Freeing the child: Froebelians and the transformation of learning through play, self-activity and project work in English state junior school classrooms, 1917-1952

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter investigates Eglantyne Jebb’s claim , that ‘Froebel-trained teachers have made a most important contribution to better teaching in Junior schools’ (Jebb., 1952 p.9) by charting the impact of revisionist Froebelian pedagogy on teaching methods and the curriculum in English state junior schools from the 1920s to the 1950s. Whilst Froebel is best known for the kindergarten, this chapter builds on research which has shown how, increasingly from 1900, Froebelians sought to establish Froebelian pedagogy more widely across the educational spectrum, starting with state infant schools (Read 2013) and, increasingly, in schools for older children. In doing so their work reflected a key focus in The Education of Man on the child at school and the Froebelian principle of a holistic approach to education. Pedagogical innovation by Froebelian teachers was based on active learning through projects based on children’s own interests, contributing to the transformation of the classroom. This was a slow endeavour, reflecting, at least in part, the concerns of teachers as they introduced freer practice, in a period when success was still governed by success in formal exams and favourable inspection reports. In response to warnings that ‘progressivism’ (Lynch 1936) and ‘influence’ (Skinner 1969, 2002) are slippery concepts, a view also held by Kevin Brehony with regard to claims made for Froebelian pedagogy (Brehony 1983), the chapter interrogates what was distinctively ‘Froebelian’ in these developments.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKindergarten Narratives on Froebelian Education:
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Perspectives
EditorsHelen May, Kristen Nawrotzki, Larry Prochner
Place of PublicationLondon; New York
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-4742-5443-4
ISBN (Print)978-1-4742-5445-8
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Cite this