Friedrich Froebel - Progress

History of Froebel Movement

by Miss P Woodham-Smith MA 1952

Important developments in the attitude of progressive Froebeliains towards Froebel's teaching, with consequent changes in the schools, took place in both America and in England during the twenty years between the last decade of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the First World War. These were all as Froebel himself would have wished, in the direction of greater freedom for both teacher and child, and were the result of greater understanding of the child's mental and physical well being.

A scientific age gave increasing attention to the physical and psychological needs of childhood.

Progressive Froebelians in America and England were by the end of the nineteenth century reframing their methods in the spirit of the master, but with regards to modern discoveries in psychology and science. An English specialist, Dr Hughlings Jackson, was the first to discover that the fine nerves and muscles develop latest, and this was taken up by Dr Stanley Hall and other leaders in the Child Study movement. They condemned pricking and sewing, pea and stick work, the threading of small beads, all work indeed that involved delicate manipulation with the fingers.

  • The eyes likewise were to be safeguarded from the fine and exact paper folding and drawing with a pencil on lines, these were to be replaced by brushwork and free drawing.
  • Free play, in which the children took the lead and the teacher was in the background, took the place of the organised kindergarten games;
  • while songs and refrains with a good swinging rhythm, each containing some interesting idea related to the child's own life and lending itself to dramatic action took the place of the Mother Songs in fostering among the children unity of feeling and interest.

Progressive Froebelians were quick to see how Froebel's teaching with its emphasis upon activity, obeservation and natural development corresponded with this fresh teaching. Its greatest exponent was Professor Dewey of Chicago, who worked out in his demonstration school a scheme based upon the chilren's interest and share in the life of the community.

The break away from what had hitherto been thought of as the orthodox kinderegarten lead to a long controversy waged fiercely on both sides. The chief exponent of the older methods was Miss Susan Blow.

Professor Dewey worked out a scheme based on Froebel's philosophy of self-activity and unity extended through the junior school or as these classes were termed in America, the grades. He believed with Froebel that a child lives in his play and that the benefit he receives from it lies:

  1. "in his so taking hold of a subject that he seems to have originated it, and
  2. in having it suggested to him by other things, so that he in his own individual way works out a teahers idea and thus gets the benefit of the experience of others."

He retained the four building gifts to be used as ordinary blocks were used. Handwork, simple carpentry, weaving and pottery was associated with the interest children were pursuing.

Professor Dewey's writings became well known through out Europe, and he was called in as educational advisor in countries as wide apart as Turkey, Japan and USSR.

"The mutual rights of the individual and of the society demand that society realise its obligations to educate every child. . . . The protection and development of society demand that the process by which the child is educated bring to this consciousness an ever-deepening sense of his obligation to social service" Miss Patsy Smith Hall

"The most characteristic feature in the life of the young child that renders it capable of training is activity." Miss M E Findlay

The change to the newer and freer methods of interpretation was welcomed by the majority of kindergartens (in England) within a comparitively short time. The gradual emancipation from gifts, occupations and set drawing in favour of educational handiwork in the syllabus of the National Froebel Union brought relief to those training to become kindergarten teachers, and gave scope to those of them who had artisitic gifts.

A great development in the study of child psychology both in Europe and America had its influence in the schools in a greater attention to the individual needs of children and a deeper understanding of the age at which they might be expected to acquire such skills as reading and writing.

In America in particular experiments were being tried with the curriculum, giving greater freedom to children in the choice of interests which they projected into as many fields of knowledge as possible; reserving time for those essential skills which were necessary for the child's adjustment to his environment. The Project, as it came to be called found favour in a great many English schools, and lead to the child centered activity programmes of the present day.

There is a very direct connection between the work and ideas of Froebel and modern attitudes to children and their education. The debt of all who have any love or understanding of children and their needs to Froebel and his followers is incalculable.

source: edited extracts from pages 87 - 94 of Friedrich Froebel and English Education edited by Evelyn Lawrence 1952

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