Pestalozzi was the first teacher of modern times who systematized infant instruction, and in the early part of the present century his system, improved and developed by later writers, reached its culminating point. Infant schools were established throughout Great Britain and the continent of Europe, and in every considerable town in the United States; but it was found after a few years' experience that these schools were doing more injury than good, and they have been generally abandoned. In 1837 an eminent German educator, Friedrich Froebel, introduced a new method of infant training, which is producing better results, and which obviates the difficulties and evils of the Pestalozzian system. He gave it the name of the Kindergarten (children's garden). This consists of a series of large, well ventilated, well lighted, and pleasant rooms, opening upon a garden, in which, besides the play ground for all, and a large garden plot, there are small plots for each child old enough to cultivate them. In the large garden are flowers, useful vegetables, and trees, and birds are encouraged to make it a home. The children may be from the age of two months to 14 years. They pass from three to five hours a day at the gardens.
The infants are accompanied by their mothers or nurses, or, in default of these, are placed in charge of the teachers, young well educated women who enter into the work from a sincere love for it and for children. Froebel was very particular in the selection of teachers, deeming it indispensable to the success of the institution. Not more than 25 children should be under the care of a single teacher, and the elder children are of great assistance in carrying out the system. No corporal punishment is allowed; exclusion from a game, or from the gardens for a day or more, is the only punishment found necessary. Froebel devised many games and exercises for his course of instruction, and, as a part of the necessary apparatus, prepared his six gifts, which are used in all the kindergartens. In the use of each of these an explanatory song, sung at first by the teacher, and afterward by the children, accompanies each exercise or game. The first gift consists of six soft balls of different colors, and a string; the colors are red, blue, and yellow - green, violet, and orange. They are moved horizontally, vertically, and in circles before the infant, by the teacher or an older child, who sings the song explaining the motions.
By these balls the child obtains ideas of form, color, size, and movement, as well as of his own individuality. The second gift is a cube, a cylinder, a wooden ball, a stick, and a string; these are rolled, whirled, dragged, and used in a great variety of ways, and from them the child acquires ideas of form, size, sound, movement, and of development according to a fixed law.. The third gift is a cube cut into eight equal cubes; these the child arranges into other forms, and receives new lessons in the law of development, gets a notion of angles, cubes, the laws of construction, and the division of units into halves, quarters, and eighths. He should always be taught to construct from the centre. The fourth gift is a cube divided into eight equal planes. In the use of this the children unite around a table, and construct together their buildings and other objects. By means of this and the preceding gifts, the alphabet and the elementary principles of arithmetic and geometry may be taught. The fifth gift is an extension of the third; the cube is divided into 27 small cubes, and three of these are divided diagonally into halves and three into quarters. This introduces the triangle, and gives scope for the construction of the arch and other architectural objects, and for practical perspective.
The sixth gift is an extension of the fourth, the cube being divided into 27 planes, of which six are again divided, three in height and three in breadth; in the use of these the children are taught to build from the teacher's dictation. A seventh gift is added, containing all the forms of the last four. To these gifts are subsequently joined movable lines or plaiting sticks, which are also used for construction, being united when necessary by softened peas, pasteboard, and tissue paper, to be combined into figures and objects, and soft clay for modelling, in which many of the children become very expert. Drawing in the net, that is, on a slate furrowed into squares, and subsequently on paper ruled with a pale ink in squares, and painting in the net, are also introduced. The gymnastic exercises are still plays, of which there are a great variety, intended to develop all the muscles; these, too, are all accompanied by songs explanatory and instructive. For older pupils Froebel established scholars' gardens, in which workshops took the place of the games.
During Froebel's life (he died in 1852) more than 50 kindergartens were established in Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. Prussia, Saxony, and several of the minor states in Germany prohibited in 1851 the establishment of infant schools according to Froebel's system, on the supposition that it inculcated socialism and atheism. But as it very soon became evident that kindergartens, according to Froebel's original principles, though apt to be misused for party purposes, could not really injure the state, the prohibitions were recalled, and the system was rapidly introduced everywhere. Though strenuous efforts were made in several states for the establishment of such institutions in connection with the public schools, no government has as yet acceded to the demand, and the benefits of the kindergartens continue to be restricted to those classes which are able to pay for them. There are in Germany several institutions for the education of teachers for these schools, and several periodicals are devoted to a further development of Froebel's ideas. The Kindergarten und Elementarklasse, published in Weimar since 1861, and the Kindergarten, published in Berlin since 1866, enjoy great favor.
The system has been introduced into the United States, and there are several such schools in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere, especially in the western cities with a large German population. - See "Moral Culture of Infancy, and Kindergarten Guide," by Miss Elizabeth P. Peabody (revised ed., New York, 1869), and "The Kindergarten in Public Schools," by Adolf Douai (New York, 1870).