Thursday, December 05, 2013

blocks and math... not just for play.

The following is from the Quarter Century Edition of the Paradise of Childhood and concerns Froebel's Fifth Gift.
"The representation of the forms of knowledge, to which the Fifth gift offers opportunity, is of great advantage for the development of the child. To superficial observers, it is true, it may appear as if Froebel not only ascribed too much importance to the mathematical element to the disadvantage of others, but that mathematics necessarily require a greater maturity of understanding than could be found with children of the Kindergarten age. But who thinks of introducing mathematics as a science? Many a child, five or six years of age, has heard that the moon revolves around the earth, that a locomotive is propelled by steam, and that lightning is the effect of electricity. These astronomical, dynamic, and physical facts have been presented to him as mathematical facts are presented to his observation in Froebel's gifts. Most assuredly it would be folly, if one would introduce in the Kindergarten, mathematical problems in the usual abstract manner. In the Kindergarten, the child beholds the bodily representation of an expressed truth, recognizes the same, receives it without difficulty, without overtaxing its developing mind in any manner whatsoever. Whatever would be difficult for the child to derive from the mere word, nay, which might under certain circumstances be hurtful to the young mind, is taught naturally and in an easy manner by the forms of knowledge, which thus become the best means of exercising the child''s power of observation, reasoning and judging. Beware of all problems and abstractions The child builds, forms, sees, observes, compares and then expresses the truth it has ascertained. By repetition, these truths, acquired by the observation of facts, become the child's mental property, and this is not to be done hurriedly, but during the last two years in the Kindergarten and afterwards in the Primary Department."
I know this is a long thing to read without illustration, so I scanned the arrangement of blocks above from Paradise of Childhood. The complexity of the arrangement of blocks from the Fifth Gift is certainly beyond the way mathematics is usually presented, and at 5 and 6 years of age, far earlier than any complex math is now presented to kids.

These days, Froebel's Kindergarten, just like Educational Sloyd, has nearly completely disappeared from the educational landscape. Now we have Kindergarten in name only, and remote statistical examination of mathematical groupings of kids has superseded actual observation and direct understanding of the individual child. Kindergarten has become the place where reading and readiness to read have become the whole enchilada, leaving the child and our future two tacos short. Play with blocks in a Froebel Kindergarten was not just play. It was a way of developing the whole child and laying the clear path to his or her success in math and in life.

By the time my mother had become educated as a Kindergarten teacher,  the breadth and scope of Kindergarten had been shrunk to a single year, and the tools of Froebel's Kindergarten had been forgotten.  In the meantime, PISA results released just released show American students holding steady in the middle of the pack. All the attention that has been given to American education of late through standardized testing has done nothing to help us move forward. As reported by Claudio Sanchez on NPR, the results of this year's PISA study are "sobering" and like living Groundhog day over and over again. They show no improvement since 2003. I can safely warn that we won't get things right until we arrive hands first.

It is time for a true renewal of Kindergarten and a restoration of school wood shops.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Interesting posts regarding use of these blocks to learn math. A couple of my children have some challenges with fractions in school. I am contemplating putting something together like what is described to see if it might help them. Of course we are scrambling to get the last of our wooden toy orders filled before Christmas, but should definitely have a bit of time in a few weeks.

    I have ordered a couple of the books that you recently mentioned in your blog regarding Kindergarten classroom instruction. I know electronic versions are available, but I like a book in my hands if possible. I can't wait for them to show up. In the meantime I enjoy reading aspects that you highlight on your blog.

    Interesting enough...something that just dawned on me..

    The other night I was assisting them with the concept of rounding.
    I was trying to explain how to round at a specific level (whole number, thousands, etc.) one needs to look at the very next level down to see if there at least half (.5) of whatever it is, present or not, and that would decide whether to go up or down. Anyway, I think physical blocks could help with this too. I suspect they would help with most all math type problems.

    Thanks for all your posts and insights that you share.