Famous Educationalists

Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel 1782 - 1852

My own teacher training was at the Froebel Educational Institute in London. My teaching methods, are underpinned by this training whilst I have adopted, adapted and included into my practice, many other styles and methods found to be successful over the years. We need to find the best in all the philosphies and make them our own.

Friedrich Froebel was born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia. In 1826, he published The Education of Man, a difficult book to understand, in which he discusses his educational philosophy. The first Froebel school was opened in 1828 and another in 1837. In 1840 two Kindergartens for young children, were set up in Rudolstadt and Blankenburg for the purpose of providing ‘the psychological training of little children by means of play and occupations’. He developed play materials that he called gifts and occupations.

In 1843 Froebel published his most popular book, Mutter und Kose-Lieder, a collection of songs for mothers of infants or young children. Froebel believed in the continuity of development and, from first studying the young child, carried this understanding forward to the education of older children. He believed that “children’s freedom, independence and individuality were achieved by following the eternal law of development rather than, as Rousseau argues, by protecting them from ‘unnatural’ society.”

Froebel believed that a child, similar to a plant, should be cultivated following nature’s law. In naming his schools kindergarten he reflected this belief, and also proposed that each child should have a garden of their own, or a shared one, to cultivate. Froebel introduced the notion of continuity in human development, which originated in his observation of the growth of trees. He saw the stage of a new bud as continuing in the whole development of a tree. In the same way, the full development of childhood continued into adulthood. If one prior stage was not fully completed, then the next stage could not be fully developed. However, Froebel saw early childhood and later childhood as stages that were significant in the whole development of an individual, not simply preparation for adulthood.

Teachers were expected to adapt their teaching to the present stage of development of each child. Froebel believed that young children learn through their senses rather than through reasoning and that ‘all things are seen only in relation to himself, to his life’. The term child-centred originated with Froebel. He believed that through play children become self-conscious and intellectual, but for Froebel, play was not free play. ‘Child-centeredness was not the centre of schooling, but children were to be at the centre of their world, acting directly on it.’ The emphasis on the investigative approach to in modern schools, and pupils’ success because of it, reflects a more accurate understanding of Froebel’s philosophy than the free-play that those who misunderstood Froebel’s philosophy, developed in the 60s. As Kilpatrck wrote, ‘Perhaps the most valuable of all is the practical demonstration which Froebel through the kindergarten has given the world of how happy a group of children can be when engaged in educative activity’. It is the activity, whether as a young scientist, mathematician, geographer, historian or musician that gives pleasure in learning and a basis for understanding for students, whatever age they may be.


This is a summary of the main points, with my own conclusion relating to present educational practice in the last paragraph, from a chapter on Froebel in: Fifty Major Thinkers on Education – from Confucius to Dewey. Edited by Joy A. Palmer. Published by Routledge


Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)

I am often asked about Montessori methods and schools by parents of a first child, keen to find the best education for their offspring. Only they can decide whether this is right for their child, but I hope the following will give some background information to help them to make a choice and to inform discussions when they visit schools.


Maria Montessori lived during the first half of the last century and has influenced education in the US, the UK and other countries in many ways. She was an unusual teenager who chose, unlike others of her gender, to train as an engineer. However, one at college, her interest in the mechanical was diverted to the study of the workings not of machines but the human body, and she qualified in medicine in 1886. She was the first woman to do so in Italy.

Through her medical work she came in contact with ‘idiot children’ in asylums and this led her on to an interest in education and the way these children had been taught. She began to believe that mental deficiency was a pedagogical problem. She read works of many previous educationalists, including Froebel, drew up her own theories, and was eventually made director of a medical-pedagogical institute. In 1980 she opened the first Cassa dei Bambini (House or Home of Children) – a school for ‘normal’ children, who were left to their own devises when their parents were at work. Montessori methods are based on the theory and practice of this original school in Rome.

Maria Montessori travelled widely throughout her life, lecturing, attending conferences and training teachers. Her methods became known world wide, with schools set up along these principles in the US, India, Holland and other countries throughout Europe. Three times she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Her methods and theories were criticised at the start of the last century, described as ‘illogical’ by William Heard Kilpatrick in the US, with the result that Montessori schools in the US closed down. However, her work was admired by Robert R. Rusk of the University of Glasgow, who included her in his book The Doctrines of the Great Educators (1918). Her work continues to this day to have considerable influence on educational practice throughout the world. New schools, for children of all ages, have reopened in the US.

Montessori emphasised the importance of the environment in children’s education. ‘Put children in the wrong environment and their development will be abnormal; they will become the deviated adults we now know. Create the right environment for them and their characters will develop normally.’ Her schools were to be run as an ‘idealised version of home’, where those in the school constituted a family and one could feel ‘safe, secure, loved, at ease – that is at home – in a home’. There was to be an emphasis on individualised instruction, sensory training and practical living. Furniture was to be child sized and there were to be exercises in dressing and washing, self-education and possibly an extended day. The emphasis on auto-education was, and is, admired by many educationalists and is apparent in present educational thinking. Montessori’s theories still influence the education of children at all ages, both in schools set up as Montessori schools, and to some extent, in the state sector of education. However, my experience is that teachers who are not Montessori trained do not necessarily make the training of children to dress for different weathers a priority, with the result that students of all ages, who are ill clad, are too cold to concentrate in lessons unless they constantly move around to keep warm, and develop illnesses which could be avoided with better personal care and training.

‘Envisioning school as an extension of the private home and the world as continuous with school and home, Montessori left no room in her system for the radical dichotomies so often drawn between school and home, home and world, world and school.’ ‘Montessori wanted the Cassa dei Bambini to form children for life in the public world.’

Adapted from:
Fifty Major Thinkers on Education – Edited by Joy A. Palmer. Published by Routledge, 2004

Montessori’s major writings
Education and Peace, Chicago: Regnery, 1972
From Childhood to Adolescence: New York: Schocken, 1973
The Absorbent Mind, New York: Dell, 1984
The Montessori Method, New York: Schocken, 1964
The Secret of Childhood, New York: Ballantine, 1972

Margaret Warner
MAW Eduction