The Froebel Experience: Part Two

The links between Froebel and Registered Childminding and ME!
This is my second blog connected to my visit to Keilhau, Germany for the rediscovering Froebel trip organised by Community Playthings and the school at Keilhau.

Although I have now resigned as a registered childminder, I am still very much an advocate of registered childminding – and I guess I always will be, because I think a home based setting offers very young children close links to their home life, low numbers of children, learning through play and routines, and close relationships with the adults caring for them. However, I also know that a childminding setting is not right for every child, nor is there always availability to meet all parent’s needs. I have also been around long enough to know that as with all types of setting there is a huge range in quality and practice – so this is not a ‘anti’ group setting statement. It is just that in my experience – and in general terms – a childminding setting meets the needs of our youngest children.

My involvement with childminding has stretched over three decades and I have seen ideas come and go. I found myself drawn into the ‘childminders should be like a mini nursery’; and the ‘childminders need to do written planning’; and the ‘childminders must have a trillion different resources’; ….. and for a very short period of time the ‘we must tick the boxes no matter what our personal views are’

However I was not happy when my practice was as above, and because of my unhappiness – and my gut feelings, time and time again I reflected and changed things – always coming back to the same question ‘WHY am I doing this?’ and then going back – at least in part to the type of setting I had when I first registered back in 1984 – that is a home based FAMILY daycare setting.

I can almost hear readers saying ‘Interesting Penny, but what has this got to do with Froebel?’ The answer is ‘It has everything to do with Froebel!’

Back in 1984 I had not even heard of Froebel – or any of the other great pioneers. By the time I was doing my level 3 in the late 1990’s, I had a very vague idea and could list a few names and realised that a lot of those on my list believed in learning through play. However I did not find out very much more because I did not read much – in fact by the time I started my degree in 2006 – I still did not know much about Froebel or anyone else – but by then I did have a lot of years of hands on experience, and had observed many children and developed my own thoughts – which in a way was good because I had not been influenced by others – but in another way was bad because I could not make links between what I believed and what people like Froebel believed.

After dipping in and out of trying to complete my degree for several years, in 2014 I tried again and enrolled on the Top Up Degree – this time through a different route that was mainly distance learning. Within 2 weeks I was called in by my tutors who said although I appeared well read (I am not, I just ‘know’ these things) they thought I would not be able to keep up with my studies or with my peers due to my difficulties with reading and writing, so off for dyslexia assessment I went. And yes I was (am) which explains why I am not well read and why I still only had a basic knowledge of the pioneers.

Roll on to May 2016 – and despite having gained enough credits for my degree, I still only had the most basic of knowledge about Froebel – mainly gained from listening to fellow campaigners – and from books written in simple language giving an overview of the theorists – such as those written by Linda Pound.

Yes, yes – I hear you reader – you are saying ‘get to the point, Penny’ Well I am, but this ‘pre stuff ‘ is important and will by the end, make sense to you.
Through doing research for my event ‘Networking, Sharing, Making Connections’ I discovered that I had actually attended a Froebel based Kindergarten – and I have to say this started me thinking about how my own early years experiences, had influence who I had become, my parenting style – and my ethos and practice as a registered childminder.

In fact this link to my past, present……. and future gave me the theme for my event – namely how my story is interwoven with many things including the stories of others. However, although I now had lots of bits of information, I was still not fully joining the all the dots and did not have a complete picture.

At my celebration event, Richard House gave me a copy of ‘The Education of Man’ by Fredrick Froebel’. Great, I thought, I might be able to read some of the book before my trip to ‘rediscover Froebel’ – which of course in my case was more like ‘Discover Froebel for the first time!’ However, due to an oversight on my part, my copy of ‘The Education of Man’ (and most of my other presents) ended up in Watford and could not be collected until after the trip to Germany.

So off I set to Germany with a group of people who all knew much more than me about Froebel. In a way though I think my lack of knowledge before arriving at Keilhau meant that I was ready to soak everything up and to connect that knowledge to my own previous experiences from my hands on childminding career, and my gut feelings about what young children need to flourish, rather than just reaffirming my previous knowledge or filling a few gaps.

Now that I know a lot more about Froebel, I can say from the heart that my own practice when I was a childminder (and that of many childminders) were Froebelian based. Of course there will be many other pioneers principles recognisable within childminders practice such as Montessori, Steiner and indeed others, but I think Froebel’s principles link very closely and it explains why I was unhappy with my practice when I tried to implement the ideas of others – to in fact tick the boxes – and why I kept questioning it and going back to my own ethos, values and principles.
I now also know that my own experiences as a child have indeed influenced my ethos, values and practice – which I hope to be able to give some insight into through this blog.

While at Keilhau (and on the various trips to the important places in Froebel’s life) I gained more knowledge through listening , touching, observing , doing (and even a little bit of reading), and I could ‘feel’ all the bits coming together.

My thoughts about Froebel’s early life Froebel’s mother died when he was under one year old, and he had some difficult times in his early years between when his father remarried and when he went to live with his late mother’s brother. However I think (from what I heard / read) that he also had some more positive times, with memories of his mother’s love and care for him, and attachment to his brothers who he used to follow around, doing what they did. He also had positive memories of spending time gardening with his father. I think Froebel’s early memories helped him to realise what the important things in life were – and to appreciate them once he went to live with his uncle … and lay the foundations of his thoughts about education.So family groups (not necessarily in own home with close birth family), spending time with adults and with nature, both doing ‘work’ and play became central to his principles.

Links to childminding In my opinion these Froebel principles are also central to the ethos of registered childminding, as it is based in family homes (but not the child’s own home) and adults (often one adult) spends time with child and so those essential attachments are built, through the adult and child working and playing together, and through the adult facilitating the environments for the child to explore whilst the adult observes.

Use of resources Back in the 80’s and 90’s when I was a new childminder, it was usual in childminder settings to use real objects like pots and pans from the kitchen, knitted teddies and dolls clothes, wooden toys (some home made or passed down through generations) and so on; along with boxes, scrap paper and card as well as recycled items – and to only have a few child sized items/ manufactured plastic toys. Access to the natural environment in the childminders garden, local parks and woodlands was also common, and health and safety restrictions were almost unheard of – children learnt to manage their own risks.

When I toured the Keilhau site (remembering that it is for school age children) I saw very little in the way of modern toys or equipment – what I saw were real objects, items made by the children (including lots of paper folding) – and access to the natural environment. I saw things the children had made – things that worked and had a purpose.

Although I looked round two museums connected to Froebel and his Kindergartens (and the shops selling Froebel resources) I have to admit I did not see a Kindergarten in action nor did I look round one – and so I cannot really comment on what a modern day Kindergarten looks like. However I looked on the internet and I found a site on Facebook about Froebel kindergartens in the USA. I recognised some of resources that I had seen in the Froebel museums and shops. So maybe it is fair to assume that things have not changed that much? I would love to hear from those who run Froebel based kindergartens (settings), as I am a little worried that like the kindergarten that I attended as a small child that links to Froebel have been lost over time, or that the

Froebel based resources ‘the gifts’ are still around but swamped by ‘plastic fantastic’ or items with limited value in appropriate developmental terms for young children.

I think the biggest thing that struck me most in terms of resources is the role of the adult – seeing play with the ‘gifts’ being modelled at the museum based in Froebel’s first kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg, reminded me of ME and the way I spent time playing with children – not with Froebel based gifts because of course prior to this trip I did not really know about them – but with simple toys like a ball or a teddy or finger games and peek a boo – and singing and reading stories.

It was the use of language that really struck me from the modelling I saw in Bad Blankenburg – so much language and introducing new words and words that related to the object / game. I did this with my own children and with the many children that I have childminded over the years.

One of my childhood memories from the Froebel Kindergarten is of singing – and in particular singing at meal times – the song ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor’ with the prune stones.

Another think that struck me was how the adult modelled and suggested and encouraged trying again, trying different ways – while talking about what adult and child were doing – on a one to one basis. I am sure this could also be achieved with a very small group of children – such as is often the case in a childminder setting.

When I saw the paper folding completed by children, both current day as in the gifts left in my room at Keilhau, and in those in just about every building we visited; together with the historic evidence of paper folding in the museums – and then my own attempts – I was reminded of another childhood memory of my time at my kindergarten. I have clear memories (including a recollection of pride) of folding my napkin in the right way and fitting it into my napkin ring. Not paper folding but folding in a set way. Of course I have no idea how long it took me to master this skill but those positive feelings have been remembered over aprox the last 53 – 54 years (as I was 3 or 4 at the time) Powerful stuff!

As a childminder I provided similar activities for the children in my care, and lots and lots of opportunities to master skills and explore what could be done (and not done) with the resources provided – and indeed with own bodies / hands/ feet. In my early childminding career I did not have the resources that I had at the end of my career – they were not easily available and even if they were I did not have the money to buy them.

Did the children lack opportunities to flourish – I would say that actually had more opportunities because they could explore things in depth, they could use their imagination – and they had the greatest resource available – ME (the adult). Towards the end of my career I had downsized a lot of the ‘plastic fantastic’ stuff, the stuff that was not open ended, and I had invested in quality open ended resources which were supplemented with natural resources. In other words I went back to my ethos, values and principles of my early career – and what I knew deep inside was ‘right’

Play and work getting back to the links to childminding that I saw and thought about during the trip, I have to mention the balance between work and play, and directed play and free play (by free play I mean child led without interference by adults asking questions / making suggestions)

Froebel believed that children should be involved in tasks that would prepare them for the adult world – both employment skills and life skills. As a childminder working in my family home I was able to do this through children helping me with household tasks including, cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping and gardening – the emphasis was not on slave labour – it was on working alongside and slowly developing those skills. As readers know I am not one for quotes but there is one Froebel quote that I like – I can’t remember it word for word but in my own words, it is on the lines of ‘Don’t discourage your children from helping just because it is easier to do it yourself, otherwise you will stop them from asking, or doing in the future – even when you want them to’

From what I saw and heard, my thoughts are, Froebel thought children should work alongside adults; should have periods of instruction (note this is not the rote learning we see so much of these days – but play based learning with an adult); children should also have periods when they have time with nature to explore and discover – without the adult; and times in which to do nothing much but reflect and dream

And this is very much what happened in my childminding setting – and happens in childminder settings up and down the country every day – (whether they know it or not) all based on Froebel principles.

There is more I could say – and I will if I have time to write another blog connected to my trip to Keilhau to rediscover Froebel.

I will finish by reminding people the thoughts and views in this blog are my own – they are not necessarily how other people will reflect on Froebel and his legacy – but personally I think that is not important – as with all things people will ‘take away’ different reflections and opinions.

For me I have connected my own personal childhood and my childminding career to the visit to Keilhau – and for that I must give thanks to Community Playthings, and the children and staff at Keilhau. THANK YOU ONE AND ALL.

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