Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Friedrich Froebel—Farther of Kindergarten

Friedrich Froeble, (C.W. Bardeen, Publisher, c1897) {PD-US}}

Friedrich Froebel (April 21, 1782—June 21, 1852) was born in Thuringia, in a forest region known for its herbal medicines, soaps and salves. At the age of ten, he moved in with his uncle and, at the age of fifteen, he started an apprenticeship with a forester. In 1799 he left his apprenticeship to study math and botany in Jena. In 1805 he began his career as an educator at a secondary school in Frankfurt. It was there that he learned about the Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whose educational theories would have a significant influence on him. He was also influenced by Rousseau, Ficte, and the Taoists, Buddhists and ancient Greeks.

From 1813 to 1814 he participated in two campaigns against Napoleon. In 1816 he founded the German General Education Institute in Thuringia. In 1826 he published “The Education of Man,” (Die Menschenerziehung), his major literary work and also started the weekly periodical, “The Educating Families” (Die erziehenden Familien).

In the 1830s he began to produce playing materials for children and focused more on the education of preschool age children, creating a Play and Activity Institute in 1837 and coining the term Kindergarten in 1840. His educational play materials, known as Froebel Gifts (Froebelgaben), included building blocks and pattern activity books and are considered by many to be the world’s first educational toys.

Froebel’s most important contributions to education involved his recognition of the importance of activity and play in early childhood learning and his concept of Freiarbeit (free work). His first kindergarten involved singing, dancing, gardening and play with his Froebel Gifts. He also encouraged his students to be keen observers of nature, a quality no doubt influenced by his own scientific training (Froebel helped develop the new field of crystallography and was trained as a botanist and naturalist). Thus, kindergarten was not simply a poetic-sounding “garden” filled with children, but a literal garden for them to observe and interact with the natural world. His kindergarteners were also taught how to sow, harvest and prepare nutritious produce.

Froebel’s kindergarten ideal was suppressed by the Prussian government which found it “atheistic and demagogic” for its supposed denigration of religion and politics. Though he was a devout Christian (and the son of a Lutheran minister), he rejected the notion of original sin and promoted and practiced the coeducation of boys and girls, something that was very controversial in 19th century Germany. He also eschewed the use of the scriptures in his schools. He also promoted the idea that children should be able to grow and develop without the influence of arbitrary political and social priorities—something that would endear him to anarchists like Francisco Ferrer and others in the Modern School movement.

Froebel’s pedagogical theories influenced the later educational work of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, while his Froebel Gifts inspired the architectural aesthetic of Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller, as well as many of the Bauhaus artists. Because he saw mothers as the ideal first teachers, he actively encouraged women to teach in the first kindergartens, making kindergarten one of the first significant career opportunities for women at a time when women were often not allowed to work outside the home.

The first American kindergarten was founded at Watertown, WI, in 1856, by Froebel’s student Margarethe Schurz.

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