Originally founded as a kindergarten through which immigrant children could be assimilated into American society and aspiring kindergarten teachers could be trained, the Baker Demonstration School now teaches children from early childhood through ninth grade through a “learn by doing” approach (which has long been a core of its activities). It promotes group learning and smaller class sizes. In the past, it has been affiliated with the National College of Education, part of the National-Louis University, but it is now an independent school.
The Baker Demonstration School is an independent, private school located in North Evanston for toddler age children through ninth grade. The slogan of the school is ‘learn by doing’ and the curriculum reflects the philosophy shared by Francis Parker, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. It is a unique school which places college students training to be teachers within the classroom, resulting in the majority of classrooms having both a qualified teacher and an associate teacher in training. The derivation of Baker Demonstration School goes as far back as 1886 to the Chicago Kindergarten College where Elizabeth Harrison founded a school to train kindergarten teachers. She was inspired by the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876 and the new educational ideas expressed through the exhibits of art and manual training. Kindergartens got their start in America after German Philosophers emigrated to the States following the failure of the German Revolution of 1848, bringing with them German idealism of the 1800’s. Rapid industrialization created large pockets of poverty in America which in turn promoted child labor. In addition, the increasing number of European laborers and their families arriving in America created the need for a place where children could assimilate to their new home, learn the English language, and learn American style democracy and values. Schools provided this haven for young children, and women’s groups, especially the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, adopted the kindergarten movement as a child-saving agency. Over the years, the school that Elizabeth Harrison opened to train kindergarten teachers changed its name and location several times. Originally called the Chicago Literary School from 1886 to 1894, it ran under the auspices of the Chicago Kindergarten Club and housed in the old Art Institute building at Van Buren and Michigan. In 1887 the name changed to Chicago Kindergarten Training School and in 1893 the campus moved next door to 10 East Van Buren Street and changed its name to Chicago Kindergarten College. It stayed at this busy and noisy location until 1912. The next move was to 2944 South Michigan Avenue until 1926 and then to Evanston to escape the city and overcrowded enrollment. The name changed in 1916 to National Kindergarten and Elementary College until 1930 when the name changed again, to National College of Education. In 1918, Clara Belle Baker and her sister, Edna Dean Baker, were experimenting with a private school experience for young children with the philosophy that children learn by doing. They were involved with Elizabeth Harrison at the South Michigan Campus and followed the kindergarten principals taught at the Chicago Kindergarten College. Clara Belle Baker was instrumental in moving the school from the busy streets of Chicago to the the North Shore. She held the position of Principal from 1926 until 1952, and when she retired, the school was renamed Baker Demonstration School. The school continues to practice innovative teaching techniques and is proud to adhere strictly to the philosophies of Clara Belle Baker and Elizabeth Harrison. The number of students per classroom is small and children are encouraged to express their individual learning styles to achieve their fullest potential. Classroom desks are arranged in small groups to promote group participation rather than the traditional individual desk arrangement and teachers are able to spend more individual time with students due to the smaller class size. Although Baker Demonstration School has been affiliated with the National College of Education, part of the National-Louis University, it is now an independent school. The school remains in its original location on Sheridan Road in North Evanston.
The school practices innovative teaching techniques, such as “learn by doing” (where students participate in hands-on group activities and complete projects as a part of learning, rather than only listening to lectures or completing individual assignments), and promoting group learning over individual learning and small class sizes. This encourages each individual student to learn and create to their fullest potential. The school was a fundamental participant in the still-new kindergarten movement of the late-1800s and trained kindergarten teachers in the newest techniques. For these reasons, it was a pioneer in the area of early childhood education, an aspect of daily living that most of us take for granted today.