Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Stand for Kindle Fire HD
 I know many of us have nighttime reading materials at bedside. The table at the side of my bed is stacked with books. One is Robert Keable Row's 1909 book, the Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, and another is Milton Bradley's Quarter Century Edition of the Paradise of Childhood. I also have a travel guide to Finland deeper in the stack and language guides and dictionaries for speaking Swedish.

Last night I was reading through a small portion of the Paradise of Childhood that described the use of Froebel's 3rd gift, which consisted of a small cube box, with sliding top and was filled with 8 smaller cubes, which together stacked to form a perfect cube. The description and editor's notes on how the gift would be used in the classroom show a remarkable depth of analysis and illustrate the even more remarkable genius of Friedrich Froebel. It was a thing he acquired by watching the development of children... not by statistical analysis, which seems to be the only tool used by educational experts today.

Simple to make with wood and dowels.
Each of Froebel's gifts were used in the classroom to explore what were called "occupations", meaning that each gift could only come to life in the mind of the child through the exploration by that child through his or her hands. The occupations were in three categories representing life, knowledge and beauty. The first was that the objects themselves could be reconfigured by stacking into a variety of forms that were representative and symbolic of objects from real life. This occupation would be very familiar to any child who played with blocks, and yet the small number of blocks in the first set led to the making of simple things that one might find in the home and that would express relationship with others. One example shown in Paradise of Childhood was a chair, that when divided became two chairs, one for Grandmother and one for Grandfather. In this manner, play with blocks became representational of community and family life.

The second set of occupations with Gift 3 was to use the blocks to further the exploration of form and mathematics begun in the earlier gifts. Dividing and rearranging the smaller cubes from the larger gave the child an understanding of fractions, counting, and early math. These days, kids are given larger and larger sets of blocks and of Legos, without ever taking advantage of the potential they offer for the early exploration of math. The description in Paradise of Childhood of how the blocks were used to develop an understanding of fractions is fascinating.

The third occupation involved the arrangement and placement of the smaller cubes on a grid laid out as a permanent part of the Kindergarten table. By arranging the cubes, graphic forms offering a sense of beauty and symmetry were laid out. These shapes actually formed the child's introduction to drawing, and imparted a sense of order and control to the child's mind.

These three basic occupations could be applied to any of the gifts, as they imparted a sense of relationship to life, the development of intelligence in geometry and math, and the child's sense of beauty and form.

When the lessons involving the gifts were done for the day, each fit neatly into its special box, teaching the child responsibility in the use of his or her tools of learning.

Can you see the depth of learning involved? Can you see that we've come a long way since the first Kindergarten, and that very little of our progress was in the right direction? We did the same stupid thing to manual arts in schools. We made wood shops the place of choice to dump kids who weren't thought to be going anywhere, forgetting that the making of real things of useful beauty, was essential to the development of character and intellect for all kids.

Today we are hoping for cold. If the temperature on Thursday in Arkansas is very cold, we'll get snow rather than ice when the confluence of bitter cold and Gulf moisture hits the area on Thursday. My students in wood shop made toy cars and helped me to design and make a stand for a Kindle Fire that will be given away in a school raffle.

Make, fix and create...

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