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Published: June 27, 2011

Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel (or Fröbel) (1782–1852)

German educator and founder of the kindergarten system, which allowed children to learn through play instead of formal lessons. A student and disciple of Swiss educator JOHANN HEINRICH PESTALOZZI, Froebel opened the world’s first kindergarten in Griesheim in 1816. His “kindergarten movement” did not gain momentum until 1837, when he opened another kindergarten in Blankenburg, Thuringia, and established training courses for kindergarten teachers. His disciples opened kindergartens throughout Germany.
The first kindergarten did not open in the United States until 1873, when Susan E. Blow (1843–1916), a St. Louis teacher who had taken a kindergarten training course with a student of Froebel’s widow, offered to open a kindergarten class and instruct a teacher in kindergarten methods free of charge if the St. Louis school system provided the teacher, the room and the equipment. WILLIAM T. HARRIS, the farsighted superintendent of schools, agreed. The kindergarten proved such a success that the concept rapidly spread elsewhere. Susan Blow devoted the rest of her career to training kindergarten teachers, and, by the end of the century, more than 225,000 American children were attending kindergartens. Most were based on Froebelian principles, with teachers engaging children in a variety of play routines, including story reading, singing, games and manipulative activities using colored forms and shapes that allowed children to learn geometric and mathematical concepts intuitively.