Early Childhood Education and ‘Kindergarten’

Table of contents

Pre-school education is discussed mainly through the development of a child’s personality. The knowledge and practices acquired by children during this stage of learning are embedded with their character. Furthermore development of creative thinking, communication skills and social interaction are a few benefits able to acquire by pre-school children. (Palihakkara, D.W., Premaratne, R.M. 2004, p 36).

‘Kindergarten’, is a German metaphorical term referring to a garden, in which children are compared to growing plants. It is used as a common term for pre-school educational institutions, defined in various ways in many countries. The ‘Kindergartens’ are recognized educational environments created to motivate and support the mental, physical, emotional, linguistic and social development of children between ages 3-5 years. (Source: “Friedrich Froebel”, http://www.infed.com/Froebel.html )

History of Early Childhood Education

Many contributions are made to the development of theories on early childhood education through the ages in the history of educational philosophy. All theories are based upon the child’s psychological background, with various scientific research and interpretations made with time through established contemporary methods.

Greek philosopher Plato in 4th Century B.C. was the first to emphasize the importance of education with play and rhythmic movement to improve mental and physical growth during the first five years of a child’s life. This idea was further improved by the addition of Aristotle’s ideas on practicing good habits and attitudes in children.

John Amos Komensky (Comenius) in the 16th Century, expressed ideas of child centered education: he believed children should learn by sensory experiences through activities engineered within their natural environment. He stressed on the child’s need for love and
Security and the role of a mother as a teacher in the ‘home based’ early childhood education. (Dudek.M, 1996, pp30-39)

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) further illustrates that nothing should be forced on the child. He suggests methods of active learning through experience and the enjoyment of work as ‘play’.

“Work or play is all one to him, his games are his work, and he knows no difference.”


The four stages of a child’s development described by him are as follows:

Infancy – reveals habits and the framing of emotions
Childhood – reveals necessity and training of senses
Boyhood – reveals utility and the training of the intellect
Adolescence – reveals mortality

Of these training emotions and the senses was stressed only in early childhood education.

Fredrich Froebel (1782-1827) believed that the childhood is a period with its own interests, values and creativity and identifies ‘Play’ as the distinctive activity. He established the pre-school system ‘Kindergarten’ with the emphasis on ‘Free Play’ and child’s freedom. (Dudek.M, 1996, p51)

Fig.2.01: Freidrich Froebel and his kindergarten tools known as ‘Froebel’s gifts’ in use with children.

Educationist Maria Montessori (1870-1952) focused on the necessity of sensory learning, skill development, the use of materials and comfortable class room environments for children in comparison to Kindergarten method, the Montessori Method focuses more towards the efficiency and speed in making children ready to engage with formal learning. (Dudek.M, 1996, p.58)

Fig.2.02: Maria Montessori and pre-school children

Psychologists such as Wellman and Piaget during the twentieth century discovered that intelligence levels of children can be manipulated by environmental experiences such as pre-schooling. Also disapproved ideas of fixed intelligence and predetermined development. These findings improved the quality of pre-school education as structured stimulating environments for cognition and skill development. (Dudek.M, 1996, p.65)

2.1.2 Early Childhood Education in Sri Lankan Context

Pre-school education has been a key priority of the Sri Lankan Education since the early 1940’s. (The Kannangara Report of 1943, Jayasooriya Commission Report on education in 1961). In 1986 the affiliation of powers to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Childcare enabled to enhance and control the quality and regulations for Pre-schools Island wide. Experts on child psychology and education help to categorize various early educational programs.

The management of Pre-school education in Sri Lanka can be identified under three basic sectors:

State sector – Managed under the Departments of Social Services, Fisheries, Women’s Affairs and Protection and child care, Local Government etc.
Voluntary Organizations – Sarvodaya, Mahila Samithi, Religious Organizations, Samurdhi Movement, and Social Welfare Trust Organization (Pre-schools in the Estate Sector)
Private Sector – Private Educational Organizations or individuals (Mostly Montessori System Adopted)

The two key systems of early education in Sri Lanka are:

Nursery ; Kindergarten Method
Montessori Method (Palihakkara, D.W., Premaratne, R.M. 2004, pp54-57).

The Nursery and kindergarten method is a combination of the Nursery and Kindergarten systems currently practiced in Sri Lanka.


This system focuses a child centered approach which became the inspiration for modern pre-school education. Founded by, Freidrich Froebel, it fosters play, giving precedence for the growth of children’s feelings and their imagination.

The objectives focus on the child’s development which includes social skills and sensory development.

Sociability and care within a group of children
Problem solving ability based on individual and group activities
Accomplishment of sensory motor coordination
Understanding basic concepts necessary for latter learning
Appreciation of beauty in all forms
Social maturity and self-awareness
Progress of creativity

(Palihakkara, D.W., Premaratne, R.M. 2004, pp37-38.)

Nursery Schools

A more recent education system based on the Kindergarten system, which functions on a nonprofit basis through churches, homes and charitable organizations .

Its objectives are:

Child socialization and the use of Fantasy Play – promotes sensory motor and emotional development.
Attachment between teacher and child – brings out self-confidence, security and spontaneity within the child.
Creating a learning environment free from restrictions and directions
Establishment of good parental relations

(Palihakkara, D.W., Premaratne, R.M. 2004, p38.)

Organized and free play is believed to help the child realize his true capacity through aesthetics and self-expressive qualities of play.
Nursery schools limit each group to a maximum of twenty students with a minimum of two teachers to maintain good child-Teacher relationship where the teacher is only a guide, selecting music, materials for play discussion or art activities.


An early education system that combines both the psychological concepts and academic techniques was established by Maria Montessori. She believed in creating a core environment based on love, care, co-operation, patience, self control and responsibility to be the main feature of the system.

The system aims skill development of children through activities such as:

Practical life exercises and occupational skills – Ex. Carrying and using objects, buttoning, folding linen etc. as practical life skills and sweeping, washing, brushing as occupational skills
Sensory exercises – Sensory discrimination skills and concepts
Didactic exercises –understand shape, size, colour, texture, temperature etc.

(Palihakkara, D.W., Premaratne, R.M. 2004, pp39-40.)

Fantasy Play of the Kindergarten has been substituted in the Montessori system by the organized activities that contribute to self-discipline and the course of work.

‘Learning through Play’ Method

As Friedrich Froebel believes ‘play’ as the most distinctive activity of children. Apart from bringing joy to the child, ‘play’ also evokes the inherent spirit that children possess which symbolizes the character of each individual. (Dudek M. 1996, p.47)

Research on human behavior has revealed that children learn efficiently from ‘seemingly-random’ play as from the formal classroom. Play gives children the opportunity of firsthand experience to discover things through exploration: it motivates them to take risks and challenges to explore the world further. (McConnell.J, 1989)

Piaget describes the basic types of play a child progresses through in his/her developmental stages as Pre-Social and Social play.

Pre-Social Play: The infant take on play with hands, feet, bells, rattles and dolls at six months.
Social Play: Is a more intricate and social in character as it occurs with both individual and physical development.

Category 1: Social play is in relation to the activity, such as:

Free Play: The basic kind of social play that involves physical play activities with other children. This enables them to control their demeanor.
Formal Play: Play with formal rules, but turns out to be flexible when children become more verbal.
Creative Play: Defined as the ‘pinnacle’ of all types of play by Piaget: the child learns to operate with symbols rather than objects.

Category 2: play can be classified under the point of social contact it offers. the curriculum of a Kindergarten encourages the following types of play:

Solitary Play : children playing alone, independently, of their own interest.
Parallel Play : playing beside each other, but not with each other.
Associative Play : children playing with each other, communicating, sharing materials and activities in an unorganized pattern, without an overall goal.
Corporative Play : children organizing themselves in a group, with a common goal or purpose.

(Malone. K, Tranter. P, 2003)

Category 3: Any activity of play can be viewed in different stages of complexities of activity.

Stage One: Simple exploration of play material – feeling sand, pouring water back and forth, scribbling with colour pencils etc.
Stage Two: Symbolic Play – Use of objects as symbols for some other object. Takes place during the Preoperational stage mentioned by

Piaget, a play very frequently used by kindergarten children.

Stage Three: When Kindergarten children are able to interact in co- operative play, they devised flexible rules to their games. (Malone. K, Tranter. P, 2003)

The three categories of social play are effectively practiced in Kindergarten programs facilitated by teachers without restricting child behavior.

Fig.2.03 :Children engaged in learning Fig.2.04: Children engaged in play

Researchers have distinguished three main categories of play in relation to child development. These are summarized below with its characteristics.

Physical/motor skill play activities – playing on structured games, using free equipment (e.g., bat ; ball). A natural way through which, children’s physical growth, agility and endurance is improved. These are essential to a healthy childhood and later life.
Social/non social play activities – Talking with others, observe others activities, daydreaming (includes onlooker play). Children must play with others, share and cooperate, respect other views, express their ideas, feelings and needs without the involvement of an adult. A child constructs identity which suits him. Learns to negotiate with others, and interaction with their peers allows to acquire social skills and emotional well-being essential for child’s development.
Cognitive play activities – (includes imaginative and creative play) building with materials and engaging in imaginative activities enables children to discover, explore and develop an understanding of the environment around them. They become familiar with the patterns and systems of life and connections with the experience.
Therefore, play being a stimulant of physical, emotional, social, intellectual and cognitive development of the child plays a key role in early childhood education. (Malone .K, Tranter. P, 2003)

Spatial quality of a Kindergarten

The Nursery and Kindergarten method encourages freedom for the child to self-explore and experience his world. The psychological need for freedom is given priority in child centered education. A Child requires the freedom to experience childhood to its fullest potential. It is a key feature that enables him to successfully deal with future endeavors in life. (Selmer – Olsen I., 1993)

The spatial quality depends on the quality of activity, physical and psychological requirements of the users etc. A Kindergarten facilitates the main function of ‘Learning through Play’. The space and spatial quality of such institutions is the tool which moulds the ambiance required for the activity. The environment of a kindergarten should be organized, supportive and inspirational with desired freedom for the child to explore within the defined limitations of safety.

Thus an ideal environment would cater to the requirements of a child’s intellectual, social, linguistic, aesthetic and physical development. It will incorporate spatial variety with quiet spaces for solitude and security, more opened social spaces for group activities and exciting outdoor spaces for exploration. The sensual variety in light, colour, texture, and sound, would intensify the spatial quality to motivate children to engage positively with the kindergarten activities. (Bettelheim. B, Annalia. G, (1992), Dudek M. 1996, p.06).

The objective of kindergarten architecture should be to create stimulus and secure learning environments that celebrates the characteristic activity of childhood – ‘play’. (Dudek M. 1996, p.06).

Kindergarten environments should consider ‘Learning and Play’ as a synchronized, series of simultaneous learning and play activities. The spatial quality of a dynamic nature for stimulation of Play should be controlled to achieve levels of concentration required for learning. This aspect should be addressed by using architectural elements such as form, scale, proportion, colour, texture, pattern, light and views. (Dudek M. 1996, p.06).

2.2.1 Colour as a spatial quality in Kindergartens

Amongst architectural elements that stimulate space for humans, colour plays a vital role with direct impacts on mind and body. The sensation of colour enables to communicate between natural and manmade elements in architecture.

The Three Elephants kindergarten designed by Knafo Klimor Architects in Caesarea, Israel. It is a testimony of the above statement as arrangements of dynamic spaces with a series of geometric wall planes are emphasized by colour.

Fig.2.05: Interaction with Nature: Kindergarten in Caeserea, Israel

“The natural contrast between light and shade creates a new range of form and colour. Two –dimensional architecture will eventually create a richer composition of colour, which, in turn, will enrich the child’s experience.” (Eylon.L, 2003)

The constant interaction with the surrounding environment draws in the light and colours of nature to animate the visual ambiance for the child; it is a dynamic experience of life.
The vibrant application of colour highlights and symbolizes the abstract built forms of nature. The forms and colours with resemblance to a toy, encourages the child’s imagination to visualize ‘a herd of elephants’ and further explore activities of play through his imaginary world.

Fig.2.06: Light provides visual depth to Form and Colour: Kindergarten in Caecerea, Israel and Kindergarten8units in Spain

Natural light is a source which enhances the spirit of spatial quality. Kindergarten8units in Spain is an example for its execution in enhancing colours.

Fig.2.07: Eye level views for children:

The window is used as an activity space against the wall. Therefore, the activities can have a pleasant bright setting and a close view of the outdoor environment. Bringing the window heights to child’s eye level provides them with visual continuity from indoors to outdoors.

Fig.2.08: Spirit of light and colour

Use of colour with natural illumination energizes space and brightens the mood. The brightness of natural light floods into the corridors (common spaces) from the sky lights above and spreads into the classes arranged around it. Natural light and colour cooperate and works by changing light and the colours of the views of outdoors.

This provides children a sensual understanding of time, nature and natural phenomena. Hence, colour becomes a vital spatial character in a kindergarten as it stimulates the child to positively communicate with its activity and the environment.

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