Friedrich Froebel is best known for his book The Education of Man (1826) and for being the founder of the kindergarten movement. In the book, he described his educational philosophy in which all life was based on an eternal law of unity. Because Froebel believed that God was the “Divine Unity,” everything was interconnected because the spirit of God infused all things. The purpose of education was to teach children how to observe and understand the world in which they lived. According to him, children should not have ideas forced on them but should be encouraged to realize their own natural potential.
Froebel opened his first kindergarten in Blankenberg, Germany, in 1837. His curriculum emphasized that children best learn through play. He developed a series of twenty toys and activities called “Gifts” and “Occupations” that were supposed to help the child gain an understanding of the world. The second Gift, in particular, demonstrated the philosophical nature of Froebel’s curriculum. It consisted of a wooden sphere, a cube, and a cylinder. The sphere was rounded on all sides. The cube, its opposite, had carefully defined edges. The roundness of the sphere and the flat edges of the cube were combined in the cylinder, demonstrating, in Hegelian terms, thesis and antithesis combined to result in a synthesis. The most popular of the Gifts, however, were the third through sixth, which were a series of building blocks. The interrelated blocks taught the child to “distinguish, name, and classify,” according to Froebel, as well as providing the child with tools to help him shape and master the world in which he lived.
Although the kindergarten movement died out in Germany because of political opposition, widespread interest in kindergarten education developed in the United States by the time of the Civil War. The first successful public kindergarten was begun by Susan Blow in 1873 at the Des Peres School in St. Louis, Missouri. As the kindergarten movement spread, Froebel’s “Gifts” and “Occupations,” and in particular, his building blocks, came to be considered important tools for children’s play and learning experiences.
- Downs, R. B. (1978). Friedrich Froebel. Boston: Twayne. Provenzo, E. F., Jr., & Brett, A. (1983). The complete block book. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
- Snider, D. J. (1900). The life of Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten. Chicago: Sigma.
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