As writer and philosopher Jean Jacques Rosseau famously proclaimed, “Our first teachers are our feet, our hands and our eyes.”
Kindergarten focuses on work linking back to the 19th century German educator Fredrich Froebel (1782-1852), who coined the name “kindergarten” and invented this early childhood education program. Froebel’s kindergarten focused on the connection between creativity, (most significantly visual creativity), childhood development, and the spiritual geometry and harmony found in nature.
Before Froebel’s kindergarten, educational curricula for children under the age of seven were rare, and at best not stimulating and devoid of major social value. Frederich Froebel created an education that began, not with numbers and alphabets, but with colors, shapes, and patterns referred to as Froebel Gifts. His revolutionary program involved nature study, gardening, singing, dancing, story telling, and play with the gifts. A series of 20 gifts included cutting, weaving, and folding paper, sewing, block building and parquetry. These gifts and materials encouraged new ways of thinking, arranging, and sensing the world. Kindergarten’s ground breaking emphasis on observation, play, creativity, and discovery were a natural impetus for progression in modern design.
As the success of kindergarten grew, so did its influence on the art world–specifically within the genre of abstraction, laying the foundation for Cubism, Neo-Plasticism (De Stijl), and Bauhaus. The patterns and structures created through the Froebel lessons also left a significant impression on modern architecture. Kindergarten’s design paradigms are reflected in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, and the art of Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and Georges Braque, among others. Kindergarten may be thought of as “the seed pearl of the modern era,” (Norman Brosterman, Inventing Kindergarten, 1997, Harry N. Abrams, NY).
Concurrent with the Museum of Modern’ Art’s Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000 exhibition, Kindergarten similarly offers the chance to explore and ruminate upon the modernist focus on childhood and early childhood education’s singular advantage for progressive design.
Kindergarten presents 40 works on paper of both American and European origin. These works were made as coursework by women who were learning to teach the Froeblian Kindergarten. Created with simple colorful materials repetively pricked, stitched, folded, or woven, the works produce complex overall kaeidoscope disigns. Over a century later, they sitll resonate with the creativity, vitality of vision and intuitive modernim that can be found in the pedagogy of Froebel and his kindergarden.