influence of Friedrich Froebel
birthplace of Friedrich Froebel
Oberweissbach, the birthplace of Friedrich Froebel, this year celebrates the 625th year of its founding. This should be the occasion to more closely examine the life and work of our hometown’s great son.
On Sunday, April 21, 1782 Friedrich Froebel was born in the parsonage here. His father, Johann Jakob Froebel, was the pastor. His parish included 7 communities. He completed the construction of the large Oberweissbach Lutheran Church (1779) which had the distinction of being the largest village church in Thuringia with room to seat almost 2000 souls. [Translator’s note: the pulpit, which in typical Lutheran style of that era is above the altar, can hold 13 people, making it the largest pulpit in all of Europe.]
Friedrich was the 6th child in the parsonage. He grew up without the love and care of his mother, as she had died even before Friedrich was one year old. Thus he spent his childhood lonely and left to himself in the house and garden of the parsonage, which was at the foot of Church Hill. When little Froebel was four years old, his father remarried. His stepmother, who then moved into the house, found a lot of work waiting for her. Hence, she hardly had any time and understanding for the little boy. She soon bore her own children and withdrew even more from little Friedrich. She even denied him the use of “DU,” the informal form of “you” in German. She spoke to him in the restrained, formal German form of "Sie".
Upon his father’s request the boy was instructed in the better girls’ school of the village. How happy the 10 year old Froebel must have been as his brother by his biological mother took him back to the community of Stadtilm where he studied at the local school. Later, Froebel wrote the following words about this period of time:
"It was first in Stadtilm where balance came back into my life, because at home I had found neither motherly love nor fatherly affection."
Upon leaving school Froebel returned to Oberweissbach and accepted an apprenticeship first as a treasurer, then as a forester. When he was 17 years old, after much pleading, he received his father’s permission to study in Jena. He studied without a goal or plan. He became penniless and ended up in the university jail in Jena, all because he could not pay his debts of 30 Taler.
His father died in 1802. Froebel finally left his parental home and Oberweissbach for good. After abruptly terminating his studies he spent four years traveling and trying his hand at various activities. Finally at age 23 Froebel decided to study architecture in Frankfort on the Maine [in German: Frankfurt am Main]. Via a friend he met the pedagogue and follower of Pestallozi, Anton Gruner. He advised Froebel to give up architecture and to become an educator. Already in the summer of 1805 the young Froebel accepted a position as teacher in Gruner’s model school in Frankfort. In the Autumn he embarked on an educational trip to Switzerland- Yverdon [note: in German-Iferten] to Pestalozzi’s classroom.
In 1806 Froebel accepted a position as a private tutor in the household of the Barons of Holzhausen in Frankfort. He was in charge of the instruction and education of their three sons, employment he accepted in order to finance his further studies.
He continued in this capacity until 1811, after he had spent two years in Switzerland with two of the Holzhausen sons. While there Froebel both taught and studied.
After studying Natural Sciences in Gottingen and Berlin, Froebel joined the Luetzow Brigade as a volunteer in 1813. He fought alongside Theodor Koerner, Joseph von Eichendorff, F.L. Jahn (father of gymnastics), and his future colleagues, Langenthal and Middendorff.
From 1814 to 1816 Froebel worked at the Mineralogical Institute in Berlin, where he met his future wife. In 1816 the widow of his deceased brother beckoned him to Griesheim, where he took charge of their sons’ education. Soon two sons of his brother, Christian, joined the group. In November 1816 Froebel established his “Public Education Institute,” which he transferred to Keilhau in the summer of 1817.
His widowed sister-in-law bought a little farm estate there where Froebel wanted to educate his brothers’ children and the nephews of Langenthal and Middendorff. At first there were six pupils, then 60, whom Froebel lovingly instructed and educated. Froebel filled them with enthusiasm for handicraft in various ways; by connecting all activity to Nature, field and garden work, by constructing little furniture pieces, fences, and tools, which were utilized in the course of daily chores.
A portion of their food needs was raised by the instructors and pupils themselves. Froebel wanted to cultivate “free-thinking, self-motivated people” who would be well prepared for later life. In 1818 Froebel married Wilhelmine Henriette Hoffmeister (1780-1839). The marriage was childless.
Froebel wrote many pedagogical essays in Keilhau. His major work, “The Basics of the Education of Humanity” (Die Grundzuege der Menschenerziehung) was completed and published in 1826. A progressive spirit reigned in Froebel’s Keilhau establishment. The thoughts of the lads were expanded. They sang verses which mocked the princes. All the pupils and instructors addressed each other with the informal “Du” form [note: in German the informal form of "you"] and used their first names. They sported long hair and wore the same plain clothing.
Inspections and audits were the results. Prussia demanded that the Prince of Schwarzburg close the “nest of demagogues,” which was not successful. However, the students left the institute in droves. Nonetheless, Froebel did not capitulate and made new plans. With the assistance of the progressive Duke of Meiningen he wanted to begin a public education school in Helba near Meiningen. This plan failed later on due to scandals involving advisors to the duke.
In 1831 Froebel left Keilhau and went with his wife to Switzerland to establish a school for poor children in Burgdorf. He encountered difficulties there also and returned with his wife, who was now ill, to Germany. She died three years later in Bad Blankenburg.
Froebel had already moved to Bad Blankenburg in 1837 where he established a Circle of Play for preschool children and manufactured educational and play products. Soon his “play gifts” [note: in German-Spielgaben] were known far and wide. He developed weaving and folding exercises as well as those which employed natural materials, which are still firmly established among our own children in today. Some of these materials are beechwood, oak, chestnuts, straw and the like.
Froebel inaugurated the Play and Activity Institute in Bad Blankenburg in 1839. He began training the play facilitators. At the same time he published his Sunday Newsletter under the title “Come, let us live for our children!” On June 28, 1840 Froebel established the German Public Kindergarten in the conference room of the Bad Blankenburg Town Hall.
In the years which followed Froebel undertook many trips to major German cities with the mission of instructing others in his methods. He did this in order to awaken interest in his preschool pedagogy. He held courses for young ladies and women with the goal of teaching his methods of preschool instruction. His famous publication “Mother Songs” [note: in German Mutter und Koselieder] appeared in 1844. He moved to Bad Liebenstein in 1849 and opened a permanent Kindergarten Teacher Training Institute for Women. In 1850 Froebel began to publish his Kindergarten magazine “The Weekly Publication” [note: in German “die Wochenschrift].
In the same year the Duke of Meiningen offered Froebel the Little Marienthal Palace near (note: in German-das Marienthaler Schloesschen] Bad Liebenstein for his home. Froebel accepted and continued to train women as Kindergarten teachers. Froebel now found himself at the pinnacle of his life’s work and wished for quiet twilight years surrounded by children. Luise Levin, a Kindergarten teacher he had trained, pledged her troth to Froebel, her esteemed teacher and instructor, on June9, 1851. She was 36 years old, and he was 69.
Unrelentingly the reaction against began anew, and on August 23, 1851 a ministerial decree was issued which outlawed all Froebel Kindergartens in Prussia. Soon other German states joined the ban, and Froebel believed it was based on a misunderstanding. All of his explanations, requests for inspection of his kindergartens and his instructional methods did nothing to help.
Froebel saw in the ban the crumbling of his life’s work. He died on June 21, 1852 in the Marienthal Palace. His final resting place is in Schweina near Bad Liebenstein. The Kindergarten Ban was lifted in 1860, eight years after Froebel’s death.
Friedrich Froebel was loved and revered, yet also persecuted as “an old fool.”
Let us honor him as a man who fought for the well-being of children his entire life.
Froebel recognized the value of early childhood education and instruction, created excellent toys and promoted [learning] activity.
Translated by J. Froebel-Parker from the original German text, written by Ulla Heinze, Froebel Memorial Museum in Oberweissbach, (Thuringia) GERMANY.
The original German text can be accessed at www.religio.de/froebel/biograf/frheinz.html
Friedrich Froebel : His Life, Times and Significance
This book by Peter Weston for the general reader is an illustrated life that places him in the turbulent political and intellectual context of his times. It also identifies those aspects of his educational practice that are of enduring value in the contemporary world. ISBN 1 902743 25 3 second printing August 2000
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