From Brunszvik to Montessori - Two centuries of Hungarian nursery schools

We already take for granted that kindergartens are one of the most important socialisation scenes for children between the ages of three and seven. However, this has not always been the case, as nurseries - places where children are kept and looked after by professionals during the day - have existed for nearly two hundred years. In our exhibition, we look at how this process has evolved and, in particular, at the women who, through their philanthropic attitude and perseverance, have brought these institutions into being and kept them running. 


In Western Europe, the need for nursery schools was generated by the industrial revolution, when extra work in factories required the participation of women. It became a trend for both parents to work to maintain the family's livelihood. In Hungary, this issue came to the fore during the reform era, and its implementation began on 1 June 1828, when Teréz Brunszvik's "Angel Garden", the first kindergarten in Hungary, opened its doors in Buda, at the intersection of Attila Street and Mikó Street. Eight years later, fourteen nursery schools were already operating throughout the country, not only in Pest-Buda, but also in Pozsony, Besztercebánya, Nagyszombat and Szekszárd among others. They were mainly financed by private and public donations, and an association was established to provide more secure funding. However, these early institutions were similar to elementary schools, with young children learning for most of the day, for example reading and religion, and the education was in German and Hungarian languages.

"Countess Teréz Brunszvik (...), looking at the English nursery schools, exclaimed enthusiastically: 'This is what our people need!' This exclamation shows that the German-raised, highly educated countess was Hungarian at heart and, while visiting the philanthropic institutions abroad, thought of the abandoned children of her country, who, unsupervised, playing in the dust of the streets, are exposed to all elementary adversities and moral dangers. Already in England, she decided to spread the nursery school education in Hungary (...)" - József Végh: One Hundred Years of history of the Hungarian Royal State Nursery Teacher Training Institute in Budapest 1837-1937

siklosi_kozsegi_ovoda2_380013.jpgTeréz Brunszvik was an advocate for women's education and women's equality in Hungary, in addition to founding kindergartens. (Her niece, Blanka Teleki, is another prominent figure in women's education, and is remembered as the founder of the first progressive secondary school for girls.) In 1828, she also founded a handicraft school for girls over the age of seven in Krisztinaváros. In 1836, with the help of Teréz Brunszvik and the membership of Miklós Wesselényi, Pál Eszterházy and several high-ranking noblemen and citizens, the Association for the Promotion of Nursery School Institutes in Hungary was founded. Its missions included the training of teachers, ensuring the financial stability of kindergartens, and the establishment of a model kindergarten, which were completed in Tolna a year later. The efforts of the association were supported by the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary Ferdinand V with a hundred pengős. In 1838, Miklós Barabás, József Eötvös, Lajos Kossuth and Ágoston Trefort were already members of the association.

bezeredi_amalia_ex_libris_486608.jpgThe first village nursery school was opened in 1836 in Hidjapuszta, Tolna County, owing to Amália Bezerédj, providing care for the children of servants. The name of Amália Bezerédj may be familiar, as she was the author of one of the standard works of Hungarian children's literature, the Book of Flóri. She created the picture book for educational purposes and also for her daughter, Flóra, the eponym of the book. Flóra was a pupil at the kindergarten of Hidjapuszta, along with the poor children. Amália Bezerédj did not live to see the publication of her book in 1839. She died of lung disease in 1837, aged 33.

In 1891, the Infant Protection Act brought kindergartens under state control and defined their functions, for example, that kindergartens were not a place of education; it was during this period that progressive educators highlighted the importance of playing for the development of young children. They also made it compulsory for children between the ages of three and six to attend nursery schools. Pedagogy at this time placed great emphasis on national spirit and folklore.


Montessori’s influence arrived in Hungary after the First World War. Maria Montessori was an Italian pedagogue and psychologist whose pedagogical methods, developed nearly a century ago, still influence the education of young children at home and at kindergarten. For example, she believes that children should do what they can independently, and that self-development can be assisted by adults with motivating toys and equipment, and furniture and objects adapted to children's size. At the beginning of the 20th century, this was still very strange, but nowadays, Montessori kindergartens are among the most popular ones of the alternative methods, and many elements of its reforms have been adopted in mainstream educational practices.

In Hungary, the most important representative of Montessori education was Erzsébet Bélaváry-Burchard, who attended a course in the Netherlands in 1923, which led her to translate Montessori's works into Hungarian and to organise a kindergarten in the spirit of her pedagogy. The 1920s also saw a change in kindergarten activities, with the introduction of musical instruments, especially drums and idiophones such as the tambourine and the triangle.

ovodasok_nepviseletben_575784.jpgFrom the 1930s onwards, for almost ten years, the folk-national trend became more pronounced, characterised by the incorporation of folk traditions, folk music and folk tales into pre-school education, and its main representatives were Zoltán Kodály and Gyula Illyés. After the war, with the Soviet occupation, the educational principles were also defined according to socialist pedagogy, adopting the Soviet model and subordinating them to politics. The number of kindergartens increased, as women had to work in the service of industrialisation and the labour competition, and children had to be supervised. The kindergartens had to take on the role of pre-school preparation, becoming the first stage of public education, and playing activities were relegated to the background.

eletkep_oviban_697862.jpgAll these lasted until the 1970s, when strict socialist education was eased, with the emphasis on the child rather than ideology, the need for free play and the importance of cooperation between nursery schools and families. In the period around the change of regime and afterwards, for example, the compulsory school age was managed more flexible and was no longer defined by age but by maturity. A child-focused approach was introduced, as well as children's rights, needs and emotional security. The new guidelines are laid down in the National Basic Programme for Pre-School Education of 1996.


Translated by Zita Aknai


Kenyeres Ágnes (főszerk.): Magyar Életrajzi Lexikon. Budapest. Akadémiai Kiadó, 1967-1994. Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár

Molnár Balázs - Pálfi Sándor - Szerepi Sándor - Vargáné Nagy Anikó: Kisgyermekkori nevelés Magyarországon. In: Educatio, 2015. 4. sz. 121-128. p.

Dr. Pukánszky Béla - Dr. Nóbik Attila: A magyar iskoláztatás története a 19-20. században. Jegyzet a Szegedi Tudományegyetem Juhász Gyula Pedagógusképző Kar honlapján

Végh József: A Budapesti Magyar Királyi Állami Óvónőképző Intézet százéves története 1837-1937. Pécs. Pécsi Egyetemi Könyvkiadó és Ny., 1937.


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