Pioneers of Education: Friedrich Fröbel

Known to posterity as the father of the “Kindergarten” best known for his work and recognition of the importance of the early years in further education.

Born in 1782 in the Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in pre-unification Germany, Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel was the son of an Orthodox Lutheran clergyman. In 1805 he began his career as an educator, working at a school in Frankfurt. Here he was introduced to the ideas of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss education reformer and pedagogue whom he would later work alongside and learn from when he moved to Switzerland in 1806.

In 1811, he returned to Germany to go to school in Göttingen and Berlin but left without earning a certificate for his time spent there. He moved on to become a teacher at a boarding school in Berlin where he stayed until the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1813 through 1814 Fröbel was a member of the Lützow Free Corps, a volunteer force of the Prussian Army that fought Napoleon that was renowned for comprising of a high number of students, academics and other learned men drawn from all over Germany. Though this was later disputed with perhaps no more than a tenth of the regiment being from an educational background, Fröbel was to meet and begin lifelong friendships with Wilhemn Middendorf and Heinrich Langethal. In association with these two pedagogues and educators, Fröbel would undertake many of his future ventures.

Following the Battle of Waterloo and peace in Europe, Fröbel returned to education, founding the Allgemeine Deutsche Erziehungsanstalt (“German General Education Institute”) in Griesheim near Arnstadt in Thuringia in 1816 which he would move to Keilhau near Rudosdadt the following year.

From 1820 onwards his educational ventures expanded into pamphlets, books, newsletters and the opening of another educational institute this time in Switzerland to where he moved in 1831 through to 1836.

In 1837 he returned to Germany and began to focus himself almost exclusively on the education of what would be considered children of pre-school age today. With the help of his colleagues from his war years he founded a “care, playing and activity institute for small children” in Bad Blankenburg. In 1840 onwards, he would coin the phrase “Kindergarten” to describe educational establishments of this type.

This new emphasis on the education and preparation of younger children for future schooling remains Fröbel greatest contribution to the development of Education. He emphasized the importance of activity and of games including singing, dancing and gardening into the development of the child and even created his own educational aides, the so-called Froebal Gifts, to help inspire play in the minds of his young learners.

His ideas and philosophies earned great recognition and support amongst academic and royal circles throughout Germany. But it is perhaps the spread of his Kindergarten ideas that resonates more with us today. From the first female teachers trained at the Bad Blankenburg institute, who then went on to open similar institutions themselves, Fröbel’s ideas have gone around the world, inspired generations of pre-school children and ensured his word “Kindergarten” a place in the English language.

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