Friedrich Froebel’s Theory of Education Explained


Anyone who has children attend school in the last 150 years has seen Friedrich Froebel’s theory of education at work. This is because Froebel is often referred to as the “Father of Kindergarten.”

Froebel firmly believed that every child should be treated as an individual and their unique abilities should be encouraged to grow. In doing so, Froebel believed that teachers could create a learning environment that was harmonious. Kids could be happy, allowing them to seek growth in their own unique way.

Froebel also believed in the value of play and self-activities as part of the learning process. When kids were allowed to explore who they were as a person, Froebel believed that would allow the child to explore their full potential as a student. Under his theory, young children were heavily exposed to ideas that would teach about art, nature, design, and mathematics.

Froebel Created a System of Learning That Didn’t Involve Formal Teaching

In the kindergarten classes that Froebel design in the mid-1800s, the goal was to help young children be able to integrate into a formal learning process later on in life. Instead of immediately saturating young children with formal lessons, testing, and other schooling components, he took a different approach to his kindergarten system.

His classes would consist of games being played and songs being sung. He focused on occupational skills, artistic construction, and “gifts.” Froebel believed that if the materials used to teach young children were “gifts” instead of “supplies,” then they would be more receptive to the learning activities that were being offered.

Throughout the learning process, Froebel also encouraged young children to compare their work to that of their friends and classmates. He encouraged them to test everything, ask plenty of questions, and explore on their own.

The 4 Tenants of Friedrich Froebel’s Theory of Education

Froebel had a philosophy that he incorporated into his theory of education that consisted of four specific and basic components.

  • Free Self-Activity. By allowing children to play in the way they wanted to play every day, Froebel believed that each child could learn at their own pace. It would be up to the child through their own self-activities to determine what they would learn for that day. If they were interested in reading, they would pick up a book to look at it. If they were interested in art, they would paint. Then teachers could adapt their approach to each child and encourage skill and knowledge growth based on the activities chosen.
  • Creativity. Children are naturally creative, using their imagination to dream up brand new worlds, characters, games, and activities. Froebel believed that any educational system for young children should incorporate these elements, allowing children to focus their creativity into the talents and skills that they naturally had. This would make the learning process fun, no matter what actual skill was being learned for that day.
  • Social Participation. Learning a particular skill is important, but so is learning how to interact with other people. Froebel believed that when kids had the chance to meet new people their age and were encouraged to develop friendships, it would create an environment that was more welcoming and harmonious for everyone involved. Kids would group up with others who had similar interests and this would expand everyone’s knowledge in that interest.
  • Motor Expression. By practicing specific physical skills, such as building, Froebel suggested that kids could increase their overall learning potential by getting to know more of what their bodies could do on a regular basis.

A Public Confusion of Family Ideals in the Theory of Education

When Froebel publicized his ideas for kindergarten and showed what the results of his structures could achieve, it was well-received throughout Germany and Prussia. The ideas refused to spread very far, however, because of a governmental misunderstanding of what was actually being suggested.

In August 1851, the Prussian government officially banned Froebel’s theory of education, labeling it as demagogic and atheistic. They declared that it had destructive tendencies in the areas of politics and religion.

The problem was that the Prussian government was actually following an idea that had been written by Froebel’s cousin Karl. Karl Froebel had published an essay that was entitled Female Colleges and Kindergartens, which dared to suggest that women and girls should have equal opportunities to be educated as men. This was frowned upon, but because of the confusion, it was Friedrich’s theories that were rejected.

The delay in spreading the concepts of kindergarten wouldn’t last for long. One of Friedrich Froebel’s students, named Margarethe Schurz, would create the first kindergarten class in the United States in 1856 based on Froebel’s ideas. Schurz would inspire Elizabeth Peabody to create the first English-speaking kindergarten in the United States in 1860.

That means over the course of just one decade, Froebel’s ideas would begin to influence young students all over the world. Many modern kindergarten classes still utilize the core concepts of his theories of education and kindergarten class organization.

In Germany, private kindergartens would adopt Froebel’s ideas, but it would not be until 1908 when kindergarten teacher training would be first recognized in Germany through state regulatory laws.

Froebel Toys and How They Help the Learning Process

Froebel firmly believed that playing was an important part of the educational process for children. It is the cornerstone of his theory of education. To encourage play, Froebel designed a series of toys that could be used as part of the educational process. These toys were what he called “gifts” and they are still around today.

The term “gift” was more than just an encouragement for the child to play. The toys were actually meant to be given to the students so they could use them at home and at school to reinforce the learning process. Froebel had only two rules when it came to playing with the gifts.

  1. All parts of the gift had to be incorporated as part of the playing experience.
  2. The gift must always be presented in its whole form.

There were initially six gifts that were offered as part of the kindergarten curriculum that Froebel designed. These gifts can still be ordered individually or as a combined set through Froebel’s Gifts, an organization that Froebel helped to develop.

Here are the six original gifts.

  • Gift 1: Yarn Balls. Froebel recognized that balls are often the first toys that infants enjoy. They are often a favorite toy as well. By using yarn balls, not only can a child play with something fun, but they can also create geometric shapes through their play efforts that can teach basic mathematics.
  • Gift 2: Sphere, Cube, and Cylinder. Froebel called these toys the “children’s delight.” The different features of the shape allow for children to embrace their curiosity and to see how the shapes interact with other elements in the world.
  • Gift 3: Divided Cube. This gift was designed to help children represent the different things that were in their life. They could build towers, trains, or other structures and then create imaginative stories around them.
  • Gift 4: Rectangular Prisms. This gift is much like the divided cube, allowing children to build something that is important to them. It is divided into eight pieces, allowing for modular construction.
  • Gift 5: Cubes and Triangular Prisms. This gift allows children to further explore their building and construction skills with larger objects. The cubes can be divided into quarter-cubes, creating up to 21 unique pieces that can be used to build something.
  • Gift 6: Classic Blocks. This gift continues the building process, giving children building blocks in oblong, square, and column shapes to continue their construction and play concepts.

Additional gifts have been added to Froebel’s theory of education over time, adding more geometric shapes and skills to the repertoire. Gift 7, for example, offers a set of parquetry tablets that can be made from either paper, plastic, or wood. Gift 7 offers children objects that represent two-dimensional forms, including rings and straight lines using sticks and rings. Gift 9 features small objects that are kept sorted in a square-shaped organizational container.

Then there is Gift 10, which is a framework gift. It would be similar to a child receiving a box of K’nex building materials.

Froebel established the first 7 gifts within his theory of education. His students and followers added the additional gifts after his death to expand upon the ideas that were included in his kindergarten programs.

Early childhood education today is based on the idea that Friedrich Froebel had so long ago: that humans are creative beings. Our brains visualize items in three-dimensions, which allows us to visualize a different future. To educate young children, it would therefore be necessary to help children understand their role as a creative being.

By incorporating playing as the engine to create real learning opportunities, Froebel harnessed the impulses that high levels of energy provide to create something meaningful from the learning experience. That is why his theory of education is still widely used today.