Maria Kraus-Boelté (November 8, 1836 – November 1, 1918) was an American educator and one of the leaders of the Kindergarten Movement in the United States. She pioneered the Froebel education method and helped promote kindergarten teacher training as suitable for study at university level. An educational reformer, she was one of a remarkable group of German immigrants who played a major role in creating both the kindergarten and the profession of kindergarten teaching in the United States. Her dedication and investment in teaching as a professional endeavor, worthy of the most serious study whether it be to older youth or to the young children who attend kindergarten, characterized her efforts. Her advocacy that Froebel's system was universally appropriate, since it was based on the laws of nature, reflected her belief that all people belonged to the one universal group that is humankind.
Maria Kraus-Boelté was born Maria Boelté on November 8, 1836, in Hagenow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin (now in Germany), into a prosperous family. She was privately educated, and at a young age became familiar with the work of Friedrich Froebel. She became interested in Froebel’s methods of education and was eventually trained by Luise Froebel, Froebel's widow, in Hamburg, Germany from 1859 to 1861.
Following Froebel’s dream to spread the idea of kindergartens to the United States, Maria decided to become sufficiently trained to promote the ideas of her teacher. She went to England in 1861 to learn the English language, and spent several years in an English kindergarten run by one of Froebel's pupils, Berthe von Rönge. Some of her students' work was exhibited at the 1862 London International Exhibition.
In 1867, she returned to Germany and opened her own kindergarten in Lübeck.
In 1872, the opportunity finally came to go to the United States when Maria was invited by Elizabeth Peabody to work with her in New York City. There she established a kindergarten class and training program for mothers. She also met her future husband, John Kraus, an assistant at the National Bureau of Education with whom she had previously corresponded. They married the following year.
In 1873, Kraus-Boelté and her husband opened a Seminary for Kindergartners alongside a model kindergarten class, the Normal Training Kindergarten. In 1877 they published The Kindergarten Guide: the Self-instruction of Kindergartners, Mothers, and Nurses. The Seminary was an early center for Froebel's ideas in the United States, and had considerable influence, especially because of Kraus-Boelté's personal connection with Luise Froebel. The method of training and curriculum in the school were almost the same as those used in Germany. Hundreds of teachers completed the training of one year's course work followed by one year's practice teaching—thousands of children passed through the kindergarten.
Kraus-Boelté was a strong advocate for the training of teachers for kindergarten according to the methods and theories set out by Froebel, speaking at the National Educational Association in 1877 on the matter:
Persons seeing a Kindergarten once, or having read about the system, fancy that they can do the same work right away, particularly if they can find a guidebook to imitate. Others, without even ever having seen a Kindergarten "improve" or "Americanize" it. In their ignorance they are not aware of the fact that Froebel's system of Kindergarten was never meant for one nation or for one denomination. As there is one law throughout all nature, so in the Kindergarten, which is founded on nature, and is meant for all mankind.
John Kraus died in 1896 and Maria Kraus-Boelté continued the work alone. She was president of the Kindergarten Department of the National Education Association in 1899-1890 and three years later persuaded the New York University School of Education to include the first ever college level course in kindergarten education in their summer program. Kraus-Boelté taught this course herself three times.
The school for educators, New York Seminary for Kindergarteners, which Kraus-Boelté opened with her husband, became one of the most authoritative and influential centers of kindergarten work in the United States. Over several decades, the school trained hundreds of Froebelian teachers, who opened their own kindergartens and eventually helped establish kindergarten education as an essential part of education in the United States. One of Kraus-Boelté’s most distinguished students was Susan Blow, who in 1873 opened the first successful public kindergarten in the United States, in St. Louis, Missouri. Alice Putnam also studied with Kraus-Boelté and Blow. From 1876 she ran kindergarten-training classes at Hull House and later at the University of Chicago and was instrumental in founding the Chicago Free Kindergarten Association and the Chicago Froebel Association, where many kindergartners trained.
Along with her husband John Kraus, she produced the definitive guide to Froebel's kindergarten methods and materials—The Kindergarten Guide in two volumes. Kraus-Boelté's work was the Bible of the nineteenth century kindergarten movement, and remains the single best reference for the Froebel kindergarten.
The Kraus-Boelté Early Childhood Education Collection at Adelphi University is named in her honor. The collection on kindergarten theory and the early history of the kindergarten emphasizes her contributions as well as those of Froebel, Susan Blow, and John Kraus.
All links retrieved August 14, 2018.
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