our everyday life

Friedrich Froebel & the Kindergarten Movement

by Stephany Elsworth

Friedrich Froebel was a German educator who established kindergarten as an educational setting where children could learn self-awareness and develop social skills through play. His methods profoundly changed ideas about early childhood education in the United States and Europe and influenced many other educational movements.

Froebel's Kindergarten Movement

Before Froebel, young children were not usually educated in a formal setting and playing was considered a waste of time. Froebel believed that children could become more aware of themselves and of their place in the universe if they were allowed to express themselves and be creative. To this end, he established the first "kindergarten, or "child's garden," called the Play and Activity Institute, in 1837. Children at his school developed physical motor skills by cutting, stringing beads, sewing on cardboard and playing with clay. They sang songs, listened to stories, and developed social skills by playing with one another.

Women and Kindergarten

Froebel believed women should be kindergarten teachers because of their experience in nurturing children and educating them within the home and he encouraged mothers to become educators. The kindergarten movement attracted many notable women such as Helen Keller, Kate Douglas Wiggin and Mrs. Grover Cleveland, and because of Froebel's work, many women began teaching careers, started their own schools and spread the idea of kindergarten to other countries. Margarethe Schurz, a German immigrant to Wisconsin, introduced kindergartens to the United States in 1855. Bertha Ronge, one of Froebel's students, started several kindergartens in the United Kingdom.

Influence on Other Education Movements

Froebel had a strong influence on Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method. Like Froebel, Montessori believed that children's minds and personalities developed between the ages of birth and three years old, and both felt that children should be educated early. Montessori moved on to develop her own methods. Froebel also influenced the work of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scholar who founded the Waldorf Education movement. The Waldorf program stresses learning by doing and strengthening intellect through creativity.

The Development of the Kindergarten Program

Although kindergartens began in Germany, they were not immediately accepted. In 1851 Karl von Raumer, who was the minister of education in Prussia, banned kindergartens in his state, claiming that they were being used to spread socialism and atheism and chip away at traditional beliefs. Kindergartens did not re-emerge in Prussia until 1860. By that time, however, they were well established in Europe and North America and quickly spread around the world. Today kindergartens are a foundation for building important social skills and developing learning readiness that the child will use throughout his educational career.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images