"Kommt, lasst uns unsern Kindern leben."
Those were the words of Frederick Wilhelm August Froebel, arguably the most influential reformer in the history of education. They can be translated into English out of German as, "Come, let us live for the children," and were, collectively, the keystone of his educational philosophy and techniques. Learn with me!A Froebelian Biography:
Frederick Froebel was born on April 21, 1782 in Oberweissbach, Thuringia (central Germany) to an affluent Lutheran pastor, and a housewife. Immediately after Froebel's birth, his mother's health disintegrated, and she died when he was only nine months of age. He was raised solely by his father until he was 10, and got a solid Christian education, as well as particular schooling in mathematics, and extraordinary exposure to nature and the outdoors. However, in 1792, his father abandoned him, sending him off to live with an uncle who resided at nearby Stadt-Ilm. This uncle was kind-hearted and gentle, always encouraging young Frederick, and eventually endorsing his aspiration to get a higher education at Collegium Jenense -- the prominent German college at which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Frederick Schiller first crossed paths only a decade earlier. His aspiration came to fruition in 1799, before which, starting in 1797, he was apprenticing a forester; at 15, nature was already more than a mere subject of admiration to him.
At Collegium Jenense, Froebel most notably studied geometry and botany, with corollary studies in geology, chemistry and physics. There he began to realize the philosophical implications of biblical creation with regards to design; he recognized the complex connections amongst the scientific disciplines he studied, such as by the recurrence of basic geometric figures, and the general harmony of natural cycles. These recognitions were fundamental to the establishment of the educational philosophy and techniques that Froebel would later develop in practice as an educator.
Sometime between 1805 and 1811, after his graduation from college, Froebel ventured to Yverdon, Switzerland, to study and teach under famed schoolmaster and thinker Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. His sentiments of natural design matured there, and were combined with Pestalozzi's principles of education, to form what was, at the very least, a framework for his perfect educational philosophy.
By 1811, Froebel had returned to Germany, and within the year he had taken a job at a university museum in Frankfurt. He was the museum's crystallographer, classifying and organizing its collection of gemstones. He worked this job for four years, and at once during this period of study did his natural theories culminate in his consideration of the use of geometry in education; he was inspired by the regularity of the cleavages of the crystals. Between 1815 and 1837 there is a sort of rift in the historical record of Froebel's life; however, what is known of this time is that he wrote and professed on his own educational theory (freshly formed from his natural theory), and gained a couple of adamant supporters from the German aristocracy: The first was Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Buelow, and the second, by introduction by the former, Duke von Meiningen. Both of these proponents assisted him in fund raising for the construction of a school, under the guise of forming an art education endowment in commemoration of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's centennial birthday; Duke von Meiningen even donated his hunting lodge in Bad Liebenstein, called Marienthal ("Vail of Mary" in German), to the training of its teachers. In 1837, Froebel's school was established at Bad Blackenberg, and named Play and Activity Institute (rather, this is an English translation of the name). In 1840, he renamed the school Kindergarten, or, in English, "Garden of Children".
Froebel lived and worked at his Kindergarten for the rest of his life. He died peacefully, of old age, in one of the upstairs rooms in the school, at the age of 70, on June 21, 1852.
Note: There is evidence that Frederick Froebel was married -- twice, in fact. However, I have not been able to find a single resource listing the name(s) of his wives, and the only certain information I have found is that his first wife died, and that he remarried in 1837.Philosophies and Methods:
To preface: While most of the information in this section is taken from a third party to my research, due to the nature of the material, it is partially subject to my interpretations, and entirely subject to my communications.
As Frederick Froebel grew up with a strong Lutheran father in a Christian community, one of his primary interests from childhood on was God's creation of the Universe. He explored nature as a boy, and learned a great deal of it in school. One of the absolutely essential principles of Froebelian philosophy is that nature is constant, and that everything in material existence is in harmony with the rest of nature. He might have believed the molecular structure of a crystal akin to the that of the celluloid walls in a leaf, and, conversely, the superposition of layers in the earth akin to the construction of a geode; he saw all of the natural sciences as a single reality, governed by the same principles. This harmony, he believed, was all derivative of God's design of the Universe, and validated for him creation.
From this principle comes Froebel's directive in education: To assist his students in attaining intellectual harmony with nature (and therefore God) by their own volition, and enriching their understanding of the world around them. Before Froebel, it was a common misconception that children were ineducable before the age of seven or eight, but with his formal study of behavior in young children came his understanding of the importance of play and psychic exercise to the facility of later education. It was Froebel's definite belief that children needed to be introduced to mathematical logic, problem solving and natural science well before their eighth years had passed -- but in the form of play and educator engagement, rather than direct lecture. Froebel propounded the nurture of curiosity, individuality and unique ability in every student, and felt that the only way to do so was by personal interaction.
Now, you may have been wondering why I called the first section of this node "A Froebelian Biography". Well, in coordination with his natural philosophy, Frederick Froebel believed that the world was simple in essence, and that it is only intricate or difficult when complicated by matters of form, measure and order. He realized that there are universal principles in nature; that, in its most concentrated expression, any matter is, for example, a composite of elementary particles (although the discovery of subatomic particles came well after Froebel's death). That biography up there is basic, artless. Froebel believed people to be creative and brilliant entities -- but he would not have appreciated an excessive and stylized telling of his life story.Kindergarten:
As noted in his biography, Froebel named his school Kindergarten ("Garden of Children" in English) in 1840. The idea of early education was nonexistent in the Western world until Froebel, as was the word "kindergarten", and the movement that they inspired was directly responsible for the existence of kindergarten programs today. Kindergarten was the culmination of Froebel's educational philosophy and his efforts, and it was unlike any scholastic institution before it. It employed the use of Froebelgaben ("Froebel's gifts", in English), toys which he designed himself to stimulate the mind of a child, without confusing it. Froebelgaben were usually made from three shapes, those which Froebel thought to be the most natural, aesthetic and practical: The sphere, representative of seamlessness and efficiency; the cube, representative of variety and multitude; and the cylinder, the smooth combination of the curve and the two-dimensional surface, the static and the dynamic. Froebelgaben were often objective puzzles, but they were just as often tools for artistic expression, such as building blocks, clay or origami papers. Kindergarten also tended to utilize activities such as music-making and dance, gardening and story-telling to put its students in communion with themselves and nature; lectures and lessons were a small part of Kindergarten, but their role was primarily disciplinary, and rarely played a role in the educational process.
The emphases of Kindergarten were a creating a loving and positive environment, recognizing and allowing for development in each student's unique skills, self-activity and play. With these four elements, Froebel believed that any healthy child could grow into an intelligent, curious and sociable adolescent, and then into a practical, rational and successful adult.