Gary Brown: Lessons from a 1907 kindergarten class
“Schoolroom That is a Playhouse,” proclaims headlines over a 1907 Repository article. “Kindergarten Joys and Sorrows.”
Words in the article speak of East Fifth Street kindergarten, the city’s only kindergarten school a century ago. “Twenty tots in Buster Brown suits, ginghams and aprons” came in the morning to the school, sang children’s songs, told stories, played games and marched around the room in a game of hide-and-seek played to piano music.
“Their room is a playhouse,” notes the article. “On the blackboard is an imaginary flower bed of red and yellow tulips that almost ‘nod and bow.’ Pictures that children adore are hung on the walls. There are little chairs, just as in their play rooms at home, perhaps. Big lines are painted in red on the floor -- these, they follow when playing games.”
Education is a part of school day. Young impressionable minds are filled with information about the ways of the world -- at home and in the outdoors.
“With winter coming the tots are talking about the squirrel, of how the little animal, from instinct, gathers in nuts and stores them away for winter, when food is scarce -- an instinct that has in it a lesson even for ‘proud man.’” explains the article. “Another subject is the preparations in the home for winter -- the storing away of the canned fruits, potatoes, vegetables and other winter necessities.”
With Christmas fast approaching this day 100 years ago, the children’s teacher focused her pupils on making presents for their parents, brothers and sisters -- “not costly presents, but paper articles.”
There is talk of Santa Claus, but references are politically correct decades before that term found favor in the speech of Cantonians.
“The teacher never says such a person exists, for she has found that some parents object ... that to tell the children the story of Santa is a vital mistake.”
The instruction the kindergarten teacher – Miss Niederhauser – instead offers are lessons of which she knows parents approve. Rules of obedience. Methods of manners. Ways of independence.
Niederhauser, the article notes, is the only kindergarten teacher at that time “supported by Canton Public Schools.”
Many do not understand the value of this training, she thinks, because of failure to investigate, and to study the school’s methods.
Those methods are simple. Let the children have fun. Impress upon them that what they do is right or wrong, and help them ready themselves for the life that follows.
“They go home at noon happy and contented,” the articles said. “They have their afternoons free.”
Reach Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org