Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s Ideas on Education

September 15, 2019
In today's article, we'll present the main characteristics of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi's ideas on education. We'll also examine his defense for education as a means of transforming the lives of the less fortunate.

The ideas of pedagogue Johann Heinrich on education play an important role in modern pedagogy. Born in Zurich in 1746, Pestalozzi was an influential pedagogue and educator. He believed that a good education could act as a solution to society’s contradictions and poverty.

During the 18th century, a major cultural and intellectual movement took place, mainly in Europe. It was within this context – the Enlightenment – that Pestallozi developed his thoughts on education.

The goal was to demonstrate that human knowledge could combat ignorance and make possible a better world. This same movement inspired profound cultural and social changes, such as the French Revolution.

Pestalozzi’s ideas on education: Origins and experiences

Pestalozzi’s first experience with education began at a farm near the district of Aargau, Spain, in 1775. On this farm, called Neuhof (New Farm), he taught poor children and orphans to work with thread and cotton fabric. This took place in the midst of a very extreme social and economic crisis in Europe.

Pestalozzi terminated his experience at Neuhof when he recognized his error in bringing children into the productive world. Then, he began to dedicate himself to the literary world under the influx of his own ideas on the Enlightenment.

He drew inspiration from one of the main representatives of the movement, Jean Jacques Rousseau. He published one of his most important works, Leonard and Gertrude, in the year 1781.

After Neuhof, Pestalozzi moved to the Swiss city of Swans with the purpose of caring for orphans of the war. This is where he developed his educational theory on intuition – or the intuitive method. Later he created a school with the objective of preparing teachers in the main principles of his method.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi's Ideas on Education

The ideas of the intuitive method appear in some of his subsequent works. These include the following titles:

  • The Pestalozzi Method (1800)
  • How Gertrude Teaches Her Children (1801) – a work that exalts the educational role of mothers
  • The ABC of Sense Perception (1803)

Finally, in 1805 in the Swiss municipality of Verdon-les-Bains, Pestalozzi established a boarding school for the preparation of teachers. The institution applied Pestalozzi’s principles, which defined a renewed spirit of education. Its success attracted aspiring teachers from a number of different countries.

Pestalozzi’s ideas on education

Pedagogical principles of his method

  • Pestalozzi developed a scientific method for childhood education that claims that education doesn’t occur spontaneously. Rather, it acquires external assistance. This assistance should allow children to use their intuitive faculties and senses to see the world. Therefore, education should have a natural and intuitive approach that follows and respects the course of childhood development.
  • His method advocates for education in the context of the home, where mothers are responsible. Furthermore, he suggests the need for the education of these mothers as an instrument in improving childhood education. Pestalozzi sustained that mothers should be a child’s first emotional contact. Furthermore, he emphasized that this emotional connection should continue later in school, through friendships with peers.
  • Pestalozzi’s ideas on education supported coeducation (boys and girls in the same school). Furthermore, he promoted moral and religious education. However, he said that this education must begin in the home and then continue at school.
  • He developed an education based on the acquisition of knowledge by means of constant interaction with the environment. In other words, he prioritized practice and experience over an education based on theories and books.
  • Pestalozzi defended the existence of and the need for the creation of institutions for children lacking in economic resources.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi's Ideas on Education

The didactic principles of Pestalozzi’s method

  • The teaching of numbers based on a child’s previous knowledge. It then moves from the most simple concepts onto more complex concepts.
  • The utilization of concrete materials so that children can practice exercises, like numerical tables.
  • The teaching of language, learning first the sound of words and their union in phrases. Then, a little at a time, the method introduces new vocabulary and engages children in simple conversations.
  • The reinforcement of language through reading and writing.
  • The development of memory in children through simple explanations of objects and materials. The method prioritizes the use of descriptions to work on the perception of these objects and materials.
  • The use of drawing as a method for learning to measure and reproduce objects present in children’s sight. At the same time, Pestalozzi claimed that drawing exercised hand movements, thus serving as a building block for writing.
  • The practice of physical education to build body resistance.

Final considerations

Just as with other great pedagogues and thinkers of his time, Pestalozzi’s ideas on education were a giant advance in regards to the understanding of childhood. He considered childhood to be a stage with its own identity. Furthermore, he sustained that children aren’t passive subjects who should simply be fed knowledge.

Pestalozzi contributed to the idea that children should be able to discover and think about the world on their own. Adults should act as simple mediators.