Sr Maureen MacMahon OP looks back on beginnings of Froebel education in Ireland
On Monday morning in September 1943 four of us; Frances Lodge, Ann Fitzgerald, Sr. Dorothea O.P. and myself, (Sr. Grignion, now Sr. Maureen O.P.) sat down in a small uncomfortable room in Sion Hill to attend our first lecture. We were pioneers of the Froebel method of primary education in the Republic of Ireland. The lecturers were as perplexed as we were, but as the course unfolded, revealing the open, liberal method of Frederick Froebel, both rose to the task and the first few years passed quickly and successfully.
I was full of enthusiasm for the new method of learning through activity – “no more sitting on a hard old bench” – of encouraging pupils to explore the world around them, especially their immediate environment, to see and respect the beauty of nature and to express themselves through art. The child was now at the centre. We learnt how to discover the gifts and strengths of each, how to respond to these and so help the child to develop in a holistic way. I loved especially the emphasis on self-expression through creative crafts and art.
Further years were to bring changes. I found myself teaching Art at senior and then at student and adult levels, but whatever the age group or subject, the principles advocated by Froebel, were as relevant at 5, 15 or 50 years.
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Sr. Edel Murphy the last Dominican Sister to be a full time student of Froebel
Proud to call myself a Froebel Teacher!
When I think of my years at the Froebel College of Education the words freedom and trust come to mind. My Froebel days go from 1990-1993 and being immersed in the philosophy of education that highlighted free play, discovery learning, drawing from the child, engaging with children in their learning, the recognition that children have unique gifts and capabilities and the image of a garden where all these children are to be taken care of and nourished- gave the sense of freedom, trust and a wonderment of what lay before us as educators. The philosophy of Fredrich Froebel (1782-852) was tangible throughout my three years in the college. Froebel created the concept of ‘Kindergarten’. In this Kindergarten children are to be taken care of and nourished like plants in a garden. He taught the connection of human life and life in nature and central to it all was the importance of free play. It was a busy time of putting together treasure boxes, adapting stories to suit the needs of the children in front of us, collecting all sorts of materials to recycle into maths, English, Irish equipment for groups of children, arranging play areas and planning activities where nature was to be a prominent part of the child’s life.
On a personal note I was always grateful to Sr Maura Duggan for giving me the space to engage with the course and with the students and for encouraging us on any ideas or thoughts about aspects of college life we may have had. It was truly a fun time, though the teaching practices were difficult, but the closeness and support of students to and for one another filled the atmosphere of the college. Sr Conleth Wilson also comes to my mind first when I reflect on Froebel and his method of education. Her art classes were always calm, safe and seemed the right place to be at the time. She gently led us through the theme of the class, instructed on what was required and then stepped back and watched with love what was produced by each student. One day in particular, feeling that I should by now be producing a work of art, I put down my utensils and gave up ready to dispose of what I had done. Needless to say Sr Conleth stepped quietly forward and simply suggested that I stop for a minute. She then invited me to take another look at the piece and told me to point out what part of the picture stands out for me when I look at it. This I calmly did. I was then instructed to rule lines around that one little piece, cut it out, mount it twice and finally put it up on the display board. Time moved on and I completed the task and stood back to look at the picture. Sr Conleth returned to my side and said simply, “well, what do you think now?” I actually thought it was good and said so. She agreed of course and finished by saying, “yes you did that, I guided you to show you what you can do. That is your task with the children you come into contact with will be. You are to guide them gently so as to nourish and draw out from their talent”. I thought later that for Conleth asking me to display the work implied that our talents when drawn from within are to be gifts of beauty for others where God becomes a visible sign for that moment anyhow.
Each time I go into a class my years in Froebel stand to me and the importance of respect to be shown for the work children produce must be prominent. I was always somewhat chuffed when after displaying children’s work on a notice board I almost always had the comment from an older member of staff or a principal, “you would know that you were a Froebel teacher”. For this gift I do thank those sisters who enabled it to be so and I am deeply proud that I became a Froebel teacher!
Sr Edel Murphy OP