In July of 2001, my husband and I journeyed to Thuringia in search of Friedrich Froebel's roots. Our trip took us to the very small village of Keilhau, where Froebel established a school in 1817. Everywhere we looked beauty was evident.
We met our guide and Froebel expert, Dr. Matthias Brodbeck, who told us Froebel is remembered as looking upon the beautiful, picturesque valley where Keilhau stands and saying, "Oh what a valley for education". Froebel believed, according to Dr. Brodbeck’s personal research, that inspiration begins in a valley such as Keilhau. While Keilhau is often described as a little village at the end of the world, Dr. Brodbeck in contrast describes it as a place of beginning. Certainly that would be true for Friedrich Froebel’s educational dreams.
We were greeted by Frau Zunfe, a teacher at the school, who guided our tour of the facilities and museum. A historic marker designated the building and its founder. The school has undergone a remarkable restoration, which has preserved many of the elements Froebel had inspired, including high ceilings, beautiful white walls, and expansive wood flooring all touched with much natural light. Realizing the incredible historical significance of this building, the current and past teachers of this school have maintained a museum of original artifacts relating to Froebel's life and work.
The windows of the museum were adorned with examples of student work reminiscent of needle pricking. Frau Zunfe commented that an original needle pricking, dating from 1824, was found between the pages of one of Froebel's personal books recently. The museum contains many Froebel artifacts including a marble bust of Froebel, portraits of the educator and his first and second wives, examples of original student work, some of his gifts, and other items. Perhaps some of the most interesting parts of the exhibits were his personal crystal and mineral collection, his uniform from the Napoleonic Wars, his personal wig, and his family Bibles. The highlight for me was to actually hold Froebel family Bibles over 400 years old in my hands, to touch his wedding ring, and to hold a first edition of The Education of Man dated 1826.
In a large downstairs room, more collections line the walls where students can play with Froebel blocks and materials. It was at Keilhau that Froebel developed wooden blocks for children. At the time, toy makers made intricate, decorated wooden toys that Froebel considered to be totally inappropriate for children. Instead Froebel designed a set of geometric blocks so the children could feel and experience as well as symbolize with the blocks in open ended play. Dr. Brodbeck emphasized Froebel's blocks as an important part of the Froebelian teaching philosophy. "The blocks symbolized unity to Froebel as well as a belief that playing with blocks was truly an expression of the child's soul.". As the blocks of Keilhau testify, Froebel’s blocks remain a very important gift to the world of early childhood education.
The Keilhau School is both a lasting memorial to Friedrich Froebel and his living legacy. The outdoors extend the classrooms beyond their walls to include a lily pond, an outdoor circle time seating area, a blacksmith shop, an outdoor brick oven where the children cook, a sensory walkway with seven different textured steps, and a gazebo. Froebel would be pleased with this children's garden atmosphere and emphasis on play. Frau Zunfe shared that many of these new additions to the outdoor play spaces were completed as a result of an outdoor education project in 1999.
Mary Ruth Moore, Ph.D. University of the Incarnate Word San Antonio, Texas
An American's Journey to the Beginning of Kindergarten
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