From Francke’s Orphan City to Augsburg’s Christian Kindergarten

Looking at the world through a child’s eyes

„Kindergarten“ is of course, a German word, and many know that the institution started here. But did you how and why? Here’s an essay from Susan exploring the origins of the familiar form of early childhood education.

At the “Little Friends” kindergarten in Augsburg stand rows and rows of neatly arranged cubby holes and next to them a boot tree, each branch of which ends in a pair of brightly colored rubber rain boots, decorated with hedgehogs, leaves, or polka dots. The soles of the boots point heaven-ward, ready to be picked up for playtime outside. The boots are there just in case a child might forget to bring their own pair on a rainy day, but also to instill in the children a sense of providential fullness: everything provided in one place, and no part of daily life that is without God’s provision and help.

Germany invented the kindergarten in the seventeenth century as a Christian answer to the problem of child poverty.  In the north-German town of Halle, August Hermann Francke, a Lutheran pastor decided that the gospel should not only be proclaimed from the pulpit, but should be implemented to change the culture.  Material provision for children fostered their spiritual understanding, and understanding God’s Word motivated the whole society to provide for the weak and abandoned.

The final battle of the Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648) was fought not 15 kilometers from where we live right now.  Fought in a drained wetland, the battle of Zusmarshausen was considered one of the bloodiest of the entire war. We often take the bike path through this low flat marsh now home to meet nesting storks or look for beavers.  An old mill has been restored and now serves as an environmental center.

Not every kindergarten is Christian and not every technical workshop reflects human values. But we can thank Francke and the German Pietists for laying much of the groundwork for Christian communities and child formation in Germany today.

When the battle of Zusmarshausen was finished, the entire countryside lay in ruins.  Both rural and urban populations dropped dramatically. Civil life as well as rural farming life had to be reorganized and the previous values of hard work and faith that had guided family life had been destroyed by war. To renew family and civic life powerful Kurfürsten (prince- electors) reconceived of the city as a form of Christian community every aspect of which would be designed to form the individual into a faithful servant of God to whom Christ would gladly lend his help.

Francke’s Orphan City was the first post-Reformation attempt to change the destiny of individuals by changing what they know—in terms of what they experience in their environment, and how they perceive themselves. For the pietists, this translated into a specific focus on the child and the development of a child’s knowledge and worth.  Orphans were not to be warehoused or ignored, they would be placed in an environment that would form the child’s inner world–what they knew about themselves according to God’s word.

Francke’s Orphan City was the first post-Reformation attempt to change the destiny of individuals by changing what they know—in terms of what they experience in their environment, and how they perceive themselves. For the pietists, this translated into a specific focus on the child and the development of a child’s knowledge and worth.  Orphans were not to be warehoused or ignored, they would be placed in an environment that would form the child’s inner world–what they knew about themselves according to God’s word.

Not every kindergarten is Christian and not every technical workshop reflects human values. But we can thank Francke and the pietists for laying much of the groundwork for Christian communities and child formation in Germany today.

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Veröffentlicht von jdavidmartin68

Pro-lifer, Charismatic Christian who has been in the 24/7 prayer movement since 2008, bass player, translator, writer, father, husband, affiliated with a variety of ministries in Europe. Note that all views, opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect my own convictions, persuasions and ideas, not necessarily those of any ministry, political organization, secret cabal or other body, club or agency to which I do, may or could have belonged or been associated.

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