19th Century European Educators Part I: Pestalozzi & Froebel

Many of the ideas that serve as a foundation for modern educational thought were developed in the 19th century in Europe. Naturally, the United States derived many of their own ideas from Europe as well despite their desire to develop a separate identity.

This post will examine the contributions of two prominent educational leaders in 19th century European. Both Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel have had a profound impact on education in both Europe and America.

Johann Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi was a Swiss educator whose ideas contributed to modern elementary school practice. Pestalozzi believed that education should be on the natural development of the child. This could be where the idea of ‘meeting the students needs’ came from.

In addition, Pestalozzi stated that learning takes place through the senses. Of course, this sounds somewhat like realism and perhaps Pestalozzi was borrowing from ancient Greek philosophers with this idea. However, his contribution is that he applied this concept to the education of children. The Greeks talk a lot but never laid down a systematic pedagogical approach in the way that Pestalozzi did.

Pestalozzi called his teaching approach that focused on the senses the ‘special’ method. The ‘special’ method may be the harbinger of experiential education and Dewey’s ideas. Pestalozzi’s other approach was called the ‘general’ method and focused on providing for the social-emotional needs of the children. This time, Pestalozzi was ahead of Maslow and his hierarchy by over 100 years.

Friedrich Froebel

Froebel’s, a German Educator, major contribution to education was the development of the Kindergarten or “children’s garden” as it means in English. He believed that the learning of small children should be focus around play and the interest of the children. Songs, stories, games were all used in this child-centered approach, which may have been the first of its kind.

Froebel believed that providing such a learning environment would allow the children to grow up naturally. This idea sounds similar to Pestalozzi’s idea of the natural development of the child. In addition, Froebel’s focus on action based education is another focus on the senses of the child.

American schools are deeply in-debt to the work of Froebel. Almost every elementary school has a Kindergarten. In addition, there is a tremendous push for pre-schools in America. Keep in mind that Froebel’s researched often focused on 3-4 year-olds or those who would attend pre-school.


Pestalozzi and Froebel provided both old and new ideas. They brought another emphasis on the senses. The provided important support of the education of young children. In addition, they took the focus off of books and onto the students in their approach to education. This concept only has resonated throughout American education. Even though America wants to be different from European. The foundations of American education is still European.

3 thoughts on “19th Century European Educators Part I: Pestalozzi & Froebel

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  3. Anthony Q. Benton

    After reading about these two educators. I find it fascinating to learn about their teaching techniques. I take learning very serious. I dropped out of high school in my Junior year. As an educator I want to be more engaged as possible. I realize that every educator has their own way teaching.


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