Friedrich Froebel & the Kindergarten Movement


German-born Friedrich Froebel envisioned a special school environment for young children that would allow for play and development while encouraging growth and learning. He understood that young children have a tremendous capacity to learn through observation of the world. Froebel's kindergarten, which literally means “children’s garden,” influenced the growth of kindergarten as a method of introducing young children to formal education.

Advent of Kindergarten

  • Froebel speculated that young children of all classes would benefit from early learning opportunities. He theorized that children would become more self-aware if they were given opportunities for creativity and expression. In 1837, hoping to encourage children to develop motor skills in a creative environment inspired by nature, he started the first kindergarten, known as the Play and Activity Institute. Children learned social skills as they completed activities such as cutting, sewing, singing and listening to stories.

Opportunities for Women

  • Froebel believed most mothers were not qualified to provide the sensory stimulation and educational opportunities in their homes that young children needed to succeed. However, he relied on mothers to teach in kindergarten classes to provide the nurturing and loving environment that he envisioned, as was reported by Ann Allen on the website for Ohio University's "Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions." Froebel gave women an opportunity to have a career at a time when women were not encouraged to be employed, by opening the first institute to train women kindergarten teachers. Women were motivated to pursue advanced education and venture into business.

Influence on Education

  • Over time, Froebel’s theory of early childhood education grew in popularity as progressive teachers learned of his teaching methods and opened kindergartens welcoming a diverse population of students. Froebel influenced many educators who used his work to develop learning theories using self-exploration learning exercises. Influential figures based their play-based learning theories on the work of Froebel, including John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Loris Malaguzzi, who established the Reggio Emilia system.

Modern Kindergarten

  • Many modern kindergartens rely on toys and discovery to encourage learning. Froebel’s revolutionary vision for kindergarten has influenced modern education to such a degree that play-based learning has been the standard for instruction for years. However, as Clara Hemphill reported in "The New York Times," play time in kindergarten is being replaced by worksheets, standardized tests and academic instruction in an effort to improve academic achievement. Even though recent higher academic standards have forced many kindergartens to develop a more scholastic approach, few would disagree that play-based learning is one of the most effective ways for kindergarten students to learn.


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