Thursday, December 12, 2013

blocks are the best toys ever...

An article on NPR claims that blocks are the best toys ever.That's the truth, but how are they to be used? In the US, blocks are given to kids so that they can quietly amuse themselves without being a nuisance while Mom and Dad do stuff. But Froebel had much deeper learning in mind. He had begun making blocks for student use as early as 1817 when he and associates founded a school at Keilhau. According to the Paradise of Childhood,
"The beginnings of the school at Keilhau were very humble. The teachers, Froebel and Middendorf, during the summer of 1817, lived in a wretched little hut with neither door, flooring or stove, while Froebel was building a schoolhouse. The quarters assigned him had formerly served as a place for keeping hens. In July (Heinrich)Langethal graduated from the University at Berlin with the highest honors and in September he visited Keilhau to see his old comrades and take his brother to Silesia, where he had an engagement as tutor to the young nobility. Freobel received him with the utmost cordiality and the sight of the robust, merry boys who were lying on the floor that evening building forts and castles with the wooden blocks which Froebel had made for them, according to his own plan, excited the keenest interest. He had come to take his brother away; but when he saw him among other happy companions of his own age complete the finest structure of all, a Gothic Cathedral, it seemed almost wrong to tear the child from this circle. The result of this visit was that Langethal decided to stay at Keilhau with his brother, so that there might be a trio of teachers, and a great gain he was to the institution where his life work was done."
There was a long developmental process between 1817, when Froeblel's blocks were discovered in use to such effect at Keihau, and Kindergarten was introduced to the world. But any parent who has given enough blocks or legos to his or her child to allow for creative expression will know that they can have profound effect.

We have only a few making days until Christmas, and I'll agree that blocks are the best toys ever. But, unless you are buying for babies, avoid those that are cubes and have letters. Blocks are not for spelling. The best ones leave a bit more to the imagination. Today I have meetings, am attending to edits and photographs for the book, and will spend some time in the wood shop making a large cherry box.

Make, fix, and create...


  1. Blocks. Best Toy Ever. Interesting.

    I know as a child, I absolutely loved to play with blocks.

    Funny thing is (as you know..) we run a part-time family owned/operated wooden toy business. Would you know we do not currently offer any blocks.

    For the first year, we decided to just offer the very same toys (about 3 dozen different ones) that the previous owner had offered. We felt there was enough new things to learn with just starting a business, let alone adding in new toys. Anyway, for this upcoming year we intend to add some additional new toys. Over the past year, we have generated/accumulated many ideas of possible new items, many of which our children have thought of. Anyway, one of the ones we were definitely planning to include was some kind of blocks. We were just thinking about making some kind of pull toy that serves as a container for blocks.

    Anyway, your blog and the various references you have provided definitely provide some food for thought regarding blocks. Which brings me to another item that I would like to get your advice on…

    What general rules do you follow as it relates to originality/copyrighting. This is one I struggle with. Do you ever?

    I know we want to come up with new toys. We have many ideas from books, articles, physical toys of the past. But still I want to make sure that I am not infringing on anyone. Even beyond the copyright laws, it just doesn’t seem right to me morally.

    I recall a project we did back in fifth grade where our teacher asked us to make a totem pole out of brown bags that we then hung around the class room. Anyway, I recall her telling us that we cannot copy something exactly – that we had to change at least one thing. Anyway this was probably the first I learned about something as it relates to copying other work/ideas. At the time I didn’t realize really why she was saying this, but do today. Anyway, I still struggle with this. Even the rule the teacher gave us ‘change one thing’ doesn’t seems comprehensive enough in my view point.

    It would be great to have some common sense rules to follow to not only steer one clear from copyright laws but also keep a clear conscience. Do you have something like this to offer?

  2. Joe,
    I think the difference you're looking for is between copying and interpreting for your own use. I know that there have been many things that have inspired my box making, and I've drawn inspiration from a number of artists (box making and otherwise).

    It comes down to what your intent is. Copying up to a point and then making one small change is copying, still. But letting oneself feel inspired by something and then just making in emulation, and without slavishly duplicating, but interjecting one's own ideas, choices and feelings is part of a dialog with the original artist that furthers the craft. So, if there is a commonsense rule, it might be to check your intent.

    Hope this helps.


  3. Makes sense. Sometimes what should be obvious escapes me. Thanks for being so generous.