Friedrich Froebel: Founder of the First Kindergarten
The Early Childhood Education Community owes so much to Friedrich Froebel. He truly pioneered early childhood education as we know it today. With the creation of Froebel's first kindergarten, views of children and their capacity to learn changed dramatically.
Born on April 21, 1782 in Oberweißbach, Germany, Friedrich was the youngest of six children. Friedrich's mother died when he was still an infant, and his father, a pastor, left him to care for himself. When he was ten years old, his uncle took over his care. As a young child, Friedrich Froebel spent a lot of time playing alone in the gardens around his home. This led to a love and respect of nature that would remain throughout his adult life.
In 1797, now fifteen years old, Froebel attended school to learn about forestry, geometry, land surveying, and valuation; and by 1802, he was working as a forester. Ever the student, Friedrich attended Frankfurt University to study architecture, and later, began teaching under Johann J. Pestalozzi, a well respected educator of the day. Pestalozzi welcomed the poor into his school, including orphans (practice that was revolutionary). He believed that children needed to be active in their own learning.
After leaving his teaching post, Froebel left the school to become a private tutor. The parents of the children he tutored offered Froebel a small patch of their property to use as a garden. The learning experiences with the children in the garden convinced Froebel that action and direct observation were the best ways to educate.
In 1837, at the age of 55, Friedrich Froebel founded his own school and called it "kindergarten", or the "children's garden". Kindergarten was a new word created by Froebel to express his vision for early childhood education:
"Children are like tiny flowers; they are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers."
Prior to Froebel's kindergarten, children under the age of seven did not attend school. It was believed that young children did not have the ability to concentrate or to develop cognitive and emotional skills before this age. However, Froebel expressed his own beliefs about the importance of early education by stating that ". . . because learning begins when consciousness erupts, education must also".
Froebel labeled his approach to education as "self-activity". This idea allows the child to be led by his or her own interests and to freely explore them. The teacher's role, therefore, was to be a guide rather than lecturer.
Froebel's kindergarten was designed to meet each child's need
- physical activity
- the development of sensory awareness and physical dexterity
- creative expression
- exploration of ideas and concepts
- the pleasure of singing
- the experience of living among others
- satisfaction of the soul
Froebel's school featured games, play, songs, stories, and crafts to stimulate imagination and develop physical and motor skills. The materials in the room were divided into two categories:
were objects that were fixed in form such as blocks. The purpose was that in playing with the object, the child would learn the underlying concept represented by the object.
allowed more freedom and consisted of things that children could shape and manipulate such as clay, sand, beads, and string. There was an underlying symbolic meaning in all that was done. Even clean up time was seen as a reminder to the child of God's plan for moral and social order.
In 1852, after a short illness, Friedrich Froebel passed away. During his lifetime, he changed the face of education in Germany, and lead other educators to follow in his path. Between 1848 and 1852 thirty one kindergartens had been founded in German cities. Unlike other educational institutions, many kindergartens were open to children of all social classes and religious denominations. The teachers encouraged tolerance and understanding among these diverse segments of the population. Froebel's most important gifts to children were invaluable.
He gave children:
- respect for their intellectual and emotional
abilities and development
- the classroom (symbolically viewed as an
extension of a flourishing
- and that which he needed most as a child:
A teacher who took on the role of loving, supportive parent. Friedrich Froebel was truly a pioneer of Early Childhood Education, and a role model that all educators can still learn from today.
Texts by and about Froebel
Fröbel, F. (1826) On the Education of Man (Die Menschenerziehung), Keilhau/Leipzig: Wienbrach.
Lilley, I. (ed.) (1967) Friedrich Froebel: A selection from his writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilpatrick, W. H. (1916) Froebel's Kindergarden Principles Critically Examined, New York : Macmillan.
Lawrence, E. (ed.) (1952)Friedrich Froebel and English Education, London: University of London Press. Series of essays on key elements of Fröbel's thought and practice.
Mutter-und Kose-Lieder (1844) is called Mother Play (1895). Other works translated into English are Letters on the Kindergarten (1891), Froebel's Chief Writings on Education (1912), and his fragmentary autobiography. His name is also written Fröbel.
See biographies by A. B. Hanschmann (tr. 1897) and H. C. Bowen (1903, repr. 1970); W. H. Kilpatrick, Froebel's Kindergarten Principles (1916); N. Brosterman, Inventing Kindergarten (1997).