What is kindergarten and who is Froebel?

Kindergarten is a term which was introduced by the German educator Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852). In general, its meaning is equivalent to what is known as reception in England, and represents the first year of formal education. However, Froebel had a very specific idea about what kindergarten should involve.  Of primary importance, was the opportunity for lots and lots of play.  In his The Education of Man (1895), Froebel talks at length on the importance of allowing the child free activity and expression, as these were the tools with which to learn. He was also very keen on respecting the child as an entire person, rather than seeing her as a set of individual abilities to be monitored and supported. It’s fair to say that Froebel would definitely frown upon concentrating on language or motor skill development at the expense of encouraging the child as a whole.

Froebel opened his first early education establishment in 1839 calling it the Play and Activity Institute.  The new name came to him a year later, where he cleverly combined the words for children (kinder) and garden (garten).  The site of the original building had a garden at the back which allowed each child his/her own patch of land to cultivate as he/she wished. In 1839 there were almost 50 children registered and by 1940 it had become the Universal German Kindergarten and comprised an all female staff.  This was pioneering as teaching had previously been a male dominated profession.

In addition to founding kindergarten, Froebel is also very well known for his book – Mother Play and Nursery Songs (1844).  In this text he presents a number of nursery rhymes and finger/activity songs to be sung between caregiver and child.  They are accompanied by notes to the mother with suggestions for interactions between the two.  Froebel was a great believer in the power of song and rhyme to promote loving bonds as well as supporting the development of the child.

With thanks to Peter Weston (2000). Friedrich Froebel, His Life, Times & Significance.


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