Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who invented the concept of kindergarten. He believed that "play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child's soul."
Froebel promotes the importance of play, because in play children construct their understanding of the world through direct experience with it. According to Froebel, child-initiated play is very important as it means that the child is motivated and engaged. Within this approach, the practitioner always starts with what children already know and can do and ensures that each child is offered play opportunities that are right for their stage of development. Froebel believes that children need opportunities to make choices, errors, and decisions as this is how they learn what is right for them as an individual.
A key part of Froebel’s early years pedagogy is that each child is offered plenty of opportunities to talk, listen and communicate with adults and other
children and believes that all learning is linked, and so every different area of learning can impact others.
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who developed the Montessori method which focuses on each child’s individuality, encouraging curiosity through a carefully designed environment.
The learning environment in the Montessori approach is safe, ordered and nurturing. It should also encourage self-directed, hands-on learning for each child and be a place which is happy and friendly and where children know exactly where everything is so that they could play independently without the need to always have to rely on adults to help them. Montessori saw that careful preparation of the environment is an essential ingredient for the successful development of children. She realised that the child relies completely on the environment for the sensorial impressions through which he or she gains a sense of the world in which he or she lives. Montessori therefore paid a great deal of attention to the way in which learning spaces were designed, set up and presented to children.
According to Montessori, the layout of the classroom should encourage exploration and communication as this will in turn support young children to develop relationships on all levels: with their environment, their peers and the adults around them. Here, everything reflects a dedication to quality, beauty and to the children’s abilities to do things for themselves.
Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian educationalist, who set up his first school for the workers of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart. Steiner believed in an environment that is calm, peaceful, familiar, predictable and unhurried.
Key to this approach was the belief that a carefully planned routine was central to success and that routine learning should be experienced through the course of regular daily tasks and activities. In this approach, routine and repetition are important as they help children to find their place in the world. It also helps to support good habits and give perspective to the day.
Steiner also endorses that the environment is central to children and should be familiar to them, where each child should have a place where their things belong. To Steiner, ‘doing’ is learning. Steiner recognises that both the environment and the adult’s role within it, should offer children as many physical activities as possible and opportunities to learn from the real world in order to ‘grasp’ the world around them.
This approach again advocates the use of natural, open-ended resources wherever possible, leaving room for the child’s imagination.
According to Steiner, the language used with children should also allow all activities to encompass different areas. Mathematics can be learnt while children prepare food, for instance, as you give them the language of adding, subtracting, weighing and measuring.
The Reggio Emilia approach was developed by Loris Malaguzzi alongside parents after World War II. It is a heavily child-centric approach, with a focus on the many ways children can express themselves. The practitioner is an observer and promoter of the child’s interests.
Within this approach, every child should be seen as strong, capable and resilient, and ready to explore. Children are seen as natural communicators, and it is important in this approach that the adults understand the many different ways children express themselves (which this approach refers to as the ‘100 languages of children’). Children should be made to feel like their conversations with adults are an opportunity to learn and search together. It is a process. For that reason, practitioners need to really engage with children and pay attention to what they’re saying.
The Reggio Emilia approach believes that children can build their own learning, and require adults to help support it, not instruct. This hands-on approach to learning is what best allows children to communicate using their hundred languages. This includes drawing, dancing, painting and pretend play, music, sculpting. Giving children opportunities to express themselves is key and there is a strong focus on exploratory and child-led play is meant to improve problem-solving skills in particular.