Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel or Froebel ( listen ) (German: [ˈfʁiːdʁɪç ˈvɪlhɛlm ˈaʊɡʊst ˈfʁøːbəl]; 21 April 1782 – 21 June 1852) was a German pedagogue, a student of Pestalozzi who laid the foundation for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities. He created the concept of the "kindergarten" and also coined the word now used in German and English. He also developed the educational toys known as Froebel Gifts.
Friedrich Fröbel was born at Oberweißbach in the Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in Thuringia. A cousin of his was the mother of Henriette Schrader-Breymann, and Henriette became a student of his. Fröbel's father, who died in 1802, was the pastor of the orthodox Lutheran (alt-lutherisch) parish there. The church and Lutheran Christian faith were pillars in Fröbel's own early education. Oberweißbach was a wealthy village in the Thuringian Forest and had been known centuries long for its natural herb remedies, tinctures, bitters, soaps and salves. Families had their own inherited areas of the forest where herbs and roots were grown and harvested. Each family prepared, bottled, and produced their individual products which were taken throughout Europe on trade routes passed from father to son, who were affectionately called "Buckelapotheker" or Rucksack Pharmacists. They adorned the church with art acquired from their travels, many pieces of which can still be seen in the renovated structure. The pulpit from which Fröbel heard his father preach is the largest in all Europe and can fit a pastor and 12 men, a direct reference to Christ's apostles.
Shortly after Fröbel's birth, his mother's health began to fail. She died when he was nine months old, profoundly influencing his life. In 1792, Fröbel went to live in the small town of Stadt-Ilm with his uncle, a gentle and affectionate man. At the age of 15 Fröbel, who loved nature, became the apprentice to a forester. In 1799, he decided to leave his apprenticeship and study mathematics and botany in Jena. From 1802 to 1805, he worked as a land surveyor.
On 11 September 1818, Fröbel wed Wilhelmine Henriette Hoffmeister (b. 1780) in Berlin. The union was childless. Wilhelmine died in 1839, and Fröbel married again in 1851. His second wife was Louise Levin.
He began as an educator in 1805 at the Musterschule (a secondary school) in Frankfurt, where he learned about Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s ideas. He later worked with Pestalozzi in Switzerland where his ideas further developed. From 1806 Fröbel was the live-in teacher for a Frankfurt noble family’s three sons. He lived with the three children from 1808 to 1810 at Pestalozzi’s institute in Yverdon-les-Bains in Switzerland.
In 1811, Fröbel once again went back to school in Göttingen and Berlin, eventually leaving without earning a certificate. He became a teacher at the Plamannsche Schule in Berlin, a boarding school for boys, and at that time also a pedagogical and patriotic centre.
During his service in the Lützow Free Corps in 1813 and 1814 – when he was involved in two campaigns against Napoleon – Fröbel befriended Wilhelm Middendorf, a theologian and fellow pedagogue, and Heinrich Langethal, also a pedagogue. After Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna, Fröbel found himself a civilian once again and became an assistant at the Museum of Mineralogy under Christian Samuel Weiss. This did not, however, last very long, and by 1816 he had quit and founded the Allgemeine Deutsche Erziehungsanstalt (German General Education Institute) in Griesheim near Arnstadt in Thuringia. A year later he moved this to Keilhau near (now in) Rudolstadt. In 1831, work was continued there by the other cofounders Wilhelm Middendorf and Heinrich Langethal.
In 1820, Fröbel published the first of his five Keilhau pamphlets, An unser deutsches Volk (To Our German People). The other four were published between then and 1823.
In 1826 he published his main literary work, Die Menschenerziehung (The Education of Man) and founded the weekly publication Die erziehenden Familien (The Educating Families). In 1828 and 1829 he pursued plans for a people’s education institute (Volkserziehungsanstalt) in Helba (nowadays a constituent community of Meiningen), but they were never realized.
From 1831 to 1836, Fröbel once again lived in Switzerland. In 1831 he founded an educational institute in Wartensee (Lucerne). In 1833 he moved this to Willisau, and from 1835 to 1836, he headed the orphanage in Burgdorf (Berne), where he also published the magazine Grundzüge der Menschenerziehung (Features of Human Education). In 1836 appeared his work Erneuerung des Lebens erfordert das neue Jahr 1836 (The New Year 1836 Calls For the Renewal of Life).
He returned to Germany, dedicated himself almost exclusively to preschool child education and began manufacturing playing materials in Bad Blankenburg. In 1837 he founded a care, playing and activity institute for small children in Bad Blankenburg. From 1838 to 1840 he also published the magazine Ein Sonntagsblatt für Gleichgesinnte (A Sunday Paper for the Like-Minded).
In 1840 he coined the word kindergarten for the Play and Activity Institute he had founded in 1837 at Bad Blankenburg for young children, together with Wilhelm Middendorf and Heinrich Langethal. These two men were Fröbel’s most faithful colleagues when his ideas were also transplanted to Keilhau near Rudolstadt.
He designed the educational play materials known as Froebel Gifts, or Fröbelgaben, which included geometric building blocks and pattern activity blocks. A book entitled Inventing Kindergarten, by Norman Brosterman, examines the influence of Friedrich Fröbel on Frank Lloyd Wright and modern art.
Friedrich Fröbel's great insight was to recognise the importance of the activity of the child in learning. He introduced the concept of "free work" (Freiarbeit) into pedagogy and established the "game" as the typical form that life took in childhood, and also the game’s educational worth. Activities in the first kindergarten included singing, dancing, gardening and self-directed play with the Froebel Gifts. Fröbel intended, with his Mutter- und Koselieder – a songbook that he published – to introduce the young child into the adult world.
These ideas about childhood development and education were introduced to academic and royal circles through the tireless efforts of his greatest proponent, the Baroness (Freiherrin) Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Bülow. Through her Fröbel made the acquaintance of the Royal House of the Netherlands, various Thuringian dukes and duchesses, including the Romanov wife of the Grand Duke von Sachsen-Weimar. Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow, Duke von Meiningen and Fröbel gathered donations to support art education for children in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Goethe. The Duke of Meiningen granted the use of his hunting lodge, called Marienthal (the Vale of Mary) in the resort town of Bad Liebenstein for Fröbel to train the first women as Kindergarten teachers (called Kindergärtnerinnen).
Fröbel died on 21 June 1852 in Marienthal, now a constituent community of Schweina. His grave can still be found in the cemetery at Schweina, where his widow, who died in Hamburg, was also buried on 10 January 1900.
Fröbel’s idea of the kindergarten found appeal, but its spread in Germany was thwarted by the Prussian government, whose education ministry banned it on 7 August 1851 as "atheistic and demagogic" for its alleged "destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics". Other states followed suit. The reason for the ban, however, seems to have been a confusion of names. Fröbel’s nephew Karl Fröbel had written and published Weibliche Hochschulen und Kindergärten (Female Colleges and Kindergartens), which apparently met with some disapproval. To quote Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, "The stupid minister (Karl Otto) von Raumer has decreed a ban on kindergartens, basing himself on a book by Karl Fröbel. He is confusing Friedrich and Karl Fröbel."
Fröbel’s student Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in the United States at Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856, and she also inspired Elizabeth Peabody, who went on to found the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States – the language at Schurz’s kindergarten had been German, to serve an immigrant community – in Boston in 1860. This paved the way for the concept’s spread in the USA. The German émigré Adolph Douai had also founded a kindergarten in Boston in 1859, but was obliged to close it after only a year. By 1866, however, he was founding others in New York City.
The pedagogue August Köhler was the initiator and cofounder in 1863 of the Deutscher Fröbelverein (German Fröbel Association), first for Thuringia, out of which grew the Allgemeiner Fröbelverein (General Fröbel Association) in 1872, and a year later the Deutscher Fröbelverband (German Fröbel Federation). August Köhler critically analyzed and evaluated Fröbel theory, adopted fundamental notions into his own kindergarten pedagogy and expanded on these, developing an independent "Köhler Kindergarten Pedagogy". He first trained kindergarten teachers in Gotha in 1857. In the beginning, Köhler had thought to engage male educators exclusively, but far too few applied.
Thekla Naveau founded in October 1853 the first kindergarten in Sondershausen and on 1 April 1867 the first kindergarten after the Prussian ban was lifted in Nordhausen.
Angelika Hartmann founded in 1864 the first kindergarten after Fröbel’s model in Köthen, Anhalt.
In 1908 and 1911, kindergarten teacher training was recognized in Germany through state regulatory laws.
In the meantime, there are many kindergartens in Germany named after Fröbel that continue his pedagogy. Many of them have sprung from parental or other private initiatives. The biggest Fröbel association, Fröbel e.V., today runs more than 100 kindergartens and other early childhood institutions throughout the country through the Fröbel-Gruppe.
Committed to Fröbel’s legacy is also the Neuer Thüringer Fröbelverein (NTFV; New Thuringian Fröbel Association), and in particular to protecting the legacy’s business receipts. As well, the Association runs a school museum and the Fröbel Archive in Keilhau. Furthermore, it engages itself in Fröbel institutions worldwide (United States, United Kingdom, Japan). Through this network, the NTFV further continues one of the most prominent lines of modern pedagogy from the authentic "Fröbel town" of Keilhau. The Fröbel Diploma, now conferred by the Fröbel Academy in Nordhausen, can also be traced back to the NTFV. All this ensures that Fröbel’s ideas will live on into the future.
Fröbel’s building forms and movement games are also forerunners of abstract art as well as a source of inspiration to the Bauhaus movement. In Fröbel’s honour, Walter Gropius designed the Friedrich Fröbel Haus.
In 1892 followers of Fröbel established a college of teacher education in South West London to continue his traditions. Froebel College is now a constituent college of Roehampton University and is home to the university's department of education. The University of Roehampton Library is also home to the Froebel Archive for Childhood Studies, a collection of books, archives, photographs, objects and multi-media materials, centring on Friedrich Fröbel’s educational legacy, early years and elementary education. The Demonstration School, originally located at Colet Court, Kensington, has evolved into Ibstock Place School, Roehampton.
Today the Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus in Berlin continues to train nursery school teachers.
(a selection of Fröbel`s works from his time at Keilhau)
- An unser deutsches Volk. Erfurt 1820.
- Durchgreifende, dem deutschen Charakter erschöpfend genügende Erziehung ist das Grund- und Quellbedürfnis des deutschen Volkes. Erfurt 1821.
- Die Grundsätze, der Zweck und das innere Leben der allgemeinen deutschen Erziehungsanstalt in Keilhau bei Rudolstadt. Rudolstadt 1821.
- Die allgemeine deutsche Erziehungsanstalt in Keilhau betreffend. Rudolstadt 1822.
- Über deutsche Erziehung überhaupt und über das allgemeine Deutsche der Erziehungsanstalt in Keilhau insbesondere. Rudolstadt 1822.
- Fortgesetzte Nachricht von der allgemeinen deutschen Erziehungsanstalt in Keilhau. Rudolstadt 1823.
- Die Menschenerziehung, die Erziehungs-, Unterrichts- und Lehrkunst, angestrebt in der allgemeinen deutschen Erziehungsanstalt zu Keilhau. Erster Band. Keilhau-Leipzig 1826.
- Die erziehenden Familien. Wochenblatt für Selbstbildung und die Bildung Anderer. Keilhau-Leipzig 1826.