Jessie T. Winter and the Kindergarten Movement

Many people may not be aware that Brookside School Cranbrook was on the “cutting edge” when it opened in 1922, and it was all thanks to the first and longest serving headmistress of Brookside, Ms. Jessie T. Winter.

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View of Jessie T. Winter in front of the Crane, 1922. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

 

In 1913, Miss Winter attended the National Kindergarten and Elementary College in Evanston, Illinois, graduating in 1915.  National Kindergarten and Elementary College trained women as kindergarten teachers, a radical concept that had taken hold in America in the late 19th Century.

Before coming to Michigan, Miss Winter was the director of a number of new schools.  After graduation, Miss Winter became director of a newly established Kindergarten-Primary school in Urbana, Illinois, where she worked until 1918.  Miss Winter then served as director of National Kindergarten and Elementary College’s Practice Kindergarten.  From 1920-1922, she was Director of the National Kindergarten and Elementary College’s Demonstration Kindergarten (now the Baker Demonstration School).  A demonstration school is an elementary or secondary school operated, in association with a university, college, for the training of future teachers.

In 1922, Miss Winter was hired by George and Ellen Booth to serve as headmistress of the Bloomfield Hills School (later renamed Brookside School Cranbrook), which opened with a class of seven children in September of that year. The Booths had acquired not only a well-educated headmistress, but also a woman who knew how to organize a school, train teachers, and adhered to an educational philosophy that mirrored the Booths’ Arts & Crafts sensibilities.

It is amazing to think that, before the kindergarten movement, play was considered a waste of time in an educational setting.

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Brookside children playing with school costumes, 1936. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

 

With this new philosophy, children developed fine motor skills by such activities as cutting, stringing beads, sewing on cardboard and playing with clay. They sang songs, listened to stories, and developed social skills by playing with one another.

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Students making valentines with art teacher Murray Douglas, 1944. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

 

Back in 1922, and continuing on through today, the students at Brookside of course learn reading, writing, math, science, geography, and spelling; but Brookside students are also encouraged to explore creative outlets like painting, printmaking, weaving, pottery, poetry, and language.

Miss Winter served as Headmistress at Brookside until her retirement in June 1961.

-Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar

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