International Kindergarten Union (IKU) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

International Kindergarten Union (IKU)


The International Kindergarten Union (IKU) was established in 1892, during the annual conference of the National Kindergarten Union (NEA) at Saratoga Springs, New York. Members of a committee appointed by its Kindergarten Department to plan exhibits for the next year’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago were concerned about the departure from Froebelian kindergarten philosophy of “learning through play” being expressed at the conference. Their goals were to promote establishment of kindergartens, to unite the various kindergarten groups, to disseminate information about proper education of children aged 3-7, and to elevate the status and level of professional training of teachers. In addition to kindergarten teachers, IKU membership included women without formal training who had been supporting the early kindergartens. For example, the first president was Sarah B. Cooper, a philanthropist who supported San Francisco kindergartens.

As IKU members tried to express their philosophy, they attempted to reconcile basic internal disagreements. By 1907, these were categorized by the degree of adherence to the system introduced by Friedrich Froebel and his followers in the 1830s and 1840s. There was general agreement about the importance of selfactivity, the relationship between children and the environment, and the idea of development as guided growth, but disagreements remained. By 1913, their Committee of Nineteen, chaired by Lucy Wheelock, published a final compromise representing three subcommittees instead of a summary statement of goals and objectives. In it, the Progressives, chaired by Patty Smith Hill, followed Froebel’s instructions to continue developing his system by utilizing new psychological and philosophical research. The Conservatives, led by Susan Blow, believed in loving but authoritarian dictated use of the play materials and activities that they attributed to Froebel. A Conservative-Liberal group included those who would not commit to either position.

The organization grew from its original thirty members. In 1924, a national office was established in Washington, DC, and they began publication of Childhood Education. Annual conferences brought further discussions about preferred practices, with testing instruments becoming a major concern in the 1920s. As kindergartens became part of the public educational system by the 1920s, the English concept of nursery schools for younger ages gained attention. A further split in membership took place. In 1926, Patty Smith Hill initiated the Committee on Nursery Schools, precursor of today’s National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). By 1930, the IKU adopted a new constitution and merged with the National Council of Primary Education, becoming the Association for Childhood Education. From its inception, the IKU had fostered linkages with other countries, and in 1946, after World War II, the organization became the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI).

Further Readings: IKU papers are in ACEI Archives, Special Collections, McKeldin Library. College Park, MD: University of Maryland; International Kindergarten Union (1913). The kindergarten: Reports of the committee of nineteen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; Snyder, Agnes (1972). Dauntless women in early childhood education. Washington, DC: ACEI; Weber, Evelyn (1969). The kindergarten: Its encounter with educational thought in America. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Dorothy W. Hewes