Fröbel, Friedrich Wilhelm

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Educator and founder of the kindergarten system; b. Oberweissbach, Thuringia, April 21, 1782; d. Marienthal, June 21, 1852. Fröbel, son of a Lutheran pastor and motherless from infancy, was neglected in childhood and received little formal education. Apprenticed to a forester at 15, he was impressed by the beauty around him and with the idea of the oneness of nature. In 1800 he spent a short time at the University of Jena, and in 1805 he went to Frankfurt to study architecture. While there, Dr. Anton Gruner, master of the model school, persuaded him to teach in his school, which he conducted along Pestalozzian lines. Fröbel accepted and, during that year, spent two weeks in J. H. pestalozzi's school at Yverdon. Upon his return to Frankfurt he undertook a systematic study of Pestalozzianism under Gruner's guidance and spent two years (180810) at Yverdon studying the methods of the Swiss reformer. In 1811 he studied at Göttingen; in 1813 he entered military service; and in 1814 he went to Berlin to continue his studies. In 1816, with Heinrich Langenthal and Wilhelm Mittendorf, he organized an experimental school at Keilhau, and in 1826 published his most important work, The Education of Man. In 1835 the Swiss government invited him to superintend a public orphanage and organize courses for the training of teachers. He returned to Germany in 1837 and, at Blankenburg, established a school for small children to which, in 1840, he attached the name "kindergarten." In 1843 he published Mother Play and Nursery Songs and from 1844 until his death devoted his time and talent to advancing the kindergarten idea in Germany and to training girls as kindergarten teachers.

The aim of education, according to Fröbel, is the development of the child's inborn capacities and powers in accord with his nature, and the redirection of undesirable native impulses. Two basic principles, he maintained, underlie this aim: (1) the law of unity, for "all things live and have their being in and through the Divine Unity, in and through God," which, applied to practical situations, involves the unity of knowing, feeling, and doing, as well as child development; and (2) symbolism, which shows itself in his deep interest in analogies between physical and spiritual phenomena.

Fröbel sums up his general method by the term "self-activity," or the process of development from within by which the child expresses his impulses and thoughts and renders "the inner, outer," as Fröbel terms it. Education, which, he held, should begin at birth, is most effective in a miniature community where children cooperate in active social participation induced by games and similar activities. Among his permanent contributions are the introduction into the curriculum of language, drawing, rhythm, and nature study based on observation of living things; the use of play materials; the simultaneous development of language, gesture, and constructive work; and his promotion of the kindergarten idea that was spread throughout Europe mainly through the efforts of his devoted pupil, the Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz Bülow, and reached the U.S. during the 1850s.

Bibliography: h. c. bowen, Froebel and Education through Self-Activity (New York 1893). f. p. graves, Great Educators of Three Centuries (New York 1912). f. v. n. painter, Great Pedagogical Essays (New York 1905). r. h. quick, Essays on Educational Reformers (new ed. New York 1896).

[w. g. wixted]