Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


Froebelian Paperfolding and the Kindergarten
This page records what I have been able to discover about the use of paperfolding by Friedrich Froebel and its development within the Kindergarten movement. I do not read German and have been unable to access many primary sources. These notes should therefore be treated as incomplete and probably raise more questions than they answer. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

Friedrich Froebel, born 1782 and died 1852, was an educationalist from Thuringia, now part of Germany, who developed a theory of education through both teacher directed and self-directed play and founded what became known as the Kindergarten movement. He, and his collaborators and followers, developed a series of 'gifts' and 'occupations' which could be used as the basis of learning and education. One of these 'occupations' was paperfolding.

In 1826 Froebel published 'Die Menschenerziehung', in English ''The Education of Man', outlining the principles and methods in use in his school at Keilhau. The 'Education of Man' does not contain an outline of the system of gifts and occupations that later came to characterise the Kindergarten movement. However, in his notes, interpolated into the text, W N Hailmann states that 'In a weekly journal which Froebel began to publish in 1850, a System of Gifts and Occupations , similar to the one now used in kindergartens is described.' Hailmann himself enumerates four categories of occupations, Solids, Surfaces, Lines and Points. Paper-folding forms part of the Surfaces category. I have not been able to access the journal entries that Hailmann refers to.

David Lister (see Main sources below) states that 'Froebelian folding is divided into three categories, which have had different names at different times and in differing contexts.' These categories are 'folds of truth', 'folds of life', and 'folds of beauty'. David characterises 'folds of truth' as 'elementary geometrical folding', 'folds of life' as 'none other than the traditional folds known throughout Europe and which continue to be known as traditional folds today' and 'folds of beauty' as 'symmetric folding patterns starting from the "Blintz"' ie patterns whose folding sequence begins by folding each corner of a square to the centre. I have not been able to find the original source of this categorisation.

In her 'Course of Paperfolding', published in 1895, (see below) Eleenore Heerwart included many illustrative plates which show designs in all these categories. She does not use the term 'folds of life' but refers to them as 'first folds'. She also refers to the 'folds of life' category as 'forms of objects'.

Folds of truth / folds of knowledge:

These folds can either be very simple, or quite sophisticated.

An example of complete simplicity can be found in Kate Douglas Wiggin's and Nora Archibald Smith's book, 'Froebel's Occupations', published in 1896. Here, folding a square of paper in half edge to edge is called the first fold, and the design is then interpreted as a book or a roof (page 219). Adding a second crease in the alternate direction, the second fold, and pinching it up a little on both folds allows the design to be interpreted as a hanging basket or a parasol (page 220). Today we might call this minimalist folding.

Heerwart says (from section 9 of her book) 'Froebel has described the first folds fully in his work ... never thinking how far these few hints would lead to in the course of years.' These first folds of Froebel's are shown in plate 1 of her book. They show how a square of paper can be blintzed three times in succession to create a smaller and smaller square.

Plate V of Heerwart's book contains a more sophisticated second series of geometrical folds which make use of angles of 22.5 degrees and show how an octagon can be constructed. It also contains a method for folding angles of 60 and 30 degrees from a square. With regard to this Heerwart says ' ... we see on Plate V and we understand now why he calls the Triangle a derived form although it has fewer edge and angles.' which suggests that Froebel either originaated, or at least knew of, this method.

Plate IV also shows a way of creating an XYZ form from three slit squares and nets for folding the various platonic polyhedra.

In 1893 Tandalam Sundara Rao's book 'Geometrical Exercises in Paperfolding' was published in Madras, India, by Addison and Co. It took the concept of mathematical / geometrical paperfolds to a new level. In his Introduction Rao acknowledges that 'The idea of this book was suggested to me by Kindergarten Gift No. VIII - Paper-folding.'

Folds of life / forms of objects:

Eleenore Heerwart says (from section 1 of her book), 'Before paper-folding became a so-called Kindergarten occupation, and even before Froebel's time, it was an amusement in nurseries, and in the homes of the rich and poor, grandmothers and nurses made boats and windmills, salt-cellars and such-like to amuse children. Although Froebel wishes to see old and young occupied together, he makes the mere amusement into an education means ...'.

The only mention of paperfolding in Froebel's 1826 book 'The Education of Man' comes on page 109 where he writes 'when two children fold a dwelling house from a large sheet of cardboard, while others are busy folding from smaller sheets of paper all kinds of furniture - tables, chairs, sofas, beds, writing-desk, picture-frames, looking-glasses, etc.'

The only other mention of a paperfolded object that I can find in Froebel's own writings (there I understand that there must, of course, be many more) is on page 83 of 'The Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel's Mother Play', published by D Appleton and Company, New York in 1895, which is a rendering into English of a work by Froebel first published in German in 1844. The English text contains the sentence 'Hearing the sound, out runs a little boy with his paper windmill. It turns faster and faster as he increases his speed.'

Plates II and III and the top half of plate IV in Eleenore Heerwart's book show the development of sequences of folds into a variety of recognisable figures, including: (Plate II) The Salt-cellar, the Pajarita, the Windmill (uncut), the Vase, the Boat with Sail, the Catamaran, and a basic box, (Plate III) the jacket and trousers from the Suit of Clothes(but not the essentially similar Yakko-san), a second catamaran, a duck and a smaller box , the Pig, a fish, various items of household furniture, an axe and shovel, and (Plate III) the Paper Hat, Paper Boat, Bellows and Paper Windmill (cut) and a more decorative paper hat with tassels which appears to be made by folding half a Waterbomb and leaving the other half unfolded. The Waterbomb itself is not included.

In their 1896 book 'Froebel's Occupations' Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith say (page 222) 'There is a sequence of simple figures, all life-forms, and all folded so as to stand erect upon the table, which we call the "Pig" sequence, and which we have found very useful before the folding of symmetrical forms is begun ... We call the forms successively, the large tent, the snow-bank or hillside, the horse-car, the small tent, the table, the card-case, the fireplace, the box, the two-canoes, the saltcellar, the wood basket, and finally the Pig - the crowning glory of the sequence, a star of the purest ray and the first magnitude.' Unfortunately the book contains no pictures, so that, whilst some of the designs referred to can easily be identified, the identification of others is unclear.

I have not been able to find any way to be certain whether many of the folds of life found in the Froebelian literature are truly traditional (ie they existed before Froebel's time) and which were invented/discovered by followers of Froebel, or even possibly by Froebel himself.

Folds of beauty:

Plates VII to XV of Heerwart's book show examples of symmetrical geometric patterns, or 'folds of beauty', developed from the blintzed square, plate XVII to XX shows similar patterns developed from the equilateral triangle, and plate XXI patterns developed from a rhombus.

Other plates show symmetrical patterns that can be developed from circles using regularly placed cuts.

David Lister (see Main sources below) says: 'Children were encouraged to devise new variants and to collect them in albums or in square boxes. Many collections dating from the 19th and early 20th Centuries exist in museums and collections all over the world, including Japan.'

Album containing Folds of Beauty folded by Fannie E Kacline c 1890 in the collection of MOMA, Mew York

Froebelian influence on the development of paperfolding in Japan

The first Japanese kindergarten was established at the Tokyo Women’s Normal School (now Ochanomizu University) in 1876 by Clara Zitelmann, a trained German kindergarten teacher, who had gone to Japan to marry her fiancee Hazama Matsuno. Hazama Matsuno had met Clara while accompanying Prince Kitashirakawanomiya on his studies abroad and it is possible that it was he who had suggested that she undertook kindergarten training before joining him in Japan.

According to https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/12/14/issues/woman-brought-joys-kindergarten-japan 'The first two Japanese kindergarten instructors were Fuyu Toyoda and Hama Kondo, who worked together with Clara and followed her guidance. Since Clara could not speak Japanese, the kindergarten principal, Shinzo Seki, translated her English for them. That language barrier likely limited Clara’s daily contact with the kindergarten students, but as the only experienced instructor, she was indispensable in performing key elements of Froebel-method education, such as song play and the puzzle-like Froebel “gifts.”'

Clara Matsuno, Fuyu Toyoda and Hama Kondo playing the Pigeon's Nest game with Ochanomizu University Kindergarten children.

And, presumably, the 'occupations' and Froebelian paperfolding as well. In his article 'History of Origami in the East and West before Interfusion' in 'Origami5 - Proceedings of the Fifth International Meeting of science, Mathematics and Education' CRC Press, 2011, Koshiro Hatori writes: 'Many of the European origami models recorded in Kraus-Boelte's book (meaning Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus 'The Kindergarten Guide' volume 2: 'The occupations') are not included in contemporary Japanese records. The pig, house, sofa (also known as piano or organ), balloon (waterbomb), arrow (paper plane), salt cellar (cootie catcher), bird (pajarita or cocotte), and windmill ... were all born in Europe and imported into Japan along with the Kindergarten system.' - thus creating at least part of the 'Interfusion' of the article title.

It is tempting to wonder if this process went two ways and if traditional Japanese folds might have been 'interfused' in the opposite direction through the Kindergarten movement..

From Kate Douglas Wiggin's and Nora Archibald Smith's 'Froebel's Occupations' page 235, in the chapter devoted to Paper Folding, 'The wonderful dexterity and inventive powers of the Japanese children are again shown in these specimens of work from the Empress's kindergarten in Tokyo, which have before been mentioned.' The previous mention (on page 176) referred to a picture of Mount Fuji woven from paper strips and it is not quite clear if the author's are saying that they also received paper folded models in addition to this.

Froebelian influence on the development of paperfolding in China

According to Xiaoxian Huang and Joan Sallas a similar process of interfusion took place in China. 'North American Methodists and Presbyterians founded the first non-official Kindergarten during the 1890s in their mission in Beijing. The Methodists (primarily) founded a lot of successful kindergartens in other Chinese places such as a region called Jiangnan, including the Provinces of Jiangsu, Shanghai and Zhejiang, in Fujian Province and Xiamen ... In the Elemental Children Schools pupils exercised two hours every day using Froebelian occupations (including paperfolding).' (http://www.foldingdidactics.com/history/a-history-of-chinese-paper-folding-books-and-their-froebelian-influence/)

Main sources:

There is a useful article on Friedrich Froebel by David Lister in the Lister List on the British Origami Society website. Unfortunately he does not always give sources for the information he provides.

An English version of Froebel's 1826 book 'Die Menschenerziehung', or 'The Education of Man', was published by D Appleton and Company, New York in 1908. It was translated and annotated by W N Hailmann. I have drawn on both the translated text and on Hailmann's notes.

Eleenore Heerwart published her 'Course in Paperfolding - One of Froebel's Occupations for Children' in 1895. It can be found in the Proceedings of the First International Conference on Origami in Education and Therapy, British Origami Society, published in 1992. The course contains explanatory text and many full page plates showing finished paperfolds. The introduction explains that although Eleenore knew Froebel personally she received her training in 1853 from Froebels colleague Mittendorff. I have drawn extensively on both her text and on the information conveyed in the illustrations.

Kate Douglas Wiggin's and Nora Archibald Smith's 'Froebel's Occupations' was published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York in 1896. It contains a chapter devoted to an explanation of the use of paperfolding as a Froebelian occupation but unfortunately does not have any accompanying illustrations.

David Lister provides a brief list of other books containing information on Froebelian paperfolding (which I have placed in date order here).

1863: Elise van Calcar 'De kleine papierwerkers'

1873: August Kohler 'Die Praxis des Kindergartens'

1874: H. Goldammer: 'The Kindergarten'

1877: Maria Kraus Boelte and John Kraus 'The Kindergarten Guide' (In his article 'History of Origami in the East and West before Interfusion' in 'Origami5 - Proceedings of the Fifth International Meeting of science, Mathematics and Education' CRC Press, 2011, Koshiro Hatori writes: 'Maria Kraus-Boelte recorded nearly one hundred origami models in her book The Kindergarten Guide.' I have not been able to access a copy of this volume of the guide to find out which designs these were.)

1887: B. von Marenholk-Bulow 'Handbuch der Frobelischen Erziehuglehre

1896: Edward Wiebe 'Paradise of Childhood'

Unfortunately I have not been able to access the full text of these books to discover what information they contain.

Full details of other sources relied on are given in the text.