As with most undergraduates in teacher education, I was introduced to Friedrich Froebel in my history of education classes at Baylor University, where I first learned that he was considered the Father of Kindergarten. When I went to graduate school, most textbooks had little on Froebel and moved directly to his theory. It was not until I held Norman Brosterman’s Inventing Kindergarten that my curiosity about Froebel came alive. As I flipped through the pages of the Brosterman book, I glanced at the stunning photos and my eyes were drawn to one page in particular (Brosterman, 1997). On page 29, there is a copy of a trade card dated 1890 with a picture of Froebel’s grave, I learned which had a set of stacked blocks as a part of the monument to Froebel. Upon further investigation, I learned that the blocks, a sphere, a cylinder, and a cube were really what Froebel called “Gift Two.” I thought to myself that anyone whose grave was in the shape of one of his educational inventions surely had much more to teach me. I decided to increase my understanding of Froebel’s work and his place in educational history. For some unexplained reason, I literally seemed drawn to this man born so long ago. As I read more, I learned that Friedrich Froebel was born on April 21, 1782, and that Froebel’s mother died before his first birthday, leaving him and his five brothers to be reared by his Lutheran pastor father, Johana Froebel. Froebel’s father tried, with little success, to teach Friedrich. Often little Friedrich’s only solace was in the nature outside his boyhood home in Oberweisbach, Germany. He loved to play in the breathtakingly magnificent German countryside which would forever remain his source of inspiration for learning. Froebel eventually regained his confidence as a learner when living with his uncle and as a teen he was apprenticed as a forester, surveyor and assessor. After some time, Froebel began his formal college work and emerged as a true scholar with interests in many areas including mineralogy, physics, natural history, chemistry, mathematics, and languages. (Wolfe, 2000) By 1805, he planned a career in architecture but changed directions entirely by consenting to teach at the Frankfurt Model School, which was based on the work of Johann Pestalozzi. He taught there for about two years before becoming a private tutor (Brosterman, 1997). In 1808, Froebel studied directly under the great master educator Pestalozzi; in 1811, he continued his education at the University of Gottingen where he learned more chemistry, physics, mineralogy, and natural history. As a patriotic citizen, he served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars. Afterwards, he worked as an assistant in a museum in Berlin where he refined his knowledge about crystallography, and in 1815 he was offered a professorship of mineralogy in Stockholm, Sweden but did not accept the position. He decided instead to found his own school at Keilhau,Germany in the year 1817 (Brosterman, 1997). At his school at Keilhau, he would write his famous text, The Education of Man, published in 1826. Finding Froebel: Searching for the Father of Kindergarten In 2001, I received a faculty development grant to visit Eastern Germany to trace the roots of Friedrich Froebel, kindergarten’s founding father, To my great surprise, my hosts there told me that I was the first American to visit these sites for research purposes since before World War II. These sites had remained behind the Iron Curtain until well after 1989, and since that time it seemed that most Americans had forgotten about the importance of kindergarten’s beginnings there. I was able to visit nine sites, and upon arriving home, I published an article in Childhood Education concerning my visit to these sites (Moore, 2002). Since that time I have written and presented continuously on my findings from the visits there. In response to student requests, David Campos and I took teacher education students to these sites in 2006. In 2010, we published an article about this trip in Young Children, the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) (Moore, et al, 2010). My First Trip to Eastern Germany, 2001 In order to plan for the trip, I read everything I could about Friedrich Froebel, I searched the internet for possible links and soon found that the Froebelweb.de was my best German connection to the world of Friedrich Froebel. While there were many other internet links on the life of Froebel, this website seemed to pertain to the roots of his work in eastern Germany. I contacted the webmaster, Dr. Matthias Brodbeck, via email in the hopes of finding out what remained of Froebel’s early work. He quickly responded that there were nine sites that I could visit if I could get to Germany. I had very little understanding of where I was going, much less the knowledge that this was in a part of eastern Germany less traveled by most American tourists. Once I arrived in Germany and as I talked with native Germans other than my educational hosts, they would ask me if I was in Germany to visit Heidelberg as they believed that most Americans came to Germany for that expressed purpose as Heidelberg. Much to their amazement, I answered no and when I responded that I was in Germany to visit several important educational sites in the eastern part of their country, the reaction was usually that American visitors didn’t go off the beaten paths of the usual tourist destinations. My flight from New York first landed in Frankfurt and then progressed to Berlin, where I deplaned. From there I took a train to Weimar, Germany where my host Dr. Brodbeck met me for my tour of the nine sites pertaining to Friedrich Froebel’s life and work. Without Dr. Brodbeck’s expert knowledge and help, I could never have found my way to each of these sites. I would suggest that anyone wanting to go to these nine sites first make preparations through a German travel agency, a university contact, or the Froebelweb.de webmasters. Weimar Nestled in the region of Germany known as Thuringia, Weimar is a great place to serve as a beginning point for Froebel research, as it was also the home to Goethe, Schiller, and Liszt. During the second World War, Weimar, always a seat of culture and intellect, was the vacation spot for the Third Reich. Today it remains a university town and favorite resort for tourists. It was a good location for rest and relaxation as well as a beginning point for my journey to find the treasures of Froebel’s life and work. When tired of searching for Froebel sites, visit the Schiller House or the Goethe National Museum or the home of Franz Liszt. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) was the German playwright who penned “William Tell” and “Ode to Joy”, which is now the lyrics to the German national anthem. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is considered one of the greatest literary figures of Germany if not of all Western literature. Keilhau The first destination on the Froebel tour was to the tiny little town of Keilhau, Germany. Nestled in Thuringia, there is just one main street through the town. In fact, on the day of my arrival, Dr. Brodbeck had to pull his car over and onto the side of the road in order for a large truck to pass by safely. Just a short way down this little street was the 1817 school of Friedrich Froebel. Many thoughts were going through my head at the time. First, as I entered the school I was sure that I was just another American there to do research. Much to my amazement, when I looked at the guestbook, I noticed only German or Asian names documented there. When I asked Dr. Brodbeck and Frau Zunft about this, they told me that they had been waiting for the Americans to come for many, many years. In fact, they said that American educators quit coming to the area in the 1930’s afraid of the impending war and remained delinquent until my visit in 2001. The vast majority of foreign visitors had been from the Asian countries due to their interest in the folded-paper activities of Froebel which are much like what they call “origami.” Needless to say, I was stunned with this knowledge and each artifact they shared with me became ever so much more dear to me. Dr. Brodbeck shared that upon Froebel’s completion of military service, he dreamed of becoming a teacher and to fulfill this dream, he spent two years with the educational phenomenon Johann Pestalozzi in Switzerland. Once finished with his training with Pestalozzi, he embarked on the founding of a school which is still in existence today, the 1817 school at Keilhau. Now both a boarding and day school which to this day honors Froebel, this school houses a remarkable number of Froebel artifacts for visitors to see. Dr. Brodbeck secured permission for me to visit and photograph these artifacts which teachers throughout the years had preserved for the future. Such a visit would have been virtually impossible during the Russian occupation from 1946-1989. Frau Zunft, a teacher at the school, met Dr. Brodbeck and me and gave us a guided tour of the school, the museum with Froebel artifacts, and the grounds. The school itself was a creamy stucco with the traditional German brown wooden trim and seemed quite large to me.
Dr. Brodbeck’s clever wit caused him to dub the school as Froebel’s “White House.” Once inside the school, I noticed the huge windows with natural light streaming inside and wooden floors echoing the natural aspects of the building, another Froebel touch. Both the floors and the windows seemed fitting for the architecture of Froebel’s first school.
The Keilhau School contains numerous rooms which preserve the remnants of Froebel’s life and work. Inside the first small room we entered, a miniature museum of Froebel artifacts remains until this very day. The contents of the museum were beautifully preserved and arranged for visitors to pay homage to the great educator. I was surprised when they placed Froebel’s family Bibles, dating from the 1500’s, in my hands for me to see and touch as well as his wedding ring which I tried on for size. In another room, I saw the uniforms and wig worn by Froebel. .
On display was Froebel’s crystal collection and used later as a model for his famous blocks he called “Gifts”. In several areas, many of his educational materials are displayed not only for visitors but for the children to see and use. Throughout the building, the windows of the school had original folded paper activities and designs displayed. Also on display, the children’s artwork served as inspired tributes to Froebel. In the school’s dining room, a portrait of Froebel hangs over a large grand piano as if to say that this school is still about what he considered important: the children and active learning. Everywhere I looked that Froebel’s own fingerprints were on each detail of the museum, the artifacts, and the school at large.
My hosts reminded me that at the Keilhau school he had yet to create his early childhood program, kindergarten, and that this school was for children of about ten years of age. In fact, they mentioned that at Keilhau he began developing his vision for teaching young children as he felt that by age ten so many things had to be unlearned. He also wrote his great master piece, The Education of Man, at Keilhau. (Froebel, 1826) Froebel also began formulating his system of block play at Keilhau and throughout the Keilhau school blocks are readily used and visible as a reminder of Froebel’s emphasis on educational materials and play which would become the cornerstone of his movement. In the Education of Man, Froebel states, “the best material for building representations is, at the beginning, a number of wooden blocks whose front surface is always one square inch, and whose length increases by inches from one to twelve.” (Froebel, 1826, p. 208) Another key concept that Froebel developed at Keilhau was the notion of “child-centered play” as he describes in the following passage: But the expression of a good, pure heart, a thoughtful, pure mind, is, as it bears a unity in itself…This eager desire is fulfilled to man in the stage of childhood by finding himself in complete possession of animated play; since he, by this play, is placed in the centre of all things. (Froebel, p. 59) As my tour of Keilhau came to a close, my hosts suggested that we continue the next part of our journey to see the actual hill where Froebel would further develop his vision for an early childhood program. As we embarked to this next site, I could not help but notice the beautiful grounds of the Keilhau school which I believe would please Froebel. Adjacent to the building is a park-like garden with outdoor seating of classes, a “circle time” equivalent, and a much-used blacksmith shop and baking ovens for life lessons as well as a sensory walkway with seven types of steps made by students, teachers, and play workers for the students to enjoy. Keilhau’s significance did not end with the dream of Froebel’s early childhood program, Kindergarten. In fact, after Froebel’s death in 1852, his second wife and trained kindergarten teacher, Louise Levin Froebel, would retreat her before beginning to spread Froebel’s gospel of kindergarten even further than before. To this very day, Keilhau remains an important Froebel destination
Froebelblick, A Pathway to Invention
A short walk away from Keilhau, is the hillside where Froebel climbed daily. A modern road sign clearly designates the area as “Froebelblick.” Apparently after his teaching each day, Froebel would walk to this place in order to refresh not only his body but his mind. For me, the climb to the top was invigorating but quite a bit more than just a “little hill”, as Dr. Brodbeck referred to our walk. Once we reached the top of the hill, we had a commanding view of the beautiful valley and countryside below. Verdant, growing, and spacious, we could see why Froebel chose this walk and this hill for his place of meditation and intellectual refreshment each day.
Dr. Brodbeck told the story of how Froebel wanted to create a new type of schooling that would include younger children. From his own experiences as a teacher at Keilhau, he felt that waiting until children were older to begin teaching was far too late and that much had to be unlearned. As I looked across the wide expanse of countryside, I could almost feel Froebel’s presence there. Day after day, he stood on this very spot and envisioned a new way of learning. In fact, Froebel was so intent on this type of learning being different, he was afraid to even use the word “school” in the title of his dream. As he mulled over words, he tried several as possibilities. The German word for children is “kinder” and he liked that but he could not choose the compound variation of “kinderscholen” as that contained the word school in it and carried too many preconceived notions about what school should be. No, he had to try something different. Finally, after many thoughtful experiences, he coined the word “kindergarten” or a garden for children for his new invention. His exact words were, “Eureka! I have it! Kindergarten shall be the name of the new Institution. ” (Froebel, 1889, p. 137 ) It’s no wonder he chose kindergarten with the view that he had from the top of this amazing hill. In every direction, your eyes meet beautiful green foliage, hills, and valleys of growing life. So kindergarten it would be for his young children’s educational experience. When I turned the opposite direction and looked at the top of the hill, an additional educational treasure stood before me. An enormous monument of Froebel’s Gift Two adorns the place where Froebel invented this new kind of educational experience for young children. “Gift Two” is the educational material of a stacked sphere, cylinder, and cube and this Gift is the one most associated with Froebel’s work and kindergarten. A marker below the monument designates that this is the very hill where Froebel’s dream for kindergarten was created. Now Froebel’s vision was complete but he would have to go back down the hill to the realize his dream of a new educational experience for younger children.
Froebel climbed to the top of this hill many times to do his best thinking but it would be back down in the valley where he would put his dreams and plans into action. Bad Blankenburg, Kindergarten: A Garden for Children
Our next stop on the Froebel tour was the city of Bad Blankenburg, a spa town southeast of Erfurt, Germany. In 1837, Froebel and his wife moved to Blankenburg for her health and it would be in this town that his dream of a kindergarten would become a reality. Shortly after the death of Froebel’s first wife, Henriette, in May of 1839 (Froebel, 1889) and during the Guttenberg Festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing press, Froebel opened the first kindergarten at Blankenburg in 1840. Froebel’s choice of location was a beautiful yellow stucco type of structure with numerous rooms. Today the building where the first kindergarten of the world was founded is houses a museum about Froebel and his kindergartens. Dr. Brodbeck introduced me to Ms. Margita Rockstein, the curator of the Friedrich Froebel Museum at Bad Blankenburg. The entrance way displayed a sign noting the importance of the site as well as a huge poster from the 200th birthday of Froebel, when the museum was opened in 1982.
Once inside I could not help but notice the light and airy feel to the room. Just inside the door, a circle of chairs are arranged to commemorate Froebel’s invention of “circle time.” A beautiful arrangement of wild sunflowers sat nearby another bust of Froebel. Throughout this first room were beautiful glass cases proudly displaying a huge array of Froebel memorabilia from his life. His clothes, his actual books, and his teaching materials remain for all to see. Inside one case was his diary and his glasses. The diary was the actual diary he kept during his two year stint, from 1808-1810, with the learned pedagogue, Pestalozzi. (Froebel, 1889) Frau Rockstein pointed out that while we have a diary from Froebel’s visit to Pestalozzi, we do not have an account by Pestalozzi of the visit of Froebel. As I moved through the room filled with display cases, I noticed the Gifts, as Froebel designated his teaching or educational materials. A tiny miniature traveling set of the Gifts was in another case and Frau Rockstein explained that this was the set that Froebel took with him to one of his many trainings for “kindergarteners” as Froebel called his teachers schooled in the pedagogy of the kindergarten method. As Froebel’s invention of the kindergarten grew more successful, it quickly spread throughout Germany. His invention of the educational materials he called “Gifts” gave way to many educational lessons due to the open-endedness of the blocks and the other materials. As Norman Brosterman points out in Inventing Kindergarten, building blocks were not a part of the schooling of children prior to the kindergarten and as such, the blocks are one of the most important legacies of kindergarten. (Brosterman, 1997) Not only were there blocks in the Froebel artifacts, but also Frau Rockstein gave me a lesson on how Froebel instructed his teachers. First, she took the blocks from Gift Three and began building a chair, table, and sofa from these tiny wooden unit blocks. Again and again, she refashioned the blocks into new structures noting that the open-endedness of the blocks allowed the child to build and rebuild quickly as a new vision came to the child with seemingly no limits to the block play. As she used the blocks, I was reminded of the Froebel’s crystal collection at Keilhau and how he had used the planes and beauty of the crystals to invent these open-ended wooden blocks and Froebel’s emphasis on mathematics evident in all of his educational materials. Frau Rockstein continued her lesson with Gift One, the series of primary-colored yarn balls on strings and suggested that they could be used in many ways as well. One could dangle the yarn ball over a baby for the baby to follow with her eyes. Still more things could be symbolized with the brightly colored yarn balls as well. Color and shape were natural outgrowths of lessons with Gift One. On another day, the balls could represent characters in a story or they could represent flowers in a garden. For Froebel, play was not only a method for his kindergarten but was central to all child development. Froebel captured the essence of play in the following quote: Play is the purest, most spiritual activity of man at this stage, and, at the same time, typical of human life as a whole — of the inner hidden natural life in man and all things. It gives, therefore, joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world. It holds the sources of all that is good. ( Froebel, 1826/1887, p. 55) Seemingly no other quote elevates play more than these words of Froebel. In still another case, books and artifacts concerning Froebel’s invention of the finger play were evident. Numerous books on finger plays that are direct descendants of Froebel’s original work in Mother Play and Nursery Songs. It would be some years later before Elizabeth Peabody would edit the first American edition of this for the broadening international audience interested in Froebel’s work. (Peabody, 1878). These finger plays also celebrated Froebel’s love of mothers and their role in child development in direct contrast with his lack of mothering due to his mother’s death when Froebel was about nine months. In his autobiography, Froebel mentioned that his mother’s early demise actually helped him formulate his most important work, the kindergarten. (Froebel, 1889) This love of motherhood would also lead Froebel to prefer women as teachers for his kindergarten because he believed their role to be vital to the child’s normal growth and development. In addition to the Froebel museum, the building houses a type of kinder playroom filled with his original educational materials as well as many that were derived from Froebel’s original Gifts. When children visit the museum during a field trip or family visit, they can actually put these materials to work in ways true to Froebel’s design. On another level of the museum, is a tiny bookstore where Gifts and books may be purchased and a research room which I enjoyed looking through materials, photos, and still more artifacts on Froebel and the kindergarten. After purchasing materials for my personal classroom and our university library, Frau Rockstein and Dr. Brodbeck ushered my husband and me into Froebel’s private living quarters which are behind a glassed wall at the rear of the museum. I was shocked beyond belief when Frau Rockstein opened the glass wall and escorted us into the room which was set up with the actual furnishings of Froebel including his sofa, table, chairs, and desk.
She invited me to sit at Froebel’s desk, a secretary of gleaming golden wood, where he had penned his first book, The Education of Man, published in 1826. As I sat down, I noticed his quill pen still on the desktop. I picked up my beloved educator’s pen and held it in my right hand much as he had done so many years before. I looked at the pigeon holes of the beautiful wooden desk and smiled at the small bust of Froebel which seemed to be looking right at me. Later as we sat on Froebel’s sofa, enjoying cookies and drinks at Froebel’s table, I could not believe my good fortune that one postcard had led me to discover.
Upon leaving the museum and Frau Rockstein, gave me two copies of the 1982 anniversary poster celebrating Froebel’s 200th birthday. I could hardly wait to get back home so I could frame these posters and hang one in my office and another in our teaching classroom at the university I teach at in San Antonio, Texas. A world away, I never look at these without thinking fondly of my discovered treasures of this 2001 visit to Froebel’s homeland. Bad Liebenstein The next scheduled top on my private tour to reconnect with Froebel was the town of Bad Liebenstein, home to the Hotel Froebelhauf and originally a tiny castle. From this location, Froebel’s next dream of spreading his beloved kindergartens around Germany originated. Additionally, Froebel authored two journals on his life’s work, the Weekly Journal of Education and a second journal entitled, the Journal for Friedrich Froebel’s Educational Aims while at Froebelhaf. (Brosterman, 1997) At the time of my visit, the hotel displayed modernistic student artwork depicting Froebel’s work. I reveled in the images of Gift Two which brightly adorned the walls and remembered that from the beginning of the kindergarten, to this very day, Froebel gave the child a world of beauty and art. Altenstein Park Our next stop was at the beautiful Altenstein Park, the place where Froebel’s first Play Fest occurred on August 24, 1850 and which was perhaps the very first play day for children. Dr. Brodbeck further explained that since Froebel’s first Spielfest or Play Fest, a Play Fest for children takes place annually. This park seemed the perfect location for the joy and peace of play as Froebel suggested in his book, The Education of Man. Frobel believed play to be of critical importance to every child’s growth and development, “The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.” (p.55) Froebel celebrated the first Play Fest with more than three hundred children and twenty five teachers, all from kindergartens in the surrounding villages, taking part in songs, movement, and games of the day. For Froebel, the Play Fest represented the wholeness and unity of play. A wreath of flowers at the entrance to the Play Fest contained the words of the Schiller, “Deep meaning often lies in childish play.”( Mann, 1877, p. 109) The Play Fest showcased play as central to his philosophy of education and to his pedagogy in the kindergarten. Schweina Froebel House In Schweina, simple pleasures emerged bearing witness to more Froebel treasures. On the town crest, Froebel’s Gift Two is displayed in this lovely little town we visited next. Gift Two is the Gift most associated with Froebel and Dr. Brodbeck shared why as we toured around the town. First, Gift Two is a set of blocks, that is a sphere, a cylinder, and a cube stacked on each other. For Froebel, the sphere represented the unending nature of God, the world, and even the child as a whole, complete being. This nature of the sphere also represented unity. Froebel was always interested in unity between the school, the home, teachers and parents. In fact, in a personal letter he called the verse, “Suffer little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven” as his personal cornerstone for the Kindergarten he founded.(Heinemann, 1893, p. 101) At Shweina, Dr. Brodbeck took me to see a kindergarten that had been in continuous operation since the beginnings of kindergarten. In fact, this location had also served as a kindergarten training site until the late 1930’s. Indoors the rooms were quite beautiful and everywhere I looked I saw quaint wooden furniture for the children to use. The furniture reminded me of Hansel and Gretel. As I looked around the room, I saw the Gifts displayed for obvious daily use just as they had been such an important part of the original Kindergarten methods of Froebel. As fitting the Froebel emphasis on play, the outdoors Outdoors a small “Spielplatz” or playground contained play equipment, a sandbox, and a small garden. Frost in his definitive work, A History of Children’s Play and Play Environments, credits Froebel’s use of the word “playground” in Education of Man as the first to do so. (Frost, 2010) As I gazed at the tiny garden, Dr. Brodbeck reasoned that the teachers wanted a garden for the kindergarten children in respect to Froebel and the children. One of the songs of Froebel’s Kindergarten was aptly: “As flowers in the garden blow, So we in Kindergarten grow.” (Froebel, 1904, p. 35) Froebel’s dream of teaching young women to become Kindergarteners, Froebel’s name for his teachers, birthed a new concept in education as well. Prior to Froebel, most teachers were men. Women were now trained at training sites throughout Germany and this would spread across Europe and eventually the world over. Froebel’s early loss of his own mother added to his reverence for motherhood and women and his inclusion of women as a central component of his Kindergarten method. As we moved on, I learned that we were just minutes away from where Froebel would train his teachers. Marienthal Castle, Schweina Dr. Brodbeck proceeded to our next stop, Marienthal Castle. As he drove, he continued telling me the story of Froebel’s last years. In 1851, Froebel married Luise Levin, one of his first Kindergarteners. The Froebel’s opened more training schools. Froebel’s dream of spreading more kindergartens across Europe was really taking shape until a serious setback occurred in 1851 which was none of Froebel’s making. Due to a mishap of being wrongly identified with his radical relative, Carl Froebel, Froebel’s kindergartens were forced to close by the Prussian government. They did not reopen until 1860. Nothing could have hurt Froebel more than the closing of his beloved kindergartens in his homeland. In 1852, after a brief illness, Froebel died at Marienthal Castle. The day that Froebel took ill he had happily been to a meeting of some of his kindergarten teachers and he was so excited about the hope they gave him, that he left his coat behind. Still quite cold for the time of year, on his walk back to Marienthal Castle, he became very ill and never recovered. The date was June 21, 1852. As we approached the castle, Dr. Brodbeck explained that the castle was the site of the first training school for kindergarten teachers. In 1849, Froebel met Countess von Marenholtz -Bulow, who would become not only interested in his method but would be instrumental in spreading his pedagogy far and wide. She invited Froebel to launch his training school at her home, Marienthal Castle. Little did she know that Froebel would die there in 1852. Dr. Brodbeck also alerted me to the fact that Marienthal Castle was the only Froebel site lacking preservation efforts because it is privately owned, a result of the change of governments after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Instead of the beautifully maintained and preserved sites I had just visited, Marienthal Castle seemed to be crumbling from total disrepair. I was told not to get out of the car as the owner would not be happy we were there and might chase us off the property which is exactly what happened. As we left, my heart was saddened because this site is so important to the Froebel legacy. It was at this very site that Froebel introduced women to the profession of early childhood. Dr. Brodbeck mentioned that the Froebel followers were seeking ways to preserve the castle but at that time had been unable to do so since the property remains in private hands. (Moore, 2002) Froebel’s First Resting Place, Froebelruh Just a short distance away, Dr. Brodbeck took me to a beautiful wooded hilltop. On this very site remains the original grave monument that was commissioned by Wilhelm Middendorf, his longtime friend from service in the War of 1812, and built by Ernst Luther, a relative of Martin Luther. Luther had visited Froebel at Keilhau and was well aware of Froebel’s work and it is no surprise that the monument he built would be in the shape of Gift Two, the sphere, cylinder, and cube stacked upon each other. Even in death Froebel’s legacy lived on. As I looked around, I was reminded that nature was incredibly important to Froebel and no more fitting site could have been chosen for the remnants of his original monument.
At about six o’clock in the evening, we arrived at the grave of Friedrich Froebel where Froebel was moved to on the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth in 1882. Rising from the beautiful hillside cemetery at Schweina is the most magnificent tribute to Friedrich Froebel, the great educator, inventor, and friend of children. Gift Two stands tall on this picturesque hilltop gravesite and can be seen for miles. Brightly colored flowers planted on the grave speak to his love of nature from the first days of his life until today. A backdrop of green trees complete the setting for Froebel’s grave. As I studied the monument of Gift Two, I noticed Froebel’s motto, “Come Let us live for our children” was etched on the monument’s front. In addition, it gave Froebel’s birth date of April 21, 1782 and the date of his demise on June 21, 1852 at Marienthal. The monument was signed, “The great friend of childhood and man from his grateful admirers.” The Bible verse of I Corinthians 13:8 also appears on his monument and reads: “Love never fails…where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” As I read the verse, I felt this was a fitting tribute to the man who loved children enough to give his life’s work for them and while he certainly believed knowledge was important to the child’s education, he knew that love for the child will never fail any educator. At times during his life, Froebel was ridiculed for his beliefs about children and local villagers even called Froebel a “fool” because he could be seen frolicking and playing with children outdoors. Fittingly, Froebel gets the last laugh since he is remembered for his great reforms to the bland educational system of his day. Forever he is remembered the world over as the great educator who invented so many lasting educational changes and codified much of the early childhood educational practice as well as being the first person who successfully used play as his main method of teaching as well as the first person to use the word “playground.” (Frost, 2010) For me, and certainly after my personal journey to find his legacy, I believe he has every right to be called the: 1. The Father of kindergarten 2. The Father of Educational Materials (The Gifts) 3. The Father of Finger Plays 4. The Father of Teacher Education for Women 5. The Father of the Play Fest or Play Day 6. The Father of Circle Time
As I stood at his grave, I was overwhelmed with emotion about what I had observed and experienced in my visit to all the Froebel sites and I realized I had brought nothing to give Froebel in a show of respect. Suddenly I knew exactly what I had to give him and I reached in my purse and retrieved my university business card. As I laid my card in respect at the foot of his grave, my heart and mind seemed to say thank you to God, for this wonderful man and second, a thank you to Froebel for all he had accomplished in his seventy years on earth. I felt a surge of renewal and refreshment that I now had a story to tell about this amazing man. Before I left his grave, a local newspaper reporter came and interviewed me about why I had come so far to visit Froebel’s grave. By the next day, my visit had been documented in two German newspapers. With my photos in my camera, copious notes, and a world of memories, I knew I had much work to do when I returned home to share about this “great friend of childhood” as the Froebel grave inscription captured for all time.
Timeline for the Life and Work of Friedrich Froebel Father of Kindergarten 1782-1852
Date Event April 21, 1782 Born at Oberweisbach, Germany1797 Studies forestry and surveying 1799 Studies at University of Jenna 1805 and 1808-1810 Visits to Johann Pestalozzi and extended study under Pestalozzi at Yverdon, Switzerland 1811-1812 Studies at the University of Gottigen and University of Berlin 1812 Military service 1817 Founded a school at Keilhau, Germany 1818 Marries Henriette Wilhelmine Hoffmeister 1826 Publishes The Education of Man (Menschen Erziehung) 1837 Opens first kindergarten at Bad Blankenburg 1839-1844 Opens kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg in present- day building which now houses the Froebel Museum1840 Spreads kindergarten philosophy across Germany, founding many kindergartens 1850 Receives land for his first Training College for teachers of kindergarten 1851 Marries Luise Levin (his second marriage) First publication of the Journal for Friedrich Froebel’s Educational Aims 1851 First Play Fest at Altenstein Park June 21, 1852 Froebel dies at Marienthal Castle Froebel, F. (1889 ). Autobiography of Friedrich Froebel. (Emilie Michaelis and H. Keatley Moore, Trans.). Syracuse, N.Y.: C.W. Bardeen. Questions for Reflection 1. In what ways do you see Froebel as “the great friend of childhood” 2. How did the development of the kindergarten show respect for children? 3. In what ways today can we live for our children as Froebel’s grave inscription and motto suggest? 4. Froebel believed play to be the highest form of child development. Today, how can play be seen and understood as valuable to child development? References Brosterman, N. (1997). Inventing kindergarten. New York: Harry N. Adams. Froebel, F. (1906). The education of man. (W.T. Harris, Trans.) New York: D. Appleton and Company. Froebel, F. (1904) Third and last volume of Friedrich Froebel’s pedagogics of the kindergarten (J. Jarvis , Trans.) St. Louis: Woodward and Tieman Company. Froebel, F. (1889 ). Autobiography of Friedrich Froebel. (Emilie Michaelis and H. Keatley Moore, Trans.). Syracuse, N.Y.: C.W. Bardeen. Froebel, F. (1887). The education of man. (W. N. Hailmann, Trans.). London: Appleton. (Original work published 1826) Froebel (1885). The education of man. (J. Jarvis,Trans.). New York: A. Lovell &Co. Retrieved from http://archive.org/details/educationofman00froe (This is the American edition which has a preface by Elizabeth Peabody.) Froebel, F. (1895). Pedagogics of the kindergarten. D. Appleton. Froebelweb.de Frost, J.L. (2010). A history of children’s play and play environments. New York: Routledge. Heinemann, A. (Ed.) (1893). Froebel letters. Boston: Lee and Shepard. Moore, M. (2002). An American’s journey to kindergarten’s birthplace. Childhood Education, Fall, 79/1, pp.15-20. Moore, M. (2002). Keilhau, an important Froebel destination. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2013 http://www.friedrichfroebel.com/keilhau/moore.html Peabody, E. (Ed.). (1878). Mother play and nursery songs by Froebel. Boston: Lathrop. von Marenholtz-Bulow. B. (1877). Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel. (Mary Mann, Trans.) Cambridge: University Press. Wolfe, J. (2000). Learning from the past: Historical voices in early childhood education.
NOTE: All photos are original and copyrighted by the author. Please email for permission to use.