Where are children still able to experience a true childhood? One of the few havens left in the world is Keilhau, a tiny village in Thuringia, Germany, where the educator Friedrich Fröbel founded a school in 1817. His aim was to unite school and life, giving children the tools to become “free-thinking, independent people,” free from the whims of fashion, society, and the stifling spirit of the age. Fröbel’s belief was that life and school should not be separate experiences: “School and life should become one!” Such ideas led him to create the first kindergarten, or “garden for children.”
Bruderhof educational philosophy has been greatly influenced by Fröbel’s ideas and methodology, because Annemarie Arnold nee Wächter, wife of Bruderhof elder J. Heinrich Arnold and mother of author and pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, was Fröbel’s great-great-grandniece. She was raised in the Keilhau village, and even attended school there, one girl among a crowd of boys. Annemarie Arnold kept the vision of Fröbel’s “garden for children” alive as her family migrated from Germany to England before the Second World War, and then as she travelled on to Paraguay and eventually to the United States.
Unlike other initiatives started by the father of the modern kindergarten, the school in Keilhau has not been turned into a museum. It is a living memorial to his work and vision, and it continues to operate based on the principles and ideas of Fröbel: education through creative example and love. Imaginative and explorative childhood is still to be found there, in the school and the surrounding woods and mountains.
This year, the school in Keilhau will celebrate its two-hundred-year anniversary. On April 22, visitors to the school will have a rare opportunity to tour and visit the grounds, attend workshops (in both English and German) and experience the place where Fröbel put his educational theories into practice. It is still possible to register to take part in this unique day. If you’re an educator, or just interested in the revolutionary pedagogical philosophy of the inventor of the kindergarten, sign up here. (This page is in German only, so if you’re an English speaker, please send an email to Andrea Matheis at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
A PDF with more information about the event, including a schedule of the day’s events, can be found here (also in German only.)