Childhood Studies Friedrich Froebel
by
Kevin J. Brehony, Kristen D. Nawrotzki
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0004

Introduction

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (Fröbel) (b. 1782–d. 1852) was a German-born, child-centered educationalist who is frequently placed in a genealogy of modern child-centered education beginning with Rousseau and containing Pestalozzi, Montessori, and John Dewey. Froebel’s place in this pantheon was secured by his practice as a teacher and by his writing, which both described and justified his pedagogical innovations. While these covered all stages of childhood, he is especially renowned for those writings that bore upon the education of children in their early years, defined as birth to seven years old. For children in this age group, Froebel created the kindergarten—the garden of children. Conceived as filling the gap between home and school, the kindergarten curriculum was intended to foster self-activity; at first in the form of play and later as work of a physical nature. After his death, his ideas and practices were spread to many places in the world by his followers, a phenomenon facilitated by the kindergarten’s universal view of the child and its basis in abstract theory amenable to but not constitutive of religion in diverse forms. Kindergartens thus became institutionalized in private schools and colleges in many parts of the world, and in some instances, such as in the United States, they were incorporated into the public school system. The literature in English relating to Froebel falls into three main periods. First, there are the works he wrote in his lifetime, the various accounts of his life that appeared after his death, and exegetical works, many of which appeared before the main body of his work had been translated. This permitted a wide variety of interpretations, many unhindered by what Froebel had actually said. Second, there are numerous works informed by child study and psychology that appeared from the late 1880s onward and that were critical of much of his notions of child development and early-years education. Finally, there is the scholarship produced from the end of the 20th century onward that is focused on the kindergarten movements and their contribution to early-years education, much of it from a feminist perspective.

Biographies

Hanschmann and Franks 1897 is the standard text that most subsequent accounts of Froebel’s life, including Snider 1900, refer to. It is closely followed in Marenholtz-Bülow 1877, which is focused on the time the author knew Froebel, which was in his later years. A recurrent feature of most of them is the causal weight they give to Froebel’s unhappy childhood, brought about by the early death of his mother and the neglect by his stepmother, in the formation of his thought on childhood and education.

  • Hanschmann, Alexander Bruno, and Fanny Franks. The Kindergarten System: Its Origin and Development as Seen in the Life of Friedrich Froebel. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1897.

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    This is the standard text on Froebel’s life that most subsequent accounts refer to. It is a translation and adaptation of Alexander Bruno Hanschmann, Friedrich Fröbel: Die Entwickelung seiner Erziehungsidee in seinem Leben; Nach authentischen Quellen dargestellt (Leipzig: Eisenach, 1874). Republished as recently as 1997.

  • Marenholtz-Bülow, Bertha M. von. Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel. Translated by Mary Mann. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1877.

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    Marenholtz-Bülow’s account is focused on the time she knew Froebel, which was in his later years. It is useful as a source that gave an impression of how Froebel’s circle reacted to the revolutions of 1848 and the subsequent banning of the kindergarten by the Prussian government. Republished as recently as 2004 (Grand Rapids, MI: Froebel Foundation).

  • Snider, Denton J. The Life of Frederick Froebel, Founder of the Kindergarden. Chicago: Sigma, 1900.

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    This biography, written by a central figure among the St Louis Hegelians, employs the Froebelian and Hegelian concept of unfoldment to organize and interpret Froebel’s life. The style of this comprehensive account is literary and mannered. It draws mainly on Hanschmann’s original 1874 book (Friedrich Fröbel: Die Entwickelung seiner Erziehungsidee in seinem Leben; Nach authentischen Quellen dargestellt) but also—and unusually for Froebel’s biographies—on Fröbel 1891 (cited under Keilhau).

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