Pestalozzi educated by stealth. At first he took several boys and girls of eight, ten or twelve years of age, and had them work with him in his garden. They cared for fowls, looked after the sheep, milked the cows. The master worked with them, and as they worked they talked. Going to and from their duties, Pestalozzi would call their attention to the wild birds, and to the flowers, plants and weeds. They would draw pictures of things, make collections of leaves and flowers, and keep a record of their observations and discoveries. Through keeping these records they learned to read and write and acquired the use of simple mathematics. Things they did not understand they would read about in the books found in the teacher’s library. But books were secondary and quite incidental in the scheme of study. When work seemed to become irksome they would all stop and play games. At other times they would sit and just talk about what their work happened to suggest. If the weather was unpleasant, there was a shop where they made hoes and rakes and other tools they needed. They also built bird-houses, and made simple pieces of furniture, so all the pupils, girls and boys, became more or less familiar with carpenter’s and blacksmith’s tools. They patched their shoes, mended their clothing, and at times prepared their own food.
Pestalozzi found that the number of pupils he could look after in this way was not more than ten. But to his own satisfaction, at least, he proved that children taught by his method surpassed those who were given the regular set courses of instruction. His chief difficulties lay in the fact that the home did not co-operate with the school, and that there was always a tendency to “return to the blanket.”
Pestalozzi wrote accounts of his experiments and emphasized his belief that we should educate through the child’s natural activities; also that all growth should be pleasurable. His shibboleth was, “From within, out.” He thought education was a development and not an acquirement.
One of Pestalozzi’s little pamphlets fell into the hands of Friedrich Froebel, architect’s assistant, at Frankfort.
Froebel was twenty-two years old, and Fate had tossed him around from one thing to another since babyhood. All of his experiences had been of a kind that prepared his mind for the theories that Pestalozzi expressed.
Besides that, architecture had begun to pall upon him. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” This was said in derision, but it holds a grain of truth.
Froebel had a great desire to teach. Now, in Frankfort there was a Model School or a school for teachers, of which one Herr Gruner was master. This school was actually carrying out some of the practical methods suggested by Pestalozzi. Quite by accident Gruner and Froebel met. Gruner wanted a teacher who could teach by the Pestalozzi methods. Froebel straightway applied to Herr Gruner for the position. He was accepted as a combination janitor and instructor and worked for his board and ten marks, or two and a half dollars a week.
The good-cheer and enthusiasm of Froebel won Gruner’s heart. Together they discussed Pestalozzi and his works, read all that he had written, and opened up a correspondence with the great man. This led to an invitation that Froebel should visit him at his farm-school, near Yverdon, in Switzerland.
Gruner supplied Froebel the necessary money to replace his very seedy clothes for something better, and the young man started away. It was a walk of more than two hundred miles, but youth and enthusiasm count such a tramp as an enjoyable trifle. Froebel wore his seedy clothes and carried his good ones, and so he appeared before the master spick and span.
Pestalozzi was sixty years old at this time, and his hopes for the “new method” were still high. He had met opposition, ridicule and indifference, and had spent most of his little fortune in the fight, but he was still at it and resolved to die in the harness.