- Lead your child by the hand to the great scenes of nature; teach him on the mountain and in the valley. There he will listen better to your teaching; the liberty will give him greater force to surmount difficulties. But in these hours of liberty it should be nature that teaches rather than you. Do not allow yourself to prevail for the pleasure of success in your teaching; or to desire in the least to proceed when nature diverts him; do not take away in the least the pleasure which she offers him. Let him completely realise that it is nature that teaches, and that you, with your art, do nothing more than walk quietly at her side. When he hears a bird warble or an insect hum on a leaf, then cease your talk; the bird and the insect are teaching; your business is then to be silent.
- Diary entry (1774-02-15)
- The circle of knowledge commences close round a man and thence stretches out concentrically.
- Evening Hour of a Hermit (1780)
- I would take school instruction out of the hands of the old order of decrepit, stammering, journeymen-teachers as well as from the new weak ones, who are generally no better for popular instruction, and entrust it to the undivided powers of Nature herself, to the light that God kindles and ever keeps alive in the hearts of fathers and mothers, to the interest of parents who desire that their children should grow up in favour with God and man.
- How Gertrude Teaches Her Children (1801), ed. Ebenezer Cooke, trans. Lucy E. Holland and Frances C. Turner (Syracuse, NY, 1894), letter VII, p. 97 
- The ultimate end of education is not a perfection in the accomplishments of the school, but fitness for life; not the acquirement of habits of blind obedience, and of prescribed diligence, but a preparation for independent action. We must bear in mind that whatever class of society a pupil may belong to, whatever calling he may be intended for, there are certain faculties in human nature common to all, which constitute the stock of the fundamental energies of man. We have no right to withhold from any one the opportunities for developing all their faculties. It may be judicious to treat some of them with marked attention, and to give up the idea of bringing others to high perfection. The diversity of talent and inclination, of plans and pursuits, is a sufficient proof of the necessity for such a distinction. But I repeat that we have no right to shut out the child from the development of those faculties also, which we may not for the present conceive to be very essential for his future calling or station in life.
- Letters on Infants' Education (1819)
- Each of our moral, mental, and bodily powers must have its development based upon its own nature, and not based upon artificial and outside influences.
Faith must be developed by exercises in believing and cannot be developed from the knowledge and understanding, only, of what is to be believed; thought must grow from thinking, for it cannot come simply from the knowledge and understanding of what is to be thought, or the laws of thought; love must be developed by loving, for it does not arise merely from a knowledge and understanding of what love is and of what ought to be loved; art, also, can only be cultivated through doing artistic work and acquiring skill, for unending discussion of art and skill will not develop them. Such a return to the true method of Nature in the method of the development of our powers necessitates the subordination of education to the knowledge of the various laws which govern those powers.
- Address to his household, Yverdon, Switzerland, on his seventy-second birthday (1818-01-12)
- Das Leben bildet.
- It is life itself that educates.
- Schwanengesang [Swan Song] (1826)