Early Childhood Education

Comenius, John Amos (1592-1670)

 

John Amos Comenius (Komensky) was a seventeenth-century religious leader, teacher, scholar, and author. His writings on education anticipated themes evident in the work of Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel in the nineteenth century, stressing the importance of early learning and the need to match pedagogy to children’s development.

Comenius was born in Bohemia, a region in central Europe that is now part of the Czech Republic. He was a member of a Protestant group called the Unity of Moravian Brethren, and his life and writings were guided by his religious beliefs. He was orphaned at an early age and raised by his aunt. Educated first at a local school organized by the church, an experience he remembered as uninspiring, he later attended university and underwent preparation as a pastor of the Moravian Church. He proceeded to work as a teacher and serve the church until his life was disrupted by the events of the Thirty Years’ War. Members of the church including Comenius and his family were driven from Bohemia and his wife and two children died during their exile.

While in exile Comenius was appointed bishop of the Moravian Church and it was during this period that he wrote the major works that comprise his legacy in the field of early childhood education, including Orbis Pictus (Comenius, 1968), an illustrated textbook, and School of Infancy (Comenius, 1896), which described the home-based and mother-led education of children under the age of six. Comenius described early childhood as a unique life stage. Experience was critical in shaping development, with those under age 6 more malleable than older children. Parents were responsible for educating their children in a rational manner, attending to their spiritual understanding, moral development, and knowledge gained through appropriate experiences. A measure of what was deemed appropriate was found in the study of a child’s nature. Parents were encouraged to promote joyful learning through children’s inclination to play and to make opportunities for their involvement in daily routines appropriate to their age. Comenius described young children as learning best through direct contact with the world of things. Specific activities were recommended at each age in relation to subject areas, including mathematics, geometry, drawing, and writing.

Comenius’s views on education, described more expansively in his Pampaedi (Comenius, 1986) and the Great Didactic (Comenius, 1967), were influenced by his experience as a student and teacher, and by his religious beliefs and panoptic worldview. Knowledge in this case was a unitary expression of science, philosophy, and theology gained through a system of universal education over the lifespan, beginning with a prenatal stage and ending in a school for old age. Education for children over age 6 was envisioned as an orderly undertaking led by efficient pedagogues using a common method and following a set curriculum.

Comenius’s vision for early childhood education was largely neglected until revived by Froebel in the kindergarten, an institution that promoted the developmental aims of education and the religious and moral purpose of early schooling in an out-of-home setting led by female teachers. See also Curriculum, Science.

Further Readings: Murphy, Daniel (1995). Comenius: A critical reassessment of his life and work. Dublin: Irish Academic Press; Comenius, John Amos (1986). Comenius’s Pampaedia, or: Universal education (A. M. O. Dobbie, trans). Dover, UK: Buckland; Comenius, John Amos (1896). Comenius’ school of infancy: An essay on the education of youth during the first six years (edited with an introduction and notes by Will S. Monroe). Boston: D.C. Heath. Froebel Archive Digital Collection, Roehampton Digital Library, University of Surrey,http://wordsworth.roehampton.ac.uk/digital/froarc/index.asp. Comenius, John Amos (1967). The great didactic of John Amos Comenius (trans. by M. W. Keatinge). New York: Russell and Russell; Comenius, John Amos (1968). Orbis Pictus: A facsimile of the first English edition of 1659. London: Oxford University Press; Orbis Sensualium Pictus Gallery. The virtual museum of education iconics, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. http://education.umn.edu/EdPA/iconics/

Larry Prochner