Pestalozzi’s Life and his Key Ideas


Children’s Biography – “Everything for others; nothing for himself.” These words which conclude Pestalozzi’s epitaph sum up the life of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746- 1827), educationalist, humanitarian, philosopher and writer. This booklet offers glimpses into this extraordinary life – its achievements, its disappointments, its indestructible spirit and, above all, its enduring message of selfless love.

Based on documents by Adolf Haller and Arthur Brühlmeier, rewritten in German by Heinrich Rubi and translated into English by Anne-Marie Widmer. Designed and edited by Mahesh and Joanna Nair with examples added of Pestalozzi’s ‘Fables’ from ‘Pestalozzi, His Life and Work’ by Roger de Guimps.

These pages have been produced by Pestalozzi World Children’s Trust to further the understanding of the Pestalozzi Legacy and are for non-commercial, educational purposes.

All photographs have been provided by Arthur Brühlmeier and the details and other excellent resources are available from his web site at

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi’s Fundamental Ideas

As the author of ‘Pestalozzi’s Fundamental Ideas’, Dr. Arthur Brühlemeir observes the myth surrounding Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi as a man who was a generous donor, a sentimental friend of children, a school reformer but also as someone who was somewhat foolish, a clumsy dreamer, who economically did not make his mark.

Only a few specialists in, for example, education, sociology and philosophy are familiar with Pestalozzi’s insights or know of his extensive unpublished works which, despite considerable losses, consist of 45 volumes contained in the ‘Kritische Gesamtausgabe’ (Critical Complete Edition).

Wishing to address this gap in important and relevant information, Dr Brühlmeier has outlined, summarised here for PestalozziWorld, the essential characteristics of Pestalozzi’s fundamental ideas, in the five following areas:

Anthropology – about Humans 
The Nature and Function of the State 
Upbringing and Formative Education

For Dr Brühlmeier’s full accounts please visit

An Introduction to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Education

‘Background to Education in Europe in Pestalozzi’s Time’ provides a brief overview of the different major influences on education in Europe from the 14th century until Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This overview includes: The Renaissance, The Reformation, The New Scientific Spirit, The Enlightenment, Pietism, the philosophy and writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, De la Chalatois’ Essay on National Education, Philanthropy, the French Revolution and finally a growing interest in education as a social issue.

‘Pestalozzi and Education’  begins with the context in which Pestalozzi began his educational reform, exploring the poor condition of schools and education in Switzerland, and the poverty prevalent in the country at that time.  It explores Pestalozzi’s concern for, understanding of, work for and empowerment of the poor before looking into his ideas on morality and how it can best be developed in children.  It then describes Pestalozzi’s ground-breaking conceptualisations of a child-centred education and the role of the teacher, before giving examples of Pestalozzi’s method in specific subject areas.  It ends with an overview of Pestalozzi’s expansion of the school curriculum.

Glimpses of Pestalozzi

Here is an example of a description of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.  Further intriguing and entertaining descriptions of him are available by clicking the links provided below.

Descriptions by Vulliemin, former pupil of Yverdon and later a famous historian

‘Pestalozzi had a stocky, medium-sized body, more skinny than strong.  At first glance he had an extremely ugly face… full of small-pox scars and full of wrinkles…  As soon as he started to talk, his whole face was full of life and expression, and the grey ugly eyes were full of spirit, love, and gentleness.  His hair was very bristly and unruly, his clothes were neglected.  He never wore a scarf or a bow, which was fashionable at that time, except if a high visitor was expected, then he would throw it away as soon as he [the visitor] turned his back.  A large brown coat without shape or pockets protected him against the weather.  His stockings were usually hanging over his shoes and a heavy cap covered his head.’ (From Downs)

Downs, R.B. (1975) Heinrich Pestalozzi, Father of Modern Pedagogy Boston: Twayne Publishers

Further Descriptions of Pestalozzi: