Kindergarten is a preschool education approach designed to transition children from home to school. “Kindergarten” is a German word that means “garden for the children.” It traditionally emphasized learning through playing, singing, drawing, and social interaction. The first kindergarten was established in Blankenburg, Germany, in the late 1830s. In America kindergartens usually enroll five-year-old children, but by the end of the twentieth century some four-year-olds and a few three-year-olds attended kindergarten.
The Milwaukee area, having a significant German immigrant population, had many kindergartens by the late nineteenth century. Margarethe Meyer Schurz held the first American kindergarten in her home in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1856. By 1874, there were a few privately run kindergartens in Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee school board established its first public kindergarten in 1879. The Milwaukee Mission Kindergarten and Neighborhood Association assisted in establishing free kindergartens, especially in immigrant neighborhoods, after 1884. Kindergarten teachers were trained at a normal school associated with Milwaukee Public Schools from 1881 until 1885, after which the state absorbed the normal program. Instruction for kindergarten programs did not resume until 1892.
Kindergarten enrollment increased in the early twentieth century. There were 3,797 children enrolled in Milwaukee’s public kindergartens in 1905, and they were taught by ninety-nine teachers. There were two half-day sessions—five-year-olds attended in the morning and four-year-olds attended in the afternoon. Enrollment in public kindergartens increased to 9,250 children by 1945.
Kindergarten remained largely unchanged until after World War II. The Cold War spurred the United States federal government to spend more money on public schools through the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and Project Head Start, which began in 1965. While kindergarten curriculum still emphasized play, it also shifted to skills that previously had not been taught until first grade, including reading, scientific observation and classification, social studies, and vocational education. The all-day kindergarten became commonplace by the 1980s as more women chose to work outside their homes.
Four-year-old kindergarten was not very popular until the end of the twentieth century. As school districts switched from one-room school houses to graded structures after 1920, they no longer had room for four-year-olds. Many school districts also shifted funding from elementary education to high schools when high school attendance became mandatory. State funding for four-year-olds was eliminated in 1957; by 1980, only six Wisconsin school districts offered four-year-old kindergarten. Milwaukee Public Schools discontinued its program in 1956, though it allowed four-year-olds with late-autumn birthdays to attend five-year-old kindergarten. Then, in 1973, four-year-old kindergarten was reinstated at fourteen schools. The school board added twenty-two more four-year-old kindergartens in 1985.
The state restored some funding to four-year-old kindergarten in 1984 and 1991, partly to accommodate working mothers. By 2009, 80 percent of all Wisconsin school districts offered four-year-old kindergarten, placing Wisconsin sixth among the fifty states. Thirty-eight thousand of the state’s four-year-olds (53 percent of all those in the state) were enrolled. Milwaukee also has seven public Montessori schools. Three-year-old kindergarten is a normal part of Montessori education.
- ^ Ann Taylor Allen, “Gardens of Children, Gardens of God: Kindergartens and Day-Care Centers in Nineteenth Century Germany,” Journal of Social History 19, no. 3 (1986): 436-437; Elizabeth Dale Ross, The Kindergarten Crusade: The Establishment of Preschool Education in the United States (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1976), 3.
- ^ Wisconsin Council of Families and Children, “The Unique History of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten in Wisconsin” (September 2010), 4-5, http://www.wccf.org/assets/great_start_6_history_4K.pdf, last accessed April 17, 2016, now available at http://kidsforward.net/assets/great_start_6_history_4K.pdf, last accessed August 17, 2017.
- ^ Charles H. Doerflinger, “The Kindergarten Movement at Milwaukee,” Kindergarten Magazine 18, no. 7 (1906), 388; “America’s First Kindergarten,” Watertown Historical Society website, http://www.watertownhistory.org/articles/ kindergardenfirst.htm, last accessed April 17, 2016, now available at http://www.watertownhistory.org/otherbld.htm, last accessed August 17, 2017.
- ^ Doerflinger, “The Kindergarten Movement at Milwaukee,” 388-395, 399-403; Stella Heinemann, “Public School Kindergartens in Milwaukee,” Kindergarten Magazine 18, no. 8 (1906), 460; History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Chicago, IL: Western Historical Co., 1881) 528, 558-559; and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Kindergarten: Experiences in Learning and Living (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1971), 2.
- ^ Milwaukee Mission Kindergarten Association, “Report of the Milwaukee Mission Kindergarten Association,” July 14, 1892 in Wisconsin Historical Society, description of the document and pp. 1, 9-10, last accessed April 17, 2016.
- ^ Doerflinger, “The Kindergarten Movement at Milwaukee,” 403-405; Heinemann, 460; History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 532.
- ^ Heinemann, “Public School Kindergartens in Milwaukee,” 461-462.
- ^ Milwaukee Board of School Directors, Proceedings of the Board of School Directors (Milwaukee: The Board of School Directors), January 9, 1945 (hereafter cited as Proceedings).
- ^ Milwaukee Public Schools, Kindergarten-Primary Curriculum Guide (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Schools, 1957), 6-9, 29-38, 83-89; Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 11-25; and Herbert Zimiles, “The Social Context of Early Childhood in an Era of Expanding Preschool Education” in Today’s Kindergarten: Exploring the Knowledge Base, Expanding the Curriculum, ed. Barnard Spodek (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986), 2-5.
- ^ The Wisconsin Council of Families and Children, “The Unique History of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten in Wisconsin” 6.
- ^ Proceedings, January 10, 1956, and June 29, 1972.
- ^ Proceedings, October 10, 19, and 20, 1972.
- ^ Proceedings, January 3, 1985.
- ^ The Wisconsin Council of Families and Children, “The Unique History of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten in Wisconsin,” 7.
- ^ Angeline Stoll Lillard, Montessori: The Science behind the Genius (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen, Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home from Birth to Age Three (New York: Schocken Books, 2003); and “Find a School,” Milwaukee Public Schools website, last accessed April 24, 2016.
For Further Reading
Doerflinger, Charles H. “The Kindergarten Movement at Milwaukee.” Kindergarten Magazine 18, no. 7 (1906): 385-406.
Heinemann, Stella. “Public School Kindergartens in Milwaukee.” Kindergarten Magazine 18, no. 8 (1906): 460-462.
History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Chicago: Western Historical Co., 1881.
Milwaukee Board of School Directors. Proceedings of the Board of School Directors. Milwaukee: The Board of School Directors.
Wisconsin Council of Families and Children. “The Unique History of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten in Wisconsin.” September 2010. http://www.wccf.org/assets/ great_start_6_history_4K.pdf. Last accessed April 17, 2016. Now available at http://kidsforward.net/assets/great_start_6_history_4K.pdf, last accessed August 17, 2017.