Monday, December 20, 2010

Froebel and parental involvement in learning

"They have a culture here of valuing education and parents have a role to play too." From the BBC report on Schools in Finland, shown below. I've shared this video again because understanding a culture of learning requires reflection.

I had mentioned that Uno Cygnaeus had been the founder of the Finnish Folk Schools in the 1860s. He had been an advocate of Froebel's kindergarten, and wanted to extend the Froebel method beyond the Kindergarten years. He was the first to use Sloyd, a system of craft education in his efforts to do so. Even today käsityön, (crafts in Finnish) is compulsory in Finnish schools.

My discussion today is not about crafts (or the wood shop), but the importance of parental involvement in learning, and it was Friedrich Froebel who promoted an understanding of the mother's role in preparing her children for school.

I am reading Nina Vandewalker's 1908 book, The Kindergarten in American Education,which describes the introduction and growth of Froebel's method in the US. It offers insight into the role of the Kindergarten teacher in shaping and encouraging parental involvement in student learning. Froebel had written extensively on the subject, including books of songs and finger games for mothers to sing and play with their children to encourage growth. In my mother's training to be a kindergarten teacher, becoming a mentor for parental involvement was one of her prescribed roles. As kindergarten teacher, not only did she introduce children to the school, she had responsibility to foster a successful relationship between the parents and the school. Froebel's methods proposed a partnership for learning, which is what you still find alive today in Finland schools.

We worry about how to fix schooling, but come to the game almost too late. We need a new culture of learning, that begins in the earliest days when each child is first held in the arms of mother or father. Parents want better lives for their children. Parents do not always know how to act directly to fulfill those desires. An enhanced culture of learning is required... if we decide that we really want to give them our best. As proposed by Friedrich Froebel, "Let us live for our children."

One program that is designed to help parents give children a leg up on readiness for school is the Hippy Reading Program for preschoolers. What we also need is a Hippy making program to get children of all ages (and parents) away from screentime and into the making of beautiful and useful things. Make, fix, create. We have about 5 making days before Christmas.


  1. Anonymous1:45 PM

    In my 35+ years in education, I VERY rarely heard much about parental involvement. The "fault" was generally laid on teachers. It's wonderful to see this appreciation of the role of parents. When my sons were in school, at one school my wife and I were often the only parents there on parent-teacher meeting nights. The results of that school's education showed me the value of parents being there.


  2. I applaud you talking about the need for parents to get involved in their child's education. As an educator for over 35 years I KNOW that the kids who succeed are those who have parents who care about their education and try to get involved.
    The problem is most parents don't know HOW to get involved or what type of support their child needs. That is why, after a career as a teacher, I now work with parents, helping them know how to help their child succeed.

  3. Mario, and Dr. Porter,
    The educational system has been broken for so long that many parents don't realize that they might be welcomed in some schools.

    My mother would get parents to come in for conferences and they would have so much anger resulting from their own schooling. She had to win them over, let them know that she was on their children's side and wanted the best for them. It requires a tremendous effort to win trust where it has been violated, and trust is being violated each day in American schools. The effects last generations.

    In the Finland School video, it is telling when the teacher says, "I am their school mother." And it takes that kind of relationship.

    Years after my mother's retirement, men would come running across the supermarket parking lot, yelling, Mrs. Stowe, Mrs. Stowe. My mother would recognize them and call them by name despite the fact that they were now large, often over 6 ft. tall, and no longer their small kindergarten selves. It truly takes that kind of relationship to make effective schooling and unfortunately most at the upper levels where educational policies are established don't have much of an idea about what is really necessary to bring desperately needed change.

  4. I watched this video. Parent involvement was open and active discussion about school around the dinner table, not spending hours after school catching kids up in mastery of core subjects. Those Finnish classrooms have big, utilitarian desks and few things on the walls. Kids are encouraged to exercise. Teachers are highly trained (not a profession you go into when you can't or don't want to pursue a more challenging major) and valued.

  5. Cindy,
    They would have big desks because the students do more at the desks than sit. They work together to solve problems. Here in the US parents help to catch children up because during the day they are trained on a clock, so much time for this and so much for that.

    When I visited at the University of Helsinki, I spent some time in the university wood shop where Kindergarten teachers getting their masters degrees were learning to teach wood working to their kids. I wish we had such high standards in the US.