Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852)
“To learn a thing in life through doing is much more developing, cultivating, and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas”
We can clearly see Froebel’s learning concept in one of his many quotes on education and child development. Learning through doing, self-activity and play are the core concepts of his educational theory.
Friedrich Froebel was a German educator, founder of the kindergarten, and one of the most distinguished educational reformists of the 19th century. He wanted to join work, family, and childcare in one concept. To do so, he invented the kindergarten and the profession of a kindergarten teacher, which in his time, was crucial for the women’s emancipation movement.
Froebel believed that the best method to discover the world and gain knowledge in early childhood is through play. Therefore, he invented many toys to encourage children’s fantasy development, train their capability for concentration and promote their social relations. His toys or so-called gifts (balls, cylinders, cubes, prisms, and building blocks) are well-known around the world. He thought that his toys (gifts) help children acquire their first perceptions of mathematical and physical relations and logical forms. For Froebel, the adult’s emotional care and linguistic supervision were a necessity in the process of facilitating self-learning through play. He thought that if the materials used for teaching young children were “gifts” instead of “supplies,” they would be more interested in the proposed learning activities. He gave the world one of its greatest educational treasures, kindergarten, a place where children work and play in an atmosphere of happiness and freedom!
Friedrich Froebel was born on April 21, 1782, in a village in Oberweissbach, Thuringia, in Germany, and died on June 21, 1852, in Marienthal, near Bad Liebenstein in Germany.
Froebel attended some informal university courses at Jena and took a teaching position at an advanced model school in Frankfurt run by Anton Gruner and supported by the Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Then, Froebel realized that teaching is the perfect vocation for his sensibility and interests. In 1811 he decided to continue his education at the University of Göttingen, but unfortunately, the war interrupted his studies. He opened a school at Griesheim in Thuringia and moved it to Keilhau in 1818. There, Froebel for the first time put into practice his educational theories. During this time, he wrote many articles and published his most important work “The Education of Man” (his educational beliefs and methods used in his school). His school was successful and his ideas caught the attention of educators all over the world.
In 1837 he opened a preschool in Bad Blankenburg, originally named the Child Nurture and Activity Institute, later on, renamed the Kindergarten, or “garden of children”. Froebel insisted on improving preschool education as a vital preface to education and social change. His impressive work at the Kindergartens attracted international interest, and other Kindergartens started to open all across the world. Froebel dedicated his life to children’s early education, explaining to teachers the importance of encouraging children’s freedom to explore, and create through play, rather than through structured teaching.
“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”
Froebel believed that play, both individually and in group activities, is the best approach for children’s development. According to his ideas, playing offers children an opportunity for hands-on involvement in practical learning activities. His educational theory stresses the importance of children’s social, academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual growth, and is based on the following principles:
- Children learn through play: Free play helps children find out how things work;
- Teachers respect the children’s developing pace: Teachers are aware that children learn at a different pace and allow them to set the pace for themselves;
- Teachers guide children: Instead of mere lecturers and keepers of knowledge, teachers use a guide-like method and lead children to a deeper understanding, allowing them to make mistakes, so they can learn through a trial and error approach;
- Teachers prepare the classroom: Teachers design the learning environment with the proper resources that are ideal for each child’s level of development;
- Movement is vital for children’s growth: Movement has great importance in a child’s development (finger play, songs, dance, movement of objects, etc.). Children should also practice particular physical skills, so they can expand their general learning potential by knowing more about what their bodies can do.
- Children learn through self-activity: Children learn at their own pace through self-activities. They choose what they want to learn that day (ex. they choose books or paints…) Once they choose their activity for the day teachers adapt their style to each child and encourage knowledge and skill development based on those activities;
- Children are naturally creative: Children use their fantasy to imagine brand-new games, worlds, characters, and activities. Preschool education should use these elements, make the learning process interesting, and allow children to focus their creativity on their natural talents and skills;
- Teachers encourage social participation: Learning a specific skill is significant, but knowing how to interact with other children while learning is even more significant. Teachers should enable children to meet other children their age and encourage them to develop friendships. That would create a welcoming and harmonious environment for every child, and a possibility for group activities with children with similar interests.
Froebel’s impact on education is undisputable! As a designer of kindergarten, he gave the world the possibility to educate children from an early age. He was the first to emphasize the importance of the connection between preschool and formal education. Froebel’s educational philosophy has deeply influenced early childcare and education. His method of learning through play is used to this day not only in kindergartens but in schools as well. Froebel called his toys “gifts” to encourage child’s play, and to reinforce the learning process. He only had two rules regarding the gifts: teachers should incorporate all parts of the gift in the playing experience, and the gifts must always be presented as a whole. Also, the gifts can be ordered individually or as a combined set. Here’s how his toys (or gifts) can help the learning process:
- Yarn balls: Yarn balls are often the first toys that infants love playing with. Teachers can use yarn balls as one of the children’s favorite toys to guide children in creating geometric shapes. That way teachers can teach with ease, and children can learn basic mathematics through play;
- Sphere, Cube, and Cylinder: These toys or gifts were called by Froebel the “children’s delight.” Teachers use the different characteristics of these shapes to allow children to embrace their curiosity and realize how the shapes relate to other elements in the world;
- Divided Cube: The purpose of this toy was to help children show different things in their life. Teachers can use the divided cubes to encourage children to build towers, houses, trains, bridges, or other constructions and then create fictional stories around them.
- Rectangular Prisms: This toy is similar to the divided cube. Rectangular prisms allow children to build something essential to them. Children use the eight prisms for the modular construction of their invention;
- Cubes and Triangular Prisms: This gift was designed by Froebel to let children further discover their building and assembling skills with bigger objects. Teachers guide children through the process of the cube’s dividing into quarter-cubes, forming up to 21 unique pieces that can be used by children for construction;
- Classic Blocks: To continue the building process Froebel created the classic block. He gave children building blocks in many different shapes like oblong, square, and column shapes to continue their creative construction and play concepts.
Over time many other toys have been added to Froebel’s theory of education with more geometric shapes and skills to the collection. However, his educational theory and impact on education weren’t only built on gifts. The toys or gifts were just one piece of Froebel’s philosophy and teaching methods. The other piece was comprised of his principles and the following beliefs that should be used in practice:
- Education should be child-centered: Modern educators should encourage child-centered education, and treat children as children, not as adults. Teachers study the child’s nature, his/her instincts, and impulses;
- Play should be an important part of education- Teachers allow play in the educational process. They teach different subjects through play in consonance with the psychological development of children. According to Froebel, play is the highest phase of self-development, therefore it plays an important part in children’s education;
- The key to the educational process is learning by doing: Teachers encourage learning by doing (songs, movements, dramatization, handwork, etc.).
Froebel also emphasized the importance of the study of nature, manual work, and socialization for children’s proper development. He believed that teachers should train children from the beginning to lead a group life and manage well in society by developing children’s responsibility, cooperation, and sympathy. The early childhood education of today is mostly based on Froebel’s methods, principles and ideas. We need to thank him for perceiving the creative side of children, and for incorporating play as the engine of real learning opportunities, experience, and a new future seen through the eyes of the children!