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 which he founded. I do not read German and have been unable to access many primary sources. These notes should therefore be treated as incomplete. 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 created a system of 'gifts', objects with which children could play. In the beginning there were just five of these gifts, but the system was extended, both by Froebel himself and later by his followers, to include extra gifts and occupations. 'Falten' or paperfolding, became an occupation in its own right but paperfolding was also an integral part of several other occupations. It is important to note, however, that there is little consistency in the names and numberings of the various gifts and occupations across the Froebelian literature

Information from Froebel's own writings

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 of the English translation, which was published by D Appleton and Company, New York in 1908, 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.' I have not been able to locate the journal entries that Hailmann refers to.


There is mention of a paper windmill 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.' See The mottoes and commentaries of Friedrich Froebel's Mother Play


In his article 'Falling into Disuse: the rise and fall of Froebelian mathematical folding within British kindergartens' (See full article) Michael Freedman quotes two letters written by Froebel, in 1845 and 1847, which refer to paperfolding. Firstly, 'Around July 1845, Froebel writes to Leonhard Woepcke about the transformation of forms via paper folding: [a] further new and great, so entertaining, instructive and useful division of the occupations for the child is the transformation of the forms […] from flexible surfaces, from paper. The breaking and folding of different shapes and objects from one and the same square, or, what is the same: from several evenly sized squares.' Secondly, Froebel also writes to Berthold Auerbach in 1847, including a “folding box” in his description of the occupation materials.'


The main source of information about Froebel's ideas on the use of paperfolding in the kindergarten, however, is to be found in Volume 2 of 'Gesammelte pädagogische Schriften' (Collected Educational Writings), an anthology of Froebel's writings edited by Wichard Lange and published by Enslin in Berlin in 1874. Pages 371–388 contain a section titled 'Anleitung zum Papierfalten. Ein Bruchstück. Eine entwickelnd-erziehende und unterhaltend-belehrende Kinderbeschäftigung für Kinder von 5 bis 7 Jahren und darüber, unter eingehender Mitwirkung von leitenden Erwachsenen' which Friedman translates as 'Instructions for Paper Folding: A Fragment. A Developing-Educating and Entertaining-Instructing Children’s Activity for Children from Five to Seven Years and Over, with the Extensive Participation of Adults'. Friedman dates this fragment to 1850.

An English translation of this section can be found as 'Employment of Children - Guide to Paper Folding - A Fragment' on pages 89 - 117 of 'Friedrich Froebel's Education by Development: The Second Part of the Pedagogics of the Kindergarten' translated by Josephine Jarvis and published by D Appleton and Company in New York in 1899, which can be found online at HathiTrust Digital Library

In this section Froebel first describes how to create a square from any irregular sheet of paper then how to fold and cut four squares from a single rectangular sheet of machine made paper. He then describes a number of simple folds that can be made in the square and the mathematical properties that they demonstrate.


Paperfolds attributed to Froebel by later writers

In the second part of her book 'Kindergarten Practice', probably first published in London in 1877 by A N Myers and Co, which is a substantially abridged version, in two parts, of 'Die Praxis Des Kindergartens' by Auguste Koehler, Mary Gurney attributes several of the paperfolds shown in the illustrations to Froebel himself. (I have not found this information in Koehler's original book.)

These attributions are:

All the paperfolds shown in Plate XIV which include the single and doubly blintzed groundforms (figs 14 and 19):


The first 15 forms of life shown in Plate XV:


The first 20 forms of beauty shown in Plate XVI:


Eleenore Heerwart, writing in her 'Course in Paperfolding - One of Froebel's Occupations for Children', first published in 1895, 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.' The first folds in question are the singly blintzed, doubly blintzed and triply blintzed groundforms.


Developments after Froebel's death in 1852

Many of Froebel's followers wrote practical handbooks setting out how the various gifts and occupations could be used in the context of the kindergarten. Many of these, though not all, included paperfolding, under various guises, not only in the main chapters / sections of these handbooks dealing with 'Falten' or pure paperfolding from squares, rectangles, triangles and other shapes, including circles, but also in other chapters / sections about paper weaving, paper cutting, and the folding and interlacing of paper strips.

Over time the pure paperfolding gift / occupation became divided into three distinct categories, for which I shall use the terms Folds of Truth, simple mathematical folds, Folds of Beauty, flat geometrical patterns folded from squares and other shapes, and Folds of Life, representations of everyday objects, although these names are not used consisitently actross the Froebelian literature.

The following summary of the content of some of the handbooks should serve to illustrate the development of the paperfolding elements within the gifts / occupations after Froebel's death. Further details can be found on the pages containing information about each individual book.


The earliest of these practical handbooks that I have been able to find is 'A Practical Guide to the English Kinder Garten' by Joh and Bertha Ronge, which was published by Hodson and Son in London in 1855. This contains sections on Paper Folding and Cutting Paper. The section on Paper Folding only explains a few very basic folds from a square. The section on Cutting Paper is more interesting as it describes how to fold a square of paper into an eight layered right angle isosceles triangle and then gives examples of cuts that can be made into this form to create shapes with 8-fold symmetry. For other occurrences of this technique see Geometric Fold and Cut Designs from Squares with 8-fold Symmetry.



'Manuel pratique des jardins d'enfants de Frédéric Froebel' was compiled by J F Jacobs and published by F Claassen in Brussells and L Hachette and Cie in Paris in 1859. It contains sections on paperfolding 'Le Pliage', 'L'entrelacement' and 'Le Decoupage'.

The paperfolding section contains (and illustrates) Froebel's method of cutting four squares from a rectangular sheet, a few basic folds from a square and several geometrical patterns (ie Folds of Beauty) developed from either side of the Double Blintz Basic Form. It also contains two lists of 'figures d'objets usuels' (figures of everyday objects) (ie Folds of Life).

The 'L'entrelacement' section explains how to fold and interlace paper strips to form flat designs. For further occurrences of this technique see Flat Laid Figures from Paper Strips.

The 'Le Decoupage' section includes similar examples of papercutting to those found in Ronge (see above) but also explains how to fold a hexagon into a six-layer equilateral triangle and how to cut them to produce Geometric Fold and Cut Designs from Hexagons with 6-fold Symmetry



'De Kleine Papierwerkers' was a series of four books written by Elise Van Calcar and published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863. Volumes 1, 2 and 4 included elements of paperfolding.

Volume 1: Wat men van een stukje papier al maken kan: Het vouwen (What one can make from a piece of paper: Folding):

Plate 1 shows some basic folds from the square and how to make the singly blintzed and doubly blintzed basic forms.

Plate 2 shows how to form a square using two bookfolds and illustrates various crease patterns and other simple geometric paperfolds from the square.

Plate 3 illustrates the designs given in a ''Lijst de van Leervormen' (List of the Learning Forms) ie Folds of Life, earlier in the book.

Plates 4, 5 and 6 illustrate many other crease patterns and simple geometric forms folded from squares, mostly using creases that radiant from the corners, and rectangular paper.

Plate 7 illustrates further miscellaneous designs, also mostly Folds of Life, mostly folded from rectangles and squares. Many of these are not otherwise mentioned in the book.

Volume 2: Wat men uit strookjes papier al vlechten kan (What one can braid from strips of paper):

Plate 8 shows several Fold, Cut and Fold Chevron Designs, a way of folding folded strips to create a chequerboard pattern, the Froebel Star, the Witch's Ladder and one flat form from a folded strip.

Volume 4: Het Knippen en plakken (Cutting and Pasting):

Plate 1 illustrates the how to fold and cut the Fold and One Cut Hexagon.

Plates 2 to 8 give patterns for cutting 8-fold and 6-fold geometric patterns from squares folded into right angle isosceles triangles and hexagons folded into equilateral triangles.

The text also gives instructions for making the Paper Cage and the Fishing Net and the How to Climb through a Playing Card effect.



'Der Kindergarten' by Hermann Goldammer was published by Habel in Berlin in 1869. It contains sections on paperfolding 'Der Falten'', '' and ''.


In Froebelian practice the occupation / gift of paper folding was usually divided into three categories, which again have differing names in differing sources.

Folds of truth / folds of knowledge:

These were geometrical paperfolds intended to impart mathematical understanding and knowledge and can be very simple, or quite sophisticated. I have not made a detailed study of this category of paper folds.

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

Folds of beauty:

These were geometrical paperfolds that seem to have been intended to foster creativity and the appreciation of symmetry as a source of beauty. I have not made a detailed study of this category of paper folds.

The original folds of beauty were mainly square symmetric patterns developed from the blintzed square or the windmill base, usually without the use of cuts, but as time went by other starting shapes were used and the use of cuts seems to have become more frequent. These paperfolds were also used as tiles to create larger patterns.

Many albums collecting together folds of beauty can be found in museums and collections all over the world.

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

Folds of life / forms of objects:

These were paperfolds that were designed as / could be interpreted as day to day objects that children would be familiar with and were used in conjunction with appropriate stories and songs. A detailed study of this category of paperfolds is on-going.

Froebelian education lays emphasis on originality and creativity and encourages children to find things out for themselves. Froebelian paper folding was therefore exploratory as well as didactic. The possibilities inherent in the various basic configurations of the paper were explored and new forms were discovered. These were named and passed on and became an intrinsic part of the repertoire of Kindergartens across the world. It is difficult to track this development and dissemination, which probably took place largely by word of mouth, but was occasionally recorded in books. This makes it difficult to know whether, and to what extent, any of the paper folds in the Froebelian repertoire pre-dated Froebel himself, or were possibly even his own inventions.


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..

A hint that this is possible can be found in 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/)

Revised 4/2/2019