Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (1782-1852) wasa German educator and psychologist who was a pioneer of the kindergarten system and influenced the growth of the manual training movement in education.
Friedrich Froebel was born on April 21, 1782, in Oberweissbach, a small village in Thuringia. His father was a Lutheran minister. His mother died 9 months after his birth. In 1797 Froebel was apprenticed to a forester in Thuringia. Two years later, while visiting his brother, Froebel took some courses at the University of Jena.
In 1801 Froebel returned home to be with his ailing father. After his father's death the following year he became a clerk in the forestry department of the state of Bamburg. From 1804 to 1805 he served as a private secretary to several noblemen.
The year 1805 marked a turning point in Froebel's life. He went to Frankfurt intending to become an architect but instead ended up teaching in a preparatory school. The effect of this teaching experience on Froebel was such that he decided to make education his life's work. In 1808 he went to Yverdon, Switzerland, where he tutored boys attending Johann Pestalozzi's institute. Feeling somewhat lacking in his own educational background, he left Yverdon in 1811 and studied at the universities of Göttingen and Berlin until 1816. During this period he briefly served in the army raised by the German states to oppose Napoleon.
In 1816 Froebel opened the Universal German Educational Institute at Keilham, a school based on his own educational theories. Its curriculum was comprehensive in nature, covering all aspects of the student's growth and development—both physical and mental. In 1818 he married Henrietta Hoffmeister.
In Froebel's major educational work, The Education of Man (1826), he explained the basic philosophy which guided his educational undertakings—the unity of all things in God. This doctrine is evident in his work in the area of early-childhood education, to which he turned his attention in 1836. This culminated in the development of his famous kindergarten in 1840. That same year Froebel began to instruct teachers in the principles and methods of the kindergarten. His Mutterund Koselieder (1843) is a song and picture book for children. He spent the remainder of his life elaborating, propagandizing, and defending the principles and practices embodied in the kindergarten.
In 1849, after spending approximately 5 years touring Germany and spreading the idea of the kindergarten, Froebel settled in Liebenstein. He spent the remainder of his life combating conservative forces critical of his educational theories. These forces managed in 1851 to get the Prussian government to ban the kindergarten on the grounds that it was an atheistic and socialistic threat to the state. This action was based not so much on what Froebel had done but rather on his followers' misrepresentation of his educational ideas. He did what he could to restore confidence in his kindergarten but died on June 21, 1852, some 8 years before the ban was lifted by the Prussian government.
This preschool experience for children grew out of Froebel's belief that man is essentially part of the total universe that is God. He felt that the only way for one to become one's real self, as God intended, was through the natural unfolding of the innate qualities that made up the whole person. This process should begin as soon as possible and under as natural conditions as possible. The program encouraged free activity, so that forces within the child could be released; creativeness, since man, being part of the creative God, should also create; social participation, since man must by nature act in society (a departure from Rousseau); and motor expression, which is related to activity and learning by doing.
The favorable aspects of his view of the kindergarten lie in Froebel's emphasis on the child, the view that education is growth, the recognition of the importance of activity in education, and the position that knowledge is not the end of education. Less favorable in terms of modern thought is the heavy emphasis he placed on object teaching. Froebel believed in an almost mystical way that an object could in some way create symbolic meaning for a child (for example, association with a ball teaches the meaning of unity). In later years the use of objects was to become a formalized and fixed part of the kindergarten curriculum. The "unfolding of innate qualities" in a mystical manner has also been criticized as being unscientific.
For an account of Froebel see his Autobiography (trans. 1886).For insight into the early growth of the kindergarten in the United States see Nina C. Vandewalker, The Kindergarten in American Education (1908). William Boyd, The History of Western Education (1921; 8th ed. 1966), and James Mulhern, A History of Secondary Education in Pennsylvania (1933), both place the kindergarten in relation to other educational developments.