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Kindergarten Day

Kindergarten Day takes place on 21 April to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of young German teacher Friedrich Wilhelm Frobel who was born 21 April 1782 In Oberweißbach in the Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt in Thuringia. A cousin of his was the mother of Henriette Schrader-Breymann, and Henriette became a student of his. Fröbel’s father, who died in 1802, was the pastor of the orthodox Lutheran (alt-lutherisch) parish there. The church and Lutheran Christian faith were pillars in Fröbel’s own early education.

Oberweißbach was a wealthy village in the Thuringian Forest and had been known centuries long for its natural herb remedies, tinctures, bitters, soaps and salves. Families had their own inherited areas of the forest where herbs and roots were grown and harvested. Each family prepared, bottled, and produced their individual products which were taken throughout Europe on trade routes passed from father to son, who were affectionately called Buckelapotheker or “Rucksack Pharmacists”. They adorned the church with art acquired from their travels, many pieces of which can still be seen in the renovated structure. The pulpit from which Fröbel heard his father preach is the largest in all Europe and can accommodate a pastor and 12 people, a direct reference to Christ’s apostles.

Shortly after Fröbel’s birth, his mother’s health began to fail. She died when he was nine months old, profoundly influencing his life. In 1792, Fröbel went to live in the small town of Stadt-Ilm with his uncle, a gentle and affectionate man. At the age of 15 Fröbel, who loved nature, became the apprentice to a forester. In 1799, he decided to leave his apprenticeship and study mathematics and botany in Jena. From 1802 to 1805, he worked as a land surveyor. On 11 September 1818, Fröbel wed Wilhelmine Henriette Hoffmeister (b. 1780) in Berlin. The union was childless. Wilhelmine died in 1839, and Fröbel married again in 1851. His second wife was Louise Levin.

Fröbel had an interest in nature and in education He began as an educator in 1805 at the Musterschule (a secondary school) in Frankfurt, where he learned about Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s ideas. He later worked with Pestalozzi in Switzerland, where his ideas further developed. From 1806, Fröbel was the live-in teacher for a Frankfurt noble family’s three sons. He lived with the three children from 1808 to 1810 at Pestalozzi’s institute in Yverdon-les-Bains in Switzerland.

In 1811, Fröbel once again went back to school in Göttingen and Berlin, eventually leaving without earning a certificate. He became a teacher at the Plamannsche Schule in Berlin, a boarding school for boys, and at that time also a pedagogical and patriotic centre. During his service in the Lützow Free Corps in 1813 and 1814 – when he was involved in two military campaigns against Napoleon – Fröbel befriended Wilhelm Middendorf, a theologian and fellow pedagogue, and Heinrich Langethal, also a pedagogue. After Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna Fröbel became an assistant at the Museum of Mineralogy under Christian Samuel Weiss during 1814–1816, studying and cataloging mineral crystals and became fascinated with their structure.

In 1816, he was offered a professorship in Stockholm, but he turned it down and instead founded the Allgemeine Deutsche Erziehungsanstalt (German General Education Institute) in Griesheim near Arnstadt in Thuringia. A year later, he moved the school to Keilhau near Rudolstadt. In 1831, work would be continued there by the other cofounders Wilhelm Middendorf and Heinrich Langethal.

Between 1820, and 1823 Fröbel published five Keilhau pamphlets, beginning with An unser deutsches Volk (“To Our German People”). Then In 1826 he published his main written work, Die Menschenerziehung (“The Education of Man”) and founded the weekly publication Die erziehenden Familien (“The Educating Families”). In 1828 and 1829 he pursued plans for a people’s education institute (Volkserziehungsanstalt) in Helba (nowadays a constituent community of Meiningen).

Between 1831 and 1836, Fröbel lived in Switzerland. In 1831 he founded an educational institute in Wartensee (Lucerne). In 1833 he moved this to Willisau, and from 1835 to 1836, he headed the orphanage in Burgdorf (Berne), where he also published the magazine Grundzüge der Menschenerziehung (Features of Human Education). He returned to Germany, dedicated himself almost exclusively to preschool child education and began manufacturing playing materials in Bad Blankenburg. In 1836 he published his work Erneuerung des Lebens erfordert das neue Jahr 1836 (The New Year 1836 Calls For the Renewal of Life). In 1837 he founded a care, playing and activity institute for small children in Bad Blankenburg. From 1838 to 1840 he also published the magazine Ein Sonntagsblatt für Gleichgesinnte (A Sunday Paper for the Like-Minded).

In 1840 he coined the word kindergarten for the Play and Activity Institute he had founded in 1837 at Bad Blankenburg for young children, together with Wilhelm Middendorf and Heinrich Langethal. These two men were Fröbel’s most faithful colleagues when his ideas were also transplanted to Keilhau near Rudolstadt. He designed the educational play materials known as Froebel Gifts, or Fröbelgaben, which included geometric building blocks and pattern activity blocks. A book entitled Inventing Kindergarten, by Norman Brosterman, examines the influence of Friedrich Fröbel on Frank Lloyd Wright and modern art.

Friedrich Fröbel’s great insight was to recognise the importance of the activity of the child in learning. He introduced the concept of “free work” (Freiarbeit) into pedagogy and established the “game” as the typical form that life took in childhood, and also the game’s educational worth. Activities in the first kindergarten included singing, dancing, gardening, and self-directed play with the Froebel Gifts. Fröbel intended, with his Mutter- und Koselieder – a songbook that he published – to introduce the young child into the adult world.

These ideas about childhood development and education were introduced to academic and royal circles through the tireless efforts of his greatest proponent, the Baroness (Freiherrin) Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Bülow. Through her Fröbel made the acquaintance of the Royal House of the Netherlands, various Thuringian dukes and duchesses, including the Romanov wife of the Grand Duke von Sachsen-Weimar. Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow, Duke von Meiningen and Fröbel gathered donations to support art education for children in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Goethe. The Duke of Meiningen granted the use of his hunting lodge, called Marienthal (Vale of Mary) in the resort town of Bad Liebenstein for Fröbel to train the first women as Kindergarten teachers (Kindergärtnerinnen).

However the education ministry of the Prussian government banned kindergartens on 7 August 1851 as “atheistic and demagogic” for their alleged “destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics”. Nevertheless Fröbel’s idea of the kindergarten had found appeal. The ban may have been a confusion
Between Friedrich and his nephew Karl Fröbel.” Who wrote and published an inflammatory book entitled Weibliche Hochschulen und Kindergärten (“Female Colleges and Kindergartens”), which apparently met with some disapproval. To quote Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, “The stupid minister (Karl Otto) von Raumer has decreed a ban on kindergartens, basing himself on a book by Karl Fröbel.

The sudden ban dismayed Fröbel, who died on 21 June 1852 in Marienthal, now a constituent community of Schweina. Nevertheless this meant that many teachers from Germany, spread their ideas to other countries instead. Fröbel’s student Margarethe Schurz founded the first kindergarten in the United States at Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856; instruction was in the German language, to serve the immigrant community there. She inspired Elizabeth Peabody, who went on to found the first English-language kindergarten in the United States, in Boston in 1860. The German émigré Adolph Douai had also founded a kindergarten in Boston in 1859, but had to close it after only a year. By 1866, however, he was founding others in New York City.

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