Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel (or Froebel) (April 21, 1782 – June 21, 1852) was a German educator, famous for his work in children's education, particularly the invention of the kindergarten system for young children. His own difficulties as a child, his love of nature, and his faith in God, combined with his experiences with Pestalozzi's educational system, were the foundation for his insights into the education of very young children. He recognized the importance of play in order to allow their creativity to unfold and blossom. His school included a large room for play, as well as a garden outside for the children to grow flowers and other plants. Thus, he developed the kindergarten—a "garden for children" where they could grow naturally, with support from their parents and teachers. His "Fröbel Gifts," educational tools specially constructed to target creativity, have continued to be popular, with well-known artists acknowledging their influence on their lives. Fröbel's work, thus, has had lasting impact on the flourishing of human creativity, a positive contribution to the development of human society.
Friedrich Fröbel was born in Oberweissbach near Rudolstadt in Thuringia (now Germany), the fifth of six children. The village where he was born had been known for centuries throughout Europe for its herbal remedies. The herbalists had long established trade routes throughout Europe, which were handed down within the various families.
Friedrich’s father was a local pastor of an orthodox Lutheran faith. Shortly after Friedrich's birth, his mother's health began to fail. She died when he was only nine months old, which profoundly influenced Friedrich's life. After his father remarried, he felt neglected by both his father, who was busy with his work, and his stepmother, a firm and cold woman. A family legend recounts that his stepmother once locked him in the cellar without any dinner, and forgot to let him out. Apparently, when she opened the door in the morning she was shocked that little Friedrich was neatly dressed with his hair combed. When she asked him how he could be so tidy after a night in the cellar, he replied, "After you locked me in the cellar, my real mother came and spent the night with me. She combed my hair and straightened my clothes in the morning." The stepmother was so shaken by the incident that she allowed him to go to Stadtilm to visit his mother's uncle, who was also a Lutheran pastor. Froebel's childhood was full of sad memories (see Autobiography of Friedrich Froebel).
After attending elementary school in Oberweissbach, in 1792, he moved to Stadtilm to live with his uncle, a gentle and affectionate man. Fröbel's formal education ended in 1796, with his confirmation. At the age of 15, Fröbel, who loved nature, became apprenticed to a local forester. In 1799, he decided to leave his apprenticeship and study mathematics and botany at Jena University. There he came across the writings of Schelling, Novalis, and Ernst Moritz Arndt, which deepened his interest for idealistic philosophy and history of the German people. He was not able, however, to complete his education for financial reasons. He returned back to his home to assist his seriously ill father in his duties, and stayed with him until his father's death in 1802.
In 1805, Fröbel moved to Frankfurt-am-Maine and started to work in a local school that was run on Pestalozzi’s principles of education. There, Fröbel decided that he wanted to dedicate his life to work as an educator. He traveled to Yverdon, Switzerland to further familiarize himself with Pestalozzi’s method, staying in Switzerland from 1808 until 1810.
While he was receiving the training, he tried to implement Pestalozzi’s concepts of elementary school education in his home district. Fröbel’s brother Christoph, who was a local pastor there, helped him in his intentions. However the plans did not work well and the attempt failed. In addition, Fröbel became entangled in a conflict between Pestalozzi and his colleagues, which caused Pestalozzi’s enormous popularity to decline. Therefore, Fröbel returned to Germany in 1811, to resume his studies in the natural sciences.
His experience in Switzerland made Fröbel question Pestalozzi’s theory. He recognized his need for better knowledge on the subject of education, and so he decided to broaden his own education in language studies, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, and geography in Göttingen and Berlin.
When war broke out against Napoleon, Fröbel joined the army. During the war he met two theology students, who later became his close colleagues: Wilhelm Middendorff and Heinrich Langethal. After more than a year spent in the army, Fröbel resigned and took an assistantship position at the Mineralogical Institute of Berlin University.
However, his brother Christoph died of cholera in 1813, leaving three children behind. Fröbel decided to leave his university position and take over the education of his three nephews. He moved to Keilhan and opened a private school there, naming it General German Educational Establishment. Fröbel married Henriette Wilhelmine Hoffmeister in 1818, and his school started to flourish. His life finally seemed to be on track.
Fröbel published several major works in the 1820s, including his masterpiece Die Menschenerziehung in 1826. However, the political situation in Prussia was turning against Fröbel. Nationalistic and conservative movements were swiping across the nation, and Fröbel’s school, which was non-orthodox and progressive, was regarded being "too liberal." Many parents decided to take their children out of the school and the whole project was on the verge of collapse. In 1831, Fröbel decided to move to Switzerland.
In Switzerland, Fröbel worked as an educator and a teacher’s trainer in the early 1830s, and as director of the Burgdorf orphanage and elementary school in the mid-1830s. However, he had to change his plans again and return to Germany due to his wife's ill health.
In this last part of his career Fröbel started to develop his ideas about a kindergarten and constructed educational tools, which later became known as "Fröbel Gifts." In 1837, he opened the Establishment to Take Care of the Activity Needs of Children and Young People (Play and Activity Institute) at Bad Blankenburg in Thuringia. This was a facility where Froebel was able to directly apply his ideas and tools to education of a small number of children. Later, he renamed it the Kindergarten.
Fröbel’s wife, Henriette Wilhelmine, died in May 1839. Fröbel moved to Bad Liebenstein where, in 1848, he opened the Establishment for the Universal Unification of Life through the Developmental and Caring Education of Man. That was a kindergarten and a boarding school for training of kindergarten teachers. He remarried to Luise Levin in 1851. Fröbel died a year later.
The promulgation of Fröbel's ideas and activities must be attributed to a profitable friendship with Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Buelow, who arranged for leading educators, government officials, and nobility to hear Fröbel's lectures. She simplified and clarified his often complicated talks to make them universally understandable. Fröbel's early adherents were the Duchess Maria Pavlona (Romanova) von Sachsen-Weimar, the Duke of Sachsen-Meiningen, and the Royal Family of the Netherlands, among others. After Fröbel's death, the Baroness continued to promote his ideas.
Fröbel’s ideas on education drew upon his general views on nature and the world. He saw unity as the primary principle in every single thing, with God as the source of that principle. In Die Nenschenerziehung he wrote:
The purpose of education is to encourage and guide man as a conscious, thinking and perceiving being in such a way that he becomes a pure and perfect representation of that divine inner law through his own personal choice; education must show him the ways and meanings of attaining that goal. (p. 2)
Fröbel believed that human beings are essentially creative in nature, but that they do not know how to express that creativity. Only when living in harmony with nature and God, can human inner potentials unfold and develop. Education has a crucial role in this process. Thus, Fröbel believed that education needed to encourage development not only of knowledge, but also of creativity. Through engaging in interaction with the world, our understanding of that world develops. He thus emphasized the importance of the educational environment as a tool in education.
At first, Fröbel focused on the education of young children through educational games within the family. He noticed that children began to learn as soon as they opened their eyes, and so he believed that education should start as early as possible. In the beginning, Fröbel and his friends and their wives served as a kind of educational community, teaching not only the children, but also their mothers how to appropriately interact with their children and teach them different things. However, later in his career he emphasized the benefits of children's group activities and education in specially designed environment, which later became known as kindergartens. He wrote:
Because I find that one of the basic causes of defective childcare is the unsatisfactory consideration of the activity drive of the child, I have endeavored to create an institution for this very purpose. An institution under the motto: "Come let us live with our children," which has the task of giving into the hands of parents, families, educators and teachers a coherent system of play activities. (Fröbel, 1844 in Liebschner, 2002)
The word kindergarten was first used by Fröbel in 1840, for his Play and Activity Institute that he had founded at Bad Blankenburg. The Town Council had previously provided a building, which Fröbel arranged to fit the children's needs. It had two rooms, one with tables and chairs, and the other with open space for games and play. Outside was a garden where children grew flowers, vegetables, grains, and herbs. Other activities in the kindergarten typically included singing, dancing, and playing. Fröbel believed that children needed to be left alone to create their own activities, and that the teacher's role was only to foster their creativity.
The educational tools used in Fröbel's kindergarten were specially constructed to target the children's creativity. These tools were popularly known as "Fröbel Gifts," or Fröbel Gaben. They included geometric blocks—balls, wooden blocks, tiles, sticks, and rings—that could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. Froebel advocated the importance of free play. Each "gift" (Gabe, in German) was designed to be "given" to a child to provide material for the child's self-directed activity. Playing with the Fröbel Gifts empowers children to be lively and free, and to interact with the environment:
it is important to consider what Fröbel expected the Gifts to achieve. He envisaged that the Gifts will teach the child to use his (or her) environment as an educational aid; secondly, that they will give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and finally that they will create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them. (Liebschner 2002)
From the time Fröbel opened his first kindergarten in 1837, until his death in 1852, more than 90 kindergartens were opened all around Germany.
Before Fröbel, children's formal education started at the age of seven with elementary school. At that time, it was widely believed that children younger than seven were not able to focus, or to develop any cognitive or emotional skills. Fröbel, however, believed that early education was of great importance. He said "because learning begins when consciousness erupts, education must also."
Fröbel was one of the first educators who emphasized that the goal of education was the development of human creativity and productivity, and not only intellectual knowledge. He firmly believed that children needed to learn through activity and social play. He even went one step forward and created a physical environment where he instantiated his ideas: the first kindergarten. With that, he influenced the whole system of early childhood education, a development that is still in use today.
The famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was admittedly influenced through playing with the Fröbel blocks. Modern painters Vasily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were also influenced by Fröbel (Brosterman 2002). Froebel Gifts remain popular in Korea and Japan in early childhood education.
Fröbel’s followers, such as Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow, and thinkers such as Diesterweg, continued to elaborate on Froebel’s ideas and eventually created a whole movement (Fröbel movement) based on his ideas.
All links retrieved November 20, 2013.
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