As someone living in the US, I've heard the term "Kindergarten" used quite frequently. However someone from the UK was mentioning to me that the term is really not used that much in British English. Looking at the Wikipedia article on Kindergarten it states:

In British English, nursery or playgroup is the usual term for preschool education, and kindergarten is rarely used, except in the context of special approaches to education, such as Steiner-Waldorf education (the educational philosophy of which was founded by Rudolf Steiner).

I'd like to know why this variation in adoption exists.

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    Why a word is or is not used is not really something that can be explained. You might as well ask "Why do Americans use a German term when there are two normal English words for the same thing?" Apr 12, 2013 at 14:52
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    @TimLymington I'm not quite sure I understand the logical foundation for your comment. Surely there's some social component that lead to it. In particular differences in the American and British education system.
    – cwgem
    Apr 12, 2013 at 15:02
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    Are you looking for a social reason or a linguistic reason? Or even separately a sociolinguistic reason? That is are you asking about a year of school before first grade (the US definition), about why in England they use another term for the exact same thing or what? In the US, preschool is like playtime in years before kindergarten which is part of the public school system. There's no other label for the year before first grade in the US. What do they use in the UK?
    – Mitch
    Apr 12, 2013 at 15:46
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    Tim, that's a good point. Why use a German term for something when there are English words for it?
    – Tristan
    Apr 12, 2013 at 16:28
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    Just to add to the mix, growing up in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, Kindergarten was an optional school for 4 year olds that you attended prior to Grade 1. If you attended any school prior to that, it was called a Nursery School. These days, they call these schools for 3 and 4 year olds Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten in Canada.
    – Joel Brown
    May 23, 2013 at 11:09

2 Answers 2


Kindergarten was brought to the United States and the UK by German sisters Margarethe and Bertha Schurz.

In 1856 Margarethe Schurz started a kindergarten in the Schurz's Watertown home for her young daughter and four of her daughter's cousins. When more children wanted to join, Mrs. Schurz opened a school in this small building. This was the first kindergarten in America.

While living in Germany, sixteen year old Margarethe had been influenced by a series of lectures by the noted educator Friedrich Froebel. Froebel's course was on the "the new education," of which kindergarten was the first step. She later assisted her sister, Madame Ronge, in running a kindergarten in London. After moving to Wisconsin in 1856, Margarethe Schurz applied these ideas to her school.

Wisconsin History

I couldn't find any relevant research relating to the prevalence of the word Kindergarten in the United States versus it's relative rarity in the UK, however I imagine it has to do with wide-spread German immigration to the United States during the 1800s.

  • The question I'd have to that is what happened to the school in the UK? Did it get replaced by something else, hindering widespread adoption of the word?
    – cwgem
    Apr 12, 2013 at 15:07
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    I would have to imagine the word spread more rapidly in the United States due to a larger immigrant population of Germans, though I can't find any relevant resources. Apr 12, 2013 at 15:12
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    Anecdote: my great grandmother was born and raised in upstate NY and spoke English with a German accent. The whole community she was in was primarily German speaking until pretty much the moment their sons and husbands returned from WW 1.
    – horatio
    Apr 12, 2013 at 19:32
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    I think Britain had a couple of "falling-outs" with Germany in the C20 which might have reduced its uptake
    – mgb
    Dec 31, 2013 at 17:09

The concept of kindergarten was popularized by noted education reformer and congressman Horace Mann, a champion of public schooling who looked favorably at reforms in the Prussia of his day. He also explained the garden metaphor:

Kindergarten means a garden of children, and Froebel, the inventor of it, or rather, as he would prefer to express it, the discoverer of the method of Nature, meant to symbolize by the name the spirit and plan of treatment. How does the gardener treat his plants? He studies their individual natures, and puts them into such circumstances of soil and atmosphere as enable them to grow, flower, and bring forth fruit,-- also to renew their manifestation year after year. [Mann, Horace, and Elizabeth P. Peabody, "Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten Guide," Boston, 1863]

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