With network members from all over the UK, some flying in from as far afield as South Africa, together with a large group travelling from Scotland, the first ‘Networks Gathering’ was held in Richmond, SW London, on Saturday 29th April, attended by around 50 Froebelians from the various Froebel Networks.
Tina Bruce opened the gathering by welcoming everybody and also listing many others who were unable to attend but sent their good wishes. Tina said how important it was that everyone involved in the various Froebel Networks should get together to feel connected and hear about each other’s work. She was pleased that so many people had managed to make the event, which was also an opportunity to celebrate Froebel’s birthday last week as well as the 200th anniversary of Froebel’s first school in Keilhau. Tina introduced the various networks, the Edinburgh Network, the International Network – working on projects in Kolkata and Soweto, the newly formed ‘Tutors Network’ who had recently been accredited as Frobel Trainers by the Froebel Trust and the Froebel Network for practitioners and others involved in Froebelian education in the UK. She introduced Mark Hunter and invited him to talk about the ‘birth’ of the Froebel Networks.
Mark outlined the long tradition of Froebelian networking which had resulted in the formation of the Froebel Society in 1874. This became the National Froebel Foundation and provided unity through its network of ‘Froebel trained’ teachers. Mark said that with the end of NFF validation by the 1970’s the feeling of a ‘Froebelian community’ started to decline. However in 2002, with the formation of an International Froebel Society, supported by the NFF, and the re-introduction of Froebel Training – ‘networking’ began to re-immerge – particularly in the wonderful example of the Edinburgh Froebel Network. In 2011 the NFF launched the Froebel Network to rebuild a community of Froebelian practitioners. With the merger of the NFF with the IFEI to form the Froebel Trust, the Froebel Network became an independent organisation in October 2016, continuing with a newsletter, a new Facebook group and website. Mark finished by saying he would like to re-introduce a list of settings that are led by Froebelian practitioners and have a Froebelian ethos in their practice.
Introducing a report on the International Network in South Africa, Tina welcomed Carol Block who had flown in from South Africa earlier that morning to join the gathering. Carol reported on the positive effect that the Froebelian influence was having on more ‘formal’ approaches that still prevail in South Africa. Stella Louis and Jen Behr gave an account of the project in Soweto which culminated in a recent conference at the River Club in Cape Town with 200 delegates, 60% practitioners and 40% policymakers.
A ‘pic-nic’ lunch provided an opportunity to ‘network’ and look at the various displays, in particular the impressive poster display by the Edinburgh certificate students, the project work on loose parts by students at Roehampton University and a display of gifts and occupations by Mark, Debby and Tina.
After lunch Lynn McNair and Jane Whinnett gave a talk on the progress made by the Edinburgh Network. The Edinburgh Certificate course is proving very popular especially now that Edinburgh City Council is supporting Froebelian practice in its settings by block-booking 30 places on the course - this year’s cohort is some 57 students in total. Masterclasses of Froebelian Practitioners are an important aspect of maintaining a Froebelian community. New developments include a new Glasgow Network to develop training and spread Froebelian practice into the city’s nurseries and plans for an MA level course at Edinburgh. There is now also a new website and a 9th conference organised for October.
Back to the International Network and Sarah Holroyd gave the history of ‘phase 1’ of the Froebel Trust funded work in Kolkata, India over the past 4 years from its early beginnings, moving from strength to strength and acceptance by the practitioners and teachers, who now express how they feel the ‘joy’ of teaching. Felicity Thomas and Thelma Miller who have recently taken over as leaders of ‘phase 2’ of the project outlined current developments in particular the involvement and support of a girls senior school to take training into the poorer settings in Kolkata.
Feedback from the newest Network – the Tutors Network – started with a personal view of the training from Mel Jackson and Elaine New from the Yellow Dot group of nurseries, who had piloted the scheme last year. They talked about the ‘journey’, becoming able to recognise and articulate the Froebelian elements of their practice as well as some of the challenges of cascading the approach across a large team of staff and different settings. The Froebel tutors then each gave a personal aspect of the training that had had a special significance for them, and each reflected on the value of working together to develop the training.
Tina asked Sally Howe to report on the Froebel Certificate course at Roehampton and two of the current students gave an account of using a Froebelian approach in the special school in which they work. They enthusiastically acknowledged how the principle of ‘freedom and guidance’ had given the children the opportunity to follow their own interests and strengths to solve problems, particularly through loose-parts play.
Finally Jane Vass reported on Cambridgeshire County Council’s interest in Froebelian education, particularly with regard to how they recognised that Froebelian practice produced favourable Ofsted outcomes. The authority had also provided a block-play conference and the group from Cambridge hope the authority’s support for Froebelian practice will continue. Perhaps the beginnings of a Cambridgeshire Network?
Tina closed the gathering by summing up the message of the importance of the work of the networks in bringing Froebelian practice to the next generation of practitioners and by reminding us to “link, always link”. Tina proposed that we meet again on Froebel’s birthday next year Saturday 21st April 2018.
Mark Hunter thanked Tina on behalf of everyone and pointed out that we shouldn’t forget that Tina had been the catalyst for all the networks that had met today. He seconded the words of the banner produced by the Edinburgh Network which, under a quote from Froebel, added “Thank you Tina for inspiring us!”