Caroline Pratt

(Brown, Gignac, Albert)

Caroline Pratt is one of the lesser known Early Childhood Educators but her contributions were just as important. Caroline Pratt was born in 1867 in Fayetteville, New York. She got her first teaching job when she was 17, in a one room school in Fayetteville. It was in this school that she started to develop the theory that it was a child's natural desire to explore, discover and learn by watching the kids play on there own. She also strongly beleived that children lost this desire when they went to school because they were taught to act like little adults. While she was attending the Teacher's Collage it was seen as her rebelling when she changed her previous decision, to teach kindergarten, and transferred into a Manual Training Program because she did not agree with the ideas they were being taught. She felt the belief was that "all the activity in kindergarten must be quiet, unexciting"(Pratt 1948,1970) and that it is "designed to prepare the children for the long years of discipline ahead"(Pratt 1948,1970).
This is a picture of children playing at the City and Country school with the blocks Caroline created.(Pratt 1948, 1970)

Caroline opened a play school called the City and Country School in 1913 in Greenwich Village, where the children were free to be creative and learn through their play which was Caroline's dream. The school allowed her to put into play her pragmatist philosophy and the practice of play. She believed that children's play was the groundwork for learning and their firsthand experiences were the starting point for the curriculum. Caroline Pratt also held a strong belief in educational experimentation and had a lifelong loyalty to social reform. Caroline developed the Pratt blocks which are large wooden blocks that can be held together with wooden pegs so what is built does not fall apart. Pratt believed that formal learning should be delayed until age seven with the understanding that the child was an artist who recreated reality in whatever way they wanted.

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Caroline Pratt's Wooden Unit Blocks, which encouraged children to be creative through play.

Caroline Pratt was greatly influenced in her work by John Dewey and the idea of progressivism. She was a feminist and very radical in beliefs. Through her work with other such people involved in education like Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Margaret Naumberg, and Marietta Johnson, she developed three main concepts:
  1. Play in the classroom is critical to democracy.
  2. Social change should be viewed as the continual reconstruction of experience.
  3. Science should be viewed as emancipatory potential of inquiry through the continual reconstruction of experience.
Her philosophy towards education was greatly influenced by Early Childhood research that focused on children growing through specific stages. She also believed that in the classroom, the activities must always benefit the child, not the teacher. There should be no direct instruction, the children should just learn through play. She often came up against resistance of parents who were worried her school was not providing their children with a proper education. She also talks about some other educators who were nothing short of horrified over the fact that the children were playing and noisy.

There are currently two books written about Caroline Pratt. Her own autobiography entitled I Learn from Children: An Adventure in Progressive Education was publlished in 1948, while Mary Hauser wrote a book entitled Learning from Children: The Life and Legacy of Caroline Pratt. Pratt passed away in 1954 at the age of 89.
Pratt, Caroline.(1948,1970). I Learn From Children.New York, New York:Cornerstone Library Publications.