The History of Kindergarten from Froebel to Today

a documentary film series arriving 2018

  • Friedrich Froebel

    Friedrich Froebel
    1782 — 1852

    "Someday Froebel will come to his own, and the carefulness of his observation, the depth of his thought, the truth of his theories, and the success of his actual experiments in education will all be acknowledged.” ~ E.R. Murray,
    Froebel as a Pioneer in Modern Psychology (1914)

Frank Leslie's Illustrated - Boston Kindergarten


Froebel Gifts tree

Information on the August 2017 Froebel Education conference.

Finally, it can be told ...

Most people attend kindergarten, yet few know its history. We still use the term without knowing why preschool has a strange German name. Established by Friedrich Froebel 180 years ago in Germany, Kindergarten was the first organized system of preschool education.

Initially outlawed by Germany, it quickly spread to America and around the world, but remains controversial today. Froebel Kindergarten impacted American culture through architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller), organizations (NEA, ACEI, National Louis University, Stanford University), celebrities (Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells, and Helen Keller), cultural icons like the song "Happy Birthday," and other ways too numerous to list here.

This film explains what Froebel originally intended Kindergarten to be, how that idea spread worldwide, and then mutated into our current preschool system. Our goal is to help viewers better understand the historical context of the current educational environment (testing, homeschooling, Common Core).

The original play-based, design education concept of Froebel Kindergarten was radically altered 100 years ago by John Dewey at the University of Chicago and the leadership of the Columbia Teachers College. Today, the remnants of Froebel's work can be seen in the offshoots it inspired: Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia.

It's a fascinating story, involving the US economy, culture, and arts ... including the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles Eames. Yet the story of Kindergarten has never been told on film. It weaves together the birth of our school system (including the founding of organizations such as NEA, ACEI), the school supply industry (Milton Bradley, J.L. Hammett) and how US education ended up as a top-down managed, curriculum-focused system dependent on standardized testing.

The cast of characters include Horace Mann, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Elizabeth Peabody, Gen. Carl Schurz, and Phoebe Hearst. The Kindergarten story explains the origin of the pocket rubber comb and the song "Happy Birthday," the most widely recognized tune in the world. Many classic toys are the direct result of Kindergarten materials.

The cultural impact of Froebel's work is immense, and using new interviews with top researchers in the fields of education, history, design, technology, mathematics, psychology, the full impact of Kindergarten can finally be seen.

Once filming is completed in August 2017, the content will be developed into 5 hour-long episodes (or more, if funding allows) in 2018.

  1. Inventing Kindergarten [1817-1852]
    What Froebel Intended Kindergarten to Be

  2. The Kindergarten Movement [1852-1895]
    How His Followers Changed It (and fought among themselves!)

  3. Forgetting Froebel [1894-1960]
    Why the Progressives Abandoned Froebel (and what it set in motion)

  4. The Consumer Revolt [1960-1997]
    Montessori, Steiner, Reggio Emilia and Homeschooling (echoes of Froebel)

  5. Froebel Today [1997-now]
    The New Demand for Design Education

Our Major Sponsors

  • Bruderhof
  • Design West Michigan
  • Uncle Goose Toys

  • ACEI
  • Jim & Regina Rosier
  • Stacey Wellman

Get In Touch

Want to be notified when the film is out?

Sign up for email notification

Interested in Froebel Kindergarten? Email us your questions at