Caroline Pratt Essay

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Caroline Pratt built an educational philosophy on observations of children and is remembered as a visionary in the education of young children and the inventor of unit blocks.

Born and raised in Fayetteville, New York, Pratt began her career in education at seventeen, teaching in a one-room rural school. Her formal education consisted of two years at Teachers College in New York City. She rejected the then-popular method of kindergarten education advocated by Friedrich Froebel as inappropriate for young children and instead graduated with a certificate in manual training. While teaching at a normal school in Philadelphia, Pratt met Helen Marot, a liberal librarian who became her lifelong companion.

Pratt and Marot moved to Greenwich Village, New York, in 1901, where Pratt taught manual training. In 1914, Pratt began the Play School with six 5-year-olds from working-class families. Although she resisted being labeled with any specific educational ideology, her school was considered to be the quintessential example of progressive education. The curriculum was centered on children recreating their experiences through play, primarily with unit blocks. These blocks remain a staple in many early childhood classrooms.

Pratt was an early advocate of field trips, which provided direct experience in learning. The school was a democratic environment in which students held grade-specific jobs. Teachers facilitated a child centered environment. As grade levels were added, the school grew to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

In 1939, she was recognized for her work in bringing her educational practices to public schools in the New York area. She retired as principal emerita in 1945. Many private progressive schools came and went during the early part of the twentieth century, but her school, renamed the City and Country School, still thrives in Greenwich Village.


  1. Dewey, J., & Dewey, E. (1915). Schools of tomorrow. New York: Dutton.
  2. Hauser, M. (2006). Learning from children: The life and legacy of Caroline Pratt. New York: Peter Lang.
  3. Pratt, C. (1948). I learn from children. New York: Harper & Row.
  4. Sadovnik, A., & Semel, S. (Eds.). (2002). Founding mothers and others: Women educational leaders in the Progressive Era. New York: Palgrave.
  5. Semel, S., & Sadovnik, A. (Eds.). (1999). “Schools of tomorrow,” schools of today: What happened to progressive education? New York: Peter Lang.

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