Herald and Journal Herald & Journal, April 20, 1998

Kindergarten's beginnings

By MYRON HEUER

The very first American kindergarten had five students and was located right here in Watertown, Wisc.

Kindergarten is a German word, translated it means children's garden. Margarethe Meyer Schurz was passionate about a garden for a crop called children.

Meyer was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1833 to a prominent family. Her education was in the arts and education. As a teenager, she was exposed to the teachings of kindergarten founder and advocate Friedrich Froebel. When Meyer came to America, married to Carl Schurz, she carried Froebel's ideas with her.

They settled in Watertown in 1856. Her husband would gain fame as a political activist in Wisconsin. There she employed Froebel's philosophy while caring for her daughter and four neighbor children, leading them in games and songs and group activities that channeled their energy while preparing them for school at the same time.

Other parents were so impressed at the results that they asked Schurz to help their children. So she opened a small kindergarten, the first in the United States.

The idea began to spread, in part because Schurz would accompany her husband on his political travels and preach about kindergarten's benefits.

Her work certainly gained an audience; kindergarten became an accepted and integral part of American education and an accepted course of study for elementary teachers.

Margarethe was troubled with poor health her entire life. She died at 42 years old in 1876 at her family's home in New York.

In Watertown, the building that housed her first kindergarten has been restored, and today it is identified by a historical marker.

I've always wondered, how do they get the deer to cross the road at that yellow road sign?


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