Montessori pedagogy: behind the scenes of success, the work of Emilie Brandt, early childhood entrepreneur


His name is little known to the general public. However, Émilie Brandt (1879-1963) had a decisive role in early childhood care and its development in the first half of the 20th century in France. Her unique journey invites us to follow her from Alsace to Nice, passing through Paris and Haute-Marne, sowing in her path a number of kindergartens and schools for “kindergarteners” in which the pedagogy is created and recreated, like so many incubators from which, in the 1970s in France, the profession of early childhood educators was born .

Émilie Brandt evolves in the wake of the pedagogues of the historic movement of New Education which had the ambition to change education to change the world. While the republican school model put in place by Jules Ferry makes it possible in France to welcome and instruct any child from the age of six, that the nursery school is organized to welcome younger children, on the model asylum rooms renovated by Pauline Kergomard , other structures were created at the turn of the 19th to 20th century on the model of the kindergartens of the pedagogue Friedrich Froebel , whose first Kindergaten opened in Prussia in 1837.

It is in this context that the work of Émilie Brandt fits, who could be described as an early childhood entrepreneur given the number of structures she has created. A major player in the development of vocational training in early childhood, she was convinced of the importance of the sensory element in learning and bequeathed to us a pedagogy giving a central place to experimentation, in a welcoming and benevolent environment. .

Teach the child to observe and experiment

What characterizes kindergartens is on the one hand the pedagogy which gives a central place to play, considered as a vector of learning, and on the other hand the environment, close to the family model, and at most close to nature, to allow the full development of the child. At the start of the 20th century , described as the “century of the child” by the Swedish writer Ellen Key , doctors, pedagogues and scientists seized on education to revolutionize educational practices and think about the happiness of children in life. school .

The way we look at the child evolves: from now on, he is considered as a person in his own right. The time has come to implement the educational Copernican revolution, as asserted by the Geneva psychologist Edouard Claparède . However, it will be necessary to wait for Françoise Dolto and the second half of the 20th century for this revolution to concern the baby.

But let’s go back to 1907, when Émilie Brandt, a young Alsatian woman trained at the Froebel Institute in Berlin, arrived in Paris and proposed to Abbé Viollet , founder of numerous social works in the 14th arrondissement , to create a garden of children to accommodate the children of working-class families in the neighborhood.

Very quickly, this structure, organized according to Froebelian methods, acquired a School of Family Education which participated in training gardeners in conjunction with prestigious institutions such as the Collège Sévigné and the girls’ high school in Versailles. During this same period, Émilie Brandt also founded a kindergarten in Barr, the city of her childhood, in an outbuilding of a hotel, intended for poor children in the valley.

In 1910, it is in Thivet, in the Haute-Marne, that we find Émilie Brandt. She recounts her experience in a Kindergarten Manual , published by Armand Colin in 1913. The book is full of practical details, there is a week’s timetable, reported in a methodical and meticulous way. From the very first sentences, she explains what she means by the spirit of the Froebelian method:
“To what exactly does the term ‘kindergarten’ apply? It’s not necessarily a real garden where children would come to play from morning to night. A lawn populated by young babies may well be a garden with children, but not a “kindergarten”. If Froebel gave this last title to his infant schools, it was because he made prevail there a method of education which cultivated the young child in a particularly happy and effective manner. The spirit of the method is to freely develop the individual nature of the child in an atmosphere of good order and harmony. »
To achieve such a goal, kindergarteners carefully choose objects which will allow “the study and prolonged observation of the child” and which bring to life the “central ideas”, i.e. teaching subjects, through which children “learn to see, feel and live for themselves”. And it is indeed because there is “nothing fixed in the teaching which results from it” that the theoretical teaching must be reduced to the profit of the practice, which is exposed in the following pages through a dozen of chapters.

Examples of “talks” around a central idea, here wheat, or even lessons in geography and arithmetic, show how Émilie Brandt relies on the events that punctuate daily life to lead children towards learning. It thus responds through practice to the theories of pedagogues who advocate the globalization of learning, starting from experimentation, without decompartmentalising subjects, with a view to making sense of it.

In conclusion to the book, she specifies that the child, after having attended kindergarten, will have the advantage over his schoolmates of possessing “a whole series of general notions”, of having “learned to to observe for himself, to hear, to touch what surrounds him”, just as much as to “compare, to reflect, to form his judgment”.

Train early childhood educators

Her career then led Emilie Brandt to Strasbourg, where she created a new school in the 1920s , transferred to Limoges during the Second World War and which was established in Neuilly at the end of the war, then in Levallois in 1952. This year is that of its centenary, and we can see that it is still the Montessori pedagogy, in which Émilie Brandt was trained from the beginning of the 1930s, which makes it attractive to parents.

It was in Nice, during the summer courses given by Maria Montessori in 1932, that Emilie Brandt converted, so to speak, to Montessorism. Froebel’s interest in the observation and development of the child can be found in the theories of Maria Montessori which have spread throughout the world since she opened the first “casa dei bambini” in Rome in 1907. . The scientific approach of the Italian doctor makes it possible to update the training of early childhood professionals based on the method she proposes, but also on the educational material she creates.

If the term kindergarten remains pregnant in the landscape of early childhood, the name of Maria Montessori will gradually erase that of Froebel. Émilie Brandt will participate in transmitting this Montessorism in the training schools where the new generations of gardeners will be trained.

Her action for the training of early childhood professionals intersects with institutional reforms and private companies, which she participated in bringing together after the Second World War during the creation in 1946 of the Association of training centers for gardeners-educators (ACFJE ), of which she is the president. The association will develop a training program for gardeners which will give rise to a common exam for a certain number of schools.

It was not until 1973 that the training of gardeners was taken over by the State, when the profession evolved and became that of educator of young children. Still active, at more than seventy years old, Emilie Brandt gave, in 1954, in Nice, “practical lessons” with the Saint-Vincent de Paul sisters to twenty-eight future gardeners and worked as a technical adviser at the center of training of kindergarten teachers, a position she would keep until the end of her life.

By training the gardeners in active methods, Émilie Brandt has contributed to creating a network of educators who in turn get involved in the field and participate in making the school a place of fulfillment and learning .

Author Bio: Fabienne Serina-Karsky is a HDR Lecturer in Educational Sciences at the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP)