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Caroline Pratt grew up in the farming community of Fayetteville, New York. She taught first grade for five years from 1887 to 1892 in Fayetteville and then became interested in the growing kindergarten movement founded by Friedrich Froebel in Germany. The first English speaking kindergarten in America was established in 1860, and by 1880 the number had grown to 400. Pratt was influenced by Froebel’s kindergarten philosophy that suggested that children’s play and activity were central to their individual growth and development (2).
Her philosophy of teaching was based on the children’s interests, and through play she allowed them to learn experimentally through their experiences in their immediate environments (3).
Pratt rejected the idea of a fixed curriculum and allowed children to freely choose their play projects. To stimulate curiosity, real world experiences through field trips were provided, and the classroom was filled with play materials and loose parts, such as blocks, paper, crayons, and clay. As the children reenacted pretend play scenarios from their observed experiences, they made sense of the world around them. Children were given practical jobs that taught them to take responsibility for their tasks and to interact with others in the development of their school community. Pratt felt that grounding children in real world experiences would help them learn social truths in democracy and working together as a community (4).
Pratt is credited for developing wooden blocks, called unit blocks. They were similar to the blocks used by Froebel based on the proportion of 1:2:4 (5). The wooden unit blocks she developed for children ages two through seven were widely admired and copied (6). Other blocks were derived from this standard block, some smaller and others larger as described by Froebel in The Education of Man 1826. Unit blocks must be sturdy and accurately cut so that children may use them to create, solve problems, and challenge themselves. Pratt well documented the block work of children, which influenced the continued use of blocks through the years (7).
As Pratt observed children deeply absorbed in block play, she noted, “In his play (he) was thinking, learning, setting down his understanding of the way things worked, the relationship of facts to each other…educating himself.”(8) Because of her extensive work in block play, blocks continue to be used in classrooms today as essential tools for learning.
1. “History of City and Country School.” City and Country School. < http://cityandcountry.org/about-us/history/ > 30 Nov. 2011.