[Editor’s Note: This is the 15th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]
Freidrich Wilhelm Froebel is best known as the founder of kindergarten, but his life and contribution to education went far beyond that.
Between 1808-1810 he attended John Pestalozzi’s training institute at Yverdon and left the institution accepting the basic tenets of Pestalozzi’s theory: permissive school atmosphere, emphasis on nature, and use of the object lesson. Froebel, however, felt something was missing in this teaching. He was a strong idealist whose view of education closely related to religion and that everything in the world was developed according to God’s plan. The missing component, he thought, was the “spiritual mechanism” that was the foundation of early learning.
Froebel began to focus on early learning and children’s needs just prior to entering school. He imagined a place attended by 4-6-year-olds, where they’d be nurtured and protected from harmful outside influences, like plants growing in a garden. That’s why he called his school kindergarten; in German, it means “child garden.”
Froebel also started an institute for training the teachers in his schools, whom, he believed, should be highly respected people with values children should imitate. They also should be sensitive, open, and easily approachable.
Froebel founded the first kindergarten in 1837 in Blakenburg, Germany, in which he promoted his philosophy of education: free self-expression, creativity, social participation, and motor expression. It featured games, play time, songs, stories, and crafts to stimulate the children’s imaginations and develop their physical and motor skills, much the same activities kindergarteners enjoy today.
He divided all the materials in the room into two categories: “gifts” and “occupations.” Gifts were fixed-form objects like blocks. By playing with these objects, the child would learn the underlying concept represented by the form. Occupations weren’t fixed and consisted of things that children could shape and manipulate, including clay, sand, beads, and string, each of which had an underlying symbolic meaning. Playing with these objects also had meaning; they were the concrete reminders of God’s plan for moral and social order. Teachers were expected to point out the symbolism to the children, and it was expected that the children would understand the lesson.
Unfortunately, though, the Prussian government didn’t agree with Froebel’s ideas, which were considered dangerous and ultimately harmful to children. As a result, it ordered all the schools closed in 1848, and Froebel, who died in 1852, never knew the impact his work would have on the American school system. While private schools based on Froebel’s methods opened their doors to German immigrants, it wasn’t until 1873 that William T. Harris, superintendent of the St. Louis school system, became first incorporated kindergarten into the public school system.
Next week: European Influencers, Herbart
To read part 1: Introduction, click here.
To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.
To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.
To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.
To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.
To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.
To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.
To read part 8: China, click here.
To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.
To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.
To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.
To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.
To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.
To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.
 Dewey, Allison. (June 15, 2004). History of American Education Web Project. Retrieved from https://www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/froebel.html.