Historical Foundations of Early Childhood Education 

The 1800's

Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827)
A Swiss educator influenced by the Romantic movement and views of Rousseau. Pestalozzi played with Rousseau's ideas while educating his own son, but when his son could still not read at the age of 11, Pestalozzi decided that Rousseau's methods were ineffective and developed his own methods instead. These methods and ideas laid the groundwork for education reform later on in the 19th century, and had a huge impact on the development of Progressive Education in the US and Europe. Pestalozzi believed that all children had the inherent right to education as well as the capacity to profit from that education. He went on to focus on education, primarily working with the poor and orphans, establishing schools where he could implement his ideas. Pestalozzi believed education had the power to awaken the potential in each child and could eventually lead to social reform. He proposed individualized curriculum, based on a child's interests, abilities, and developmental stage. He ignored the idea of memorization and embraced sensory exploration as the primary way of learning, and believed that children had the ability to self-pace their learning, working from simple to complex, concrete to abstract. He also emphasized social interactions and human relationships, striving to 'awaken a feeling of brotherhood [and] make them affectionate, just, and considerate." (Braun & Edwards 1972, 52).

Robert Owen (1771-1858)
Welsh Industrialist and Social Reformer. A disciple of Pestalozzi, Owen was primarily concerned with the families who worked in the cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution. Working in labor practice reform  and the establishment of schools in hopes of improving the lives of factory children, who were forced to work long hours in the mills from the tender age of six. Owen started the first "infant school" in England for children aged 3-10, offering a nurturing, emotionally secure setting. Owen did not endorse pressuring children to learn or punishing them, instead choosing education through natural consequences, believing this would ultimately teach children right from wrong. The infant school's curriculum included sensory learning, singing, dancing, stories, nature, and physical excercise. However, his ideas were deemed 'extreme' and did not survive in England. Owen moved his program to the US, hoping to be better received there,  where he was a founding member of "New Harmony", a Utopian community in Indiana. His schools did not survive, many of his ideas are still found in todays early childhood programs, including large blocks of free-play and a caring, respectful environment.