Friedrich Froebel was born in Oberweissbach; a village in Thuringia, Germany on April 21st, 1782. His father was the pastor of the Lutheran Church. When scarcely a year old his mother died; before long, a stepmother came to fill her place; but didn't. This stepmother was severe and lacked a loving heart. As a child, Froebel was left to his own devices. He was educated by antithesis. At the age of ten, Friedrich was saved by an uncle who had a big family of his own and love without limit. The uncle brought the boy up to work, but treated him like a human but treated him like a human being. At fifteen he was apprenticed to a forester. The young man's first work was to make a list of the trees in a certain tract and approximate their respective ages. The work in the woods built up his body and he grew to be at home in the forest, both day and night. His duties taught him to observe, to describe, to draw, to investigate and to decide. Froebel thought his two years in the forest saved him; for it taught him to look out, not in, and to lend a hand. After two years, Froebel went to Jena, to attend the university. At Jena, Froebel had a difficult time. His early education did not prepare him. He floundered in his studies and in his tuition. He left Jena to become the chief of apprentices at the Forestry Office. Froebel’s knowledge of surveying and map-making led him naturally to architecture. He became an architect's assistant. Unfortunately mathematics was not his strong suit.
Not skill, nor books, but life itself is the foundation of all education.
Froebel had a great desire to teach. In Frankfort there was a model Pestalozzi school. Mr. Gruner was head of the school and needed teachers who could teach these methods; Froebel applied and was accepted. Gruner and Froebel read Pestalozzi's books and wrote to him. This led to an invitation to visit Pestalozzi's school in Yverdon, Switzerland.
We have to do with the principles of development of human beings,
and not with methods of instruction concerning specific things.
Froebel returned to the school in Frankfort full of enthusiasm. Soon his classroom was the center of the whole school. But Froebel's past caught up with him. Because he had no college degree, his pedagogic pedigree was short. This led to Gruner's school to be inspected by officials. They wanted to know who Froebel was. During his lifetime, Froebel never escaped the scrutiny of how he received his education. Though he lacked a degree, Froebel had been a forester, a farmer, an architect, a guardian and a teacher. Froebel was a natural teacher, he returned to Pestalozzi's school in order to secure a certificate. Froebel then became a private tutor for a family. He traveled to Berlin & Weimar and studied as well as taught. War changed everything and Friedrich Froebel enlisted. During this time he met William Middendorf and Henry Langenthal. They would become lifetime friends and colleagues.
We grow through the three fundamental principles of human existence
— Feeling, Thinking, Doing.
The first kindergarten was established in 1836, at Bad Blankenburg, Thuringia, Germany. Froebel was 55 years old. He had his share of disappointments both in his professional and personal life. His first wife who helped him teach at an orphanage in Switzerland and helped to write some of the songs in his book Muter und Kosse Lieder was now ill of health. Froebel was just on the verge of finding his life's work when he took a walk up into the hills around Kielhau and Bad Blankenburg for inspiration.
Eureka! I have it! Kindergarten shall be the name of the new institution.
Froebel was an optimist; he saw a good side in everything. The new name took; and now it was very clear to him that education must begin "A hundred years before the child is born." And that "It would take three generations to prove the truth of the Kindergarten Idea." Froebel's songs, plays, games, Gifts, Occupations and educational theories were invented, tried & tried again. Froebel was destined to teach the child. Love was the keystone, and joy, unselfishness and unswerving faith in the natural impulses of humanity underlined his philosophy.
Stand far away from the tender blossoms of childhood,
and brush not off the flower-dust with your rough fist.
Friedrich Froebel went onto open several kindergartens, write books, lecture, and train teachers. He first put into fruition the idea of "school-mother's," or women teachers. Mother Clubs were organized; a fore-shadowing of our PTA's today. His educational philosophy of learning through play and with the hands and heart as well as the head continues to this day. His Gifts have manifested themselves into every building toy out there past, present and future. His Occupations live on in hand-work and art classes. His movement games and songs continue. He stressed the importance of celebrating festivals to build community strength. His followers carried the festival of a German Christmas tree into every Kindergarten. The women teachers he trained spread throughout Europe and the United States. They opened kindergartens for children, whether they were wealthy or poor. Many of America's immigrants first school experience was in a Froebel Kindergarten. His educational theories grew into schools everywhere. They are still there today … if you know how to see them.
Froebel was able to see the sun rise on June 21st, 1852 before taking his last breath. Disappointment lurked in the corners, as his Kindergartens were closed for being too free; a premonition for the future. His schools went underground and into family homes; they traveled throughout the world.
As early as 1836, Froebel pointed to the United States of America as the country best fitted, by virtue of its spirit of freedom, to receive his educational message. In many ways this was realized. Now it is time to renew this relationship and reintroduce Froebel’s educational theories to the 21st century. Friedrich Froebel would be proud.
This biography was paraphrased from the original Little Journey's to the Homes of Great Teachers Vol.10 by Elbert Hubbard, 1916 and update by Tiffeni J. Goesel.