Friedrich Froebel

black and white sketch of Friedrich Froebel

Friedrich Froebel was truly a pioneer in early childhood education. He established a new type of school for three and four year old children in 1837, which he called a child’s garden or kindergarten.1 Prior to this there had been no educational training for children under the age of seven. There was no recognition that young children were capable of learning social and intellectual skills.2

Friedrich Froebel was born in 1782 in Oberweissbach, Germany. His mother died when he was an infant, and he experienced a profoundly unhappy childhood, left to care for himself much of the time. Spending time alone playing in the gardens and forests around his home led to a love and respect of nature that remained throughout his lifetime.3 He had a natural curiosity for learning and avidly read many books on a variety of subjects. He studied forestry, surveying, and architecture as well as crystallography and mineralogy and worked in these fields before turning to his eventual work in education. All of these experiences influenced his future views of educating children.4

In 1805, Froebel was hired as a teacher at the Pestalozzian Frankfurt Model School. He was greatly influenced by Johann Pestalozzi, a highly regarded educator of his day. Froebel appreciated Pestalozzi’s respect for the dignity of children and his creation of a learning environment that promoted emotional security for them.5 Pestalozzi saw children as having an innate desire to learn, and he believed that children needed to be active in their own learning. Encouraging children’s natural curiosity and desire for exploration, Pestalozzi’s views developed a revolutionary teaching system from the standard teaching methods of rote memorization and lectures.6 Pestalozzi also welcomed poor children and orphans to attend his schools, which was also a revolutionary practice.7

Froebel’s most important work, The Education of Man, published in 1825, reflects Pestalozzi’s impact on Froebel’s views of educating children. His well-known motto was “Kommt lasst uns unsern Kindern leben!” which is literally translated as “Come, let us live with our children!” He proposed that play is a necessary element in educating the “whole” child allowing him to use all his imaginative powers and physical movements to explore his interests. Froebel stated, “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”8 He was convinced that the primary focus for teaching young children should be through play, which contrasted with the prevalent view at the time that play was a form of idleness and disorder.9

In 1816, Froebel opened his own school, the Universal German Educational Institute, which he ran himself until 1830, when he opened schools in Switzerland using his teaching techniques.10 In 1837, Froebel opened his first kindergarten in Blankenburg, Germany. He coined the word, kindergarten, to express his vision for training young children. He stated: “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.”11

Froebel’s kindergarten used free play, games, songs, stories, and crafts to stimulate imagination while developing physical and motor skills. The kindergarten program was designed to meet children’s needs for physical activity, sensory awareness, creative expression, exploration of ideas and concepts, the pleasure of singing, and the experience of living among others. His educational approach was for “self-activity,” the idea that allowed the child to be led by his own interests and to freely explore them. The teacher became a guide rather than a lecturer.12

Froebel developed toys for inventive play that he called “gifts” and “occupations.” Gifts were objects that were fixed in form, such as blocks and balls. He designed a large box of 500 wooden building blocks for children.13 Children’s symbolic play with blocks gave a more open-ended play experience than the intricate, decorated toys that children normally played with in that day. Froebel felt that building with blocks helped children progress from the material to the abstract.14 He envisioned that the Gifts would teach children to use their environment as an educational aid and that they would see the connection between human life and life in nature.15 Occupations were objects that children could shape and manipulate freely using their own creativity, such as clay, sand, beads, and rope.16

Froebel also included in his kindergarten philosophy the study and nuture of plants in a garden for stimulating children’s interest in nature. He felt it was important for children to grow up in harmony with nature.17 Earlier learning experiences with children in a garden convinced Froebel that action and direct observation were the best ways to educate.18

Between 1848 and 1852 there were 31 kindergartens founded in German cities. Many of these kindergartens were open to children of all social classes and religious denominations teaching tolerance and understanding unlike other educational institutions of that time. Froebel died in 1852 after a short illness. His legacy of changing the philosophy of education in Germany led other educators to continue his work.19

  • 1. “Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) – Biography, Froebel’s Kindergarten Philosophy, The Kindergarten Curriculum, Diffusion of the Kindergarten.” Education Encyclopedia. < > 21 Dec. 2010.
  • 2. LeBlanc, Miriam. “Friedrich Froebel: His life and influence on education.” Community Playthings. < > 21 Dec. 2010.
  • 3. Nichols, Rachel. “Friedrich Froebel: Founder of the First Kindergarten.” < > 21 Dec. 2010.
  • 4. Op. cit., LeBlanc.
  • 5. Op. cit., “Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) – Biography, Froebel’s Kindergarten Philosophy, The Kindergarten Curriculum, Diffusion of the Kindergarten.”
  • 6. Op. cit., LeBlanc.
  • 7. Op. cit., Nichols.
  • 8. Op. cit., LeBlanc.
  • 9. Op. cit., “Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) – Biography, Froebel’s Kindergarten Philosophy, The Kindergarten Curriculum, Diffusion of the Kindergarten.”
  • 10. Op. cit., LeBlanc.
  • 11. Op. cit., Nichols.
  • 12. Op. cit., Nichols.
  • 13. “Who Invented Kindergarten?” German < > 21 Dec. 2010.
  • 14. Op. cit., LeBlanc.
  • 15. “Play is the work of children.” < > 21 Dec. 2010.
  • 16. Op. cit., “Who Invented Kindergarten?”
  • 17. Op. cit., “Who Invented Kindergarten?”
  • 18. Op. cit., Nichols.
  • 19. Op. cit., Nichols.