Paradigm, No. 1. (November, 1989)

Mrs Walker's Merry Games for Little People:
A Reflection of Froebel, or Foible?

W. E. Marsden

Faculty of Education and Extension Studies
19 Abercromby Square,
Liverpool L69 3BX

Louisa Walker was Headmistress of Fleet Road Board School Infants' Department in Hampstead from its opening in 1879, until 1918, when she retired. Trained at the Froebelian Home and Colonial College, she was one of the first to introduce kindergarten ideas into urban elementary schools. As one writer said of her school, 'we are here practically at the fountain-head of the modern development of the kindergarten principle in new practical directions, and under the guidance of the originator and chief authority on many of these varied occupations'.

Apart from the varied occupations, on which Mrs. Walker wrote a series of textbooks, she was also a leading exponent of action songs and games, which became very popular after the appearance of an English translation of Froebel's Mother's Songs.

Louisa Walker’s particular achievement was to urbanise, secularise and generally make more accessible to city children the fruits of Froebel's teaching, which was in fact 'progressive' only in the pedagogical sense. In moral and social terms it was highly prescriptive, designed for a rural environment with fixed orders of society. Louisa Walker's school was much more to do with a fluid social situation. It was part of the forging of the meritocracy. Mrs. Walker’s songs, though containing moral homilies in true Froebel style, at the same time debunked high society, promoted individual aspiration, and was underpinned by a value system that laid stress on merit and effort and social change. She redirected the educational experience of thousands of London children. Her action songs and games were immensely popular with children and parents who thronged to her school entertainments, but were denounced by local Hampstead ratepayers, criticised by the Froebelian establishment, whose party line Louisa Walker often strayed from, and were also less than enthused over by staff at Fleet Road School, who thought not enough time was spent on the basic subjects. When she retired her action songs and games went too. Like those of so many remarkable teachers in this astonishing period of expansion and innovation, her achievements have been lost by educational historians.

 

Reference

 

The chapter on Louisa Walker in Marsden, W. E. Educating the Respectable: a Study of Fleet Road Board School, 1879-1903 (Woburn Press, forthcoming).

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