Historical Foundations of Early Childhood Education 

The Renaissance and Reformation began in Italy in the 1300's and traveled westward until the early 1600's. As cities grew into centers for trade and artistic expression, more attention was beginning to move from the church to the individual, with more value placed on the arts and literature. With the invention of the printing press, a higher value was placed on education of both adults and children. The revival of ancient languages such as Latin was deemed to be key to unlocking lost knowledge of ancient times. Sir Thomas More of England and Desiderius Erasmus encouraged parents to use less harsh forms of discipline and punishments to motivate their children, and both believed that children would want to learn if they found the content enjoyable. One example is the letter-shaped archery targets More used to teach children the letters of the alphabet. After More's daughter was able to speak fluently in both Green and Latin, Erasmus was so impressed that he became a strong advocate for the equal, higher education of women along with men.

Martin Luther (1483-1546), a former monk, eventually broke from the Catholic church and began a movement known as the Protestant Reformation. He was a keen advocate of universal education, and believed both boys and girls ought to be taught to read in order to read the Bible for themselves, instead of relying on verbal retelling. He believed the school's role was to educate the intellectual, religious, physical, emotional, and social aspects of children. Later, his views helped establish a wide network of schools in Germany, although it wasn't until 19th century America did his ideas about Universal Education become reality. In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic church responded with a "Catholic Counter-Reformation", which led to new religious societies dedicated to educating orphans and poor children. Protestant and Catholic schools alike focused on the 'sinful' nature believed to affect all children, and focused on religious indoctrination and were not sensitive to the different religious beliefs of their students.

The exception, however, was John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), born in what is now the Czech Republic. Forced into becoming a refugee from the Thirty-Years War, Comenius began writing about education in the hopes that it would help society and serve Czech citizens now living in exile. He produced some of the earliest teaching materials targeted towards young children, including his "Orbus Pictus." Comenius believed all children to age 6 should be taught in their native languages, that all people were equal before God, and that all individuals, rich, poor, male, or female, should be entitled to the same education. He was the first to introduce the concept of "grades", or different levels of education determined by each individual child's age and developmental stage. Comenius and others' beliefs led to a basic schooling system, where reading, writing, and arithmetic education was provided to very young children from age 5-11, before they began their vocational training.