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The Development of Infant Education in Ireland, 1838-1948

Epochs and Eras


Maura O'Connor

Winner of the Kevin Brehony Book Prize, awarded by the History of Education Society (UK)

This is the first published historical analysis of the development of infant education in Ireland. It spans the period from the opening of the Model Infant School in Marlborough Street, Dublin, in 1838 to the introduction of the child-centred curriculum for infant classes in 1948. A study of early childhood education in Ireland in this period provides an understanding of how the child, childhood and the early years of school were viewed by society. Child-centredness had become a feature of educational practice in Europe in the early eighteenth century and was developed further by Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Froebel. How it manifested itself in schools in Ireland is critically explored in the book through an examination of key reports, as well as through new original primary source material not previously in the public domain. The curricular content, pedagogical approaches and organisation of infant schooling reveal much about the attitudes of those in authority to the youngest children and their educational needs. Interviews with kindergarten advisors, national (primary) school inspectors, lecturers on early childhood education, teachers of infants, and adults who were students in the early decades of the twentieth century provide further insights and enhance our understanding of policies and practices of the time.


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CHAPTER 4 The Struggle for Child-centred Infant Education: Irish Women Pioneers 81


CHAPTER 4 The Struggle for Child-centred Infant Education: Irish Women Pioneers The changes that characterised infant education in Ireland in the early to mid-decades of the nineteenth century continued with a gradual transfor- mation of all aspects of infant teaching evident by the twentieth century. In the early 1860s and 1880s, two practitioners who were trained in Froebelian principles abroad attempted to put into practice in Dublin what they had learned overseas. These educational reformers sought to form the core of instruction from the nature, interests and needs of the child. Eleonore Heerwart opened a Kindergarten and school to accommodate the needs of the children of the middle-classes. Miss Stephens, in contrast, trained female primary teachers in the implementation of an eclectic Froebelian approach, which was thought to be more appropriate to the perceived needs of the poorer Irish child. Froebelian Practice and the Private Schools: Eleonore Heerwart Kindergarten activities were first introduced into Ireland by Eleonore Heerwart (1835–1911). She trained as a Kindergarten teacher in Keilhau, Germany, in 1853 under Luise Froebel, who was Froebel’s second wife (Kernan and Hayes, 2008: 17). In her autobiography, Funfzig Jahre im Dienste Froebels (Heerwart, 1906)1 she recalled that she left Germany 1 The author is indebted to the late Mr F. Ó Dubhthaigh for making available to her the English version of this text, see Ó Dubhthaigh, 1983: 13–21. 82 CHAPTER 4 to visit Miss Barton2 who had a Kindergarten in Manchester. The latter had relatives living outside Dublin and it...

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