this trip and his lovely wife Ulrike. We chatted for a while and then other people started to arrive – all of those who had been invited and a few more members of the community connected to Community Playthings. I was pleased to see the people I already knew – especially Wendy Scott whose first question to me was about how my event had gone. I showed Wendy a few photo’s and told her it had gone really well.

Before long Kim was donning his hat (which was to become the sign we needed to listen or to follow) and giving us our first set of instructions – which were about checking ourselves and our suitcases in. I was glad I was with friends because I did not have a clue – however I managed to get myself and my bag booked in and to go through the security checks. We then had some free time to get some lunch – and it was recommended that we also brought a snack or a light tea as we would be arriving at Keilhau for a late tea. I spent lunch time chatting to various people about various thing connected to Early Years – and this included my event. It was a good thing that I was kept busy as my nerves were beginning to overtake me.

We all re grouped near the departure gate and boarded together. My stomach was by now churning and I knew I was going to find the next bit difficult. The plane was not as big as I thought it would be – and I found my seat was between two members of our group – one who I had met before, Jan White – and one who I had not met, Claire Warden. Those who knew it was my first flight were offering words of encouragement.

I can now tell everyone that I do not like flying – at all. However Jan and Claire who are both into ‘outdoor things’ talked ‘shop’ for most of the trip, I listened and I learnt a lot. They did use some words that I did not understand, sometimes I asked for an explanation, sometimes I even offered my opinion – but for most of the time I just listened and concentrated on keeping my stomach under control. Thank you Jan and Claire for talking so much – it really helped me.

Luckily it was only a short flight and we landed at Frankfurt airport. After collecting bags and using the toilets, we headed off in search of the bus following Kim and his hat. However things did not go to plan as we could not find the bus / bus driver. Kim phoned the bus driver and off we set again in search of the bus. Eventually we found it – I for one was glad as by now I was tired after my early start and dragging the suitcase around.

We had been told that it would be a 2.5 – 3 hour coach journey to Keilhau – but German National Holiday traffic had not been factored in – and in the end it was more like a 6 hour coach journey with just one stop to se the toilets and stretch our legs. It was during this stop that I realised that my planning and preparation for the trip had been pretty useless as I did not have any Euro’s – and you had to pay to use the toilets. Luckily my travelling companions came to my rescue – Ruth gave me 70 cent to gain access to the toilet and Laura lent me 5 Euro so I could buy a drink.

We finally arrived at Keilhau late in the evening – but despite this there was a welcoming party of staff and other members of the Community Playthings community – and a very welcome meal waiting for us. After introductions (which were in German but translated for us), a quick overview of the room we were eating in, and eating our meal washed down with an amazing choice of drinks, we were shown to our rooms.

I was to stay in ‘Hanoldei’ house on the top (3rd) floor along with Laura, other people were staying on the other floors. Even though was very late we had a quick Froebel history lesson. Hanoldei was the first building that Froebel lived in with the 5 children in his care when he arrived at Keilhau -and they used a ladder to access the 3rd floor as it was the only one that was considered safe. Laura, myself (and Veronica from Community Playthings) felt very honored. Of course the building is now not only safe but modernised.

Children usually stay in the bedrooms but as they were away due to the holidays we were able to use their rooms – 3 girls usually sleep in the room that I was given – and it was not only spotless but had been prepared for our visit. My name was on the door, there were paper folded butterflies on the wall and on the desk – and some sweets, information and a couple of books had been left in the room.

By now my poor planning and preparation had shown up another flaw – I did not have a convertor for the plugs so that I could charge my phone – luckily Laura came to my rescue and lent me hers.

After chatting in the kitchen (where there were more drinks and glasses left for us) about early years matters and our personal stories, I decided to head off to bed as I was shattered.

First Full day in Keilhau
I did not sleep well and so went for an early morning walk, taking lots of photos of the buildings and things that interested me (which I will use later). At 8am we all gathered in the dining room for breakfast – I was taken back by the hospitality being shown to us – everything was spotlessly clean, and beautifully presented. The range of options for breakfast was almost overwhelming – something for all tastes. I chatted to a few people over breakfast, it was lovely to have a relaxed breakfast and everything set out for us. However we could not sit and chat all day as the purpose of the trip was to ‘re discover Froebel’, and so at 9am we all gathered to start our tour of the Keilhau campus, which was to take all morning and until 15.00 when it was time for ‘Kaffee and Kuchen’ (which I quickly picked up means Coffee and cake). We were soon to discover that this tour was not to be like any other tour that we had undertaken! This is because of Herrn Nauer who is a combination of a story telling and a walking encyclopedia on all things Froebel – with a good sense of humor thrown in for good measure.

We toured the school buildings, the outside areas and the small on site meseum

However I am not going to tell you everything I learnt from Robert (Herrn Naurer) because I hope some of you will in the future be able to experience the Keilhau adventure yourselves. I will however just tell you a few facts that have lodged themselves in my head – and in no particular order

  • Keilhau is in the old East Germany
  • Keilhau is the site of Froebel’s first school – not Kindergarten
  • Froebel had mixed early years experiences some of which would these days come under safeguarding concerns
  • Froebel helped design some of the school buildings which have low windows and steps within the building on purpose
  • The children have carpet in the classrooms and wear slippers in class
  • Children learn to manage their risks – health and safety appears some what different – ie free access to tools for woodwork, to woodland and country side and so on; fully opening windows – even on the third floor
  • The children board at the school, which is how it was in Froebel’s day
  • Paper folding is very popular
  • Froebel was not popular and felt he had to move away from Keilhau to ensure it continue to exist
  • Until women became involved there were concerns about the children’s diet and cleanliness
  • Froebel’s ideas about play were radical at the time – especially as he used to play with the children
  • Froebel’s ideas about play are in principle the same as ideas these days by people like me – but are implemented differently
  • Froebel thought work was as important as play and children could learn through work especially around the home
  • The clock strikes every 15 mins to support the rhythm of the day

So just a few thoughts – there will be more about play – and work in my other blogs about my Froebel visit but that is it for now, apart from these photos of some of the buildings

Kaffee and Kuchen was very much to my liking – I have never seen such huge cakes or had so much choice – I could not decide and so had a piece of two different cakes. As with breakfast and lunch there were lots of opportunities to sit and chat with others – and on each occasion I found myself chatting to different people which was brilliant for networking and sharing information.

During the afternoon we had some choices – but actually we managed to fit everything in – we watched a historic film of Keilhau’s early days, did a short hike to visit Froebel’s memorial and had a little bit of free time.

Froebel memorial -Sorry, not the best picture – the picture shows Froebel saying goodbye to older children and hello to younger children to mark when he left Keilhau and started his first Kindergarten

Dinner was pizza’s from the brick oven – we were able to see these HUGE pizza’s being cooked, before heading back to the dining room to eat them – and to finish off the kuchen left overs.

Lots more chatting during the evening over yet more drinks and chocolates. I spent some time chatting to Julian about how he works with childminders and his plans for the future, and also with members of Community Playthings about how I could support them with their training documents to make them more appropriate for childminders – it seems I may have talked myself into a ‘little task’.

Second day in Keilhau
By now everyone was relaxed (if a little tired from all the late night talking) and everyone was getting used to the clock chiming every 15 mins – and listening out for it. Breakfast was another feast – hats off to the kitchen staff.

By 9am we were on the bus ready for a trip out to Oberweissbach which is Froebel’s birth place. We fitted a lot in – but again you are only going to get an overview and a couple of photo’s

  • We visited the church where Froebel’s father was a priest – it is huge and made out of wood. As a treat the organ player came in specially to play for us

  • We visited the grave of Froebel’s parents
  • We toured the house where Froebel was born which is now a museum – and which had a shop. I admit I was tempted and brought some paper folding kits
  • We had lunch in Froebelturm (Froebel’s tower) I chose a traditional dish of the area – Goulash with dumplings and red cabbage. During lunch I chatted with Wendy, Laura and Jenny about the lack of research connected to childminders – and what we could do about it. After lunch we climbed to the top of the tower to see the spectacular views
  • Then it was back on the bus to Bad Blankenburg – the place of Froebel’s first kindergarten, where we were greeted with champagne / sparkling water. We were given a talk and demonstration about Froebel’s gifts (more about this in a later blog) but for now – did you know there are 71 different models you can make with 8 wooden cubes? We also had a chance to do some paper folding – I admit I need a bit more practice!
  • After a look round the museum we walked the short distance (all be it up steps) to the historic ‘Alliance Building’ where tables had been reserved for us to enjoy kaffee and kuchen – and ice cream (yes, we were being spoilt)
  • The option then was either to retrace Froebel’s footsteps back to Keilhau or to drive back. I was going to walk but sensible members of the group reminded me that I have not fully recovered from when I was so ill last year. Therefore I travelled back in a car – which was great as had time for more conversations (and some singing of German songs), before changing vehicle and being driven up the hill to Froebelblick to meet those who had walked (and to take them some cold drinks)

  • Some of the group climbed the Baropturm which is near to Froebelblick, for more views of the countryside, but I decided not to.

We finished the day with a BBQ which due to the fantastic weather we were able to eat outside, before gathering inside for reflections, feedback, thank you’s – and a song sung by all of us for our hosts.

Due to the time it had taken to travel to Keilhau on Wednesday, it was decided that we needed to leave Keilhau earlier than planned – and so were all asked to be packed and ready for breakfast by 7.30am.

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