Sunday, December 29, 2013


Forms of beauty made with Froebel blocks
This morning on the radio, I listened to a report on the problems having to do with language and the poor. The well documented "word gap." There is a tendency among the poor to fail to engage their children in meaningful dialog, which then leads to poor preparedness for school. TV is no substitute. Children of the poor start school at a measurable disadvantage. Children need to be engaged in a give and take exchange of words to develop the skills of language upon which their school success will depend. University of Kansas child psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley published their groundbreaking study in 1995 that:
"...found a significant disparity when comparing the vocabulary exposure of six families on welfare to 13 “professional class” families: children in the former group heard 616 words per hour, while children in the latter heard 2,153 words per hour. Extrapolating those results to 14-hour days, they estimated that underprivileged children were hearing about 30 million fewer words through the age of 3 than their upper-income counterparts."
All the fancy new computers and tablets can't give the child what he truly needs for his growth. Researchers and some educators are involved in getting parents to read more to their kids and to purposefully engage in give and take dialog with their children. And of course dialog is not one sided talking to your child, but involves listening to your child and developing the equal exchange upon which educational success will be built. Learning is not just about what's put in the mind, but is also about what comes from it. Between sensing and expressing cognitive processing takes place. In the photo above, you can imagine the child in the Froebel Museum having just asked, "Was ist das Papa?" And Papa replies, "Das ist Schönheit, mein Sohn."

Children must be given an opportunity to find their own place within a perceived unity of all things. James Laughlin Hughes wrote of this in Froebel's Educational Laws for All Teachers, 1887:
He understood the fundamental law of mind development by apperception as thoroughly as Herbart, and made his whole system contribute to the awakening of the inner power and experience of the child which is most directly related to the new experience or to the fresh presentation of knowledge. He saw the unity between knowing, feeling, and willing, between analysis and synthesis, between thought and life. He saw the unity or inner connection of all created things so clearly that he made the reconciliation of opposites an important element of his system. He believed this law of unity, inner connection, or vital interrelationship to be universal, and made it the fundamental law and the ultimate aim of all true educational effort.

Self-Activity. — As unity is Froebel's fundamental law, so self-activity is his essential educational process. His recognition and wonderful application of self-activity is the most comprehensive and the most distinctive element in his educational system. It is the most productive educational principle that has yet been discovered. It involves the doctrines of interest and apperception not merely as educational theories, but as applied educational principles called into play naturally and forcefully as essential steps in guiding and determining the activities of the child. It makes the child the center upon which all true correlation is focused. It is the only process by which the co-ordination of the child's brain can be made complete. It makes the child an executive as well as a receptive and reflective being, and thereby overcomes the most universal human weakness of failing to live and act up to the limit of individual knowing and thinking. It revealed the child to its teacher and to itself by making the inner become the outer life. It defines the feeling and thought of the child and makes it original and progressive. It is the truest basis of self-faith and independence of character, without which the strongest and most cultured intellect is not adequately efficient as a productive or an uplifting force. It makes the child not only responsively, but also suggestively co-operative with its teachers and parents, so that it becomes a co-worker, not a follower, and a creative instead of an imitative agent.
Perhaps Froebel was too mystical for the present age of skepticism and conformity. It is unlikely that administrators in public education can understand such things. They are far too busy with standardized testing and the core curriculum and turning teachers into check-out clerks for the dispensation and distribution of knowledge. On the other hand, Froebel  had seen mothers as the first stars of learning. When renewal comes in American education, it will be from the bottom up, not the top down. Mothers and dads (and grandparents) will lead the way by making, fixing, and creating with their kids and talking with them about it. Talking about real things is better than made up stuff, and kids do know the difference.

Making a gerbil house
We must not overlook the value of creative engagement and expression in the education of our children. At the Clear Spring School woodshop, the children love most those days in which they are allowed to explore their own creativity. I call it creative day. They call it free-day. Froebel would have called it self-activity. On free day, I am the dispenser of tools and materials, and the children must explain their needs to gain my co-operation. Making is not an escape from language but a reason for language, an un-contrived expansion of vocabulary, and develops clarity in word as well as in deed.

Make, fix and create...


  1. One of the advantages of reading a story for your children compared top watching something on the TV, is that you can take a pause and discuss questions along the way.

    In a TV show there are maybe some things you would like to explain a little bit better, or the child would like to give its opinion on, but due to the momentum of the media, this is not easy.

    If you read a book and there is an interesting picture or drawing etc. it is a different story.
    You just stop and talk about it for as long as you like, and the child won't feel any pressure because the story does not progress in the background like on the TV.

    Another thing that can aid a dialogue is to ask "open questions" e.g. how was your day?
    This I find makes for a better conversation compared to "did you have a good day at school?"
    The last question can easily be answered by a yes or a no. The first one requires a little more.

    Happy New year

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  3. It must mean a lot to your kids when you are home and they have your undivided attention.

    One of the roles of woodworking in connection to language is that we need to give the children something to talk about. The parents of my students have told me that when they get home and are asked "what did you do today?" They always have important things to tell about what they did in wood shop.

    I remember being on a ferry from Turku, Finland to Mariehamn and then Stockholm and listening to conversations I could not understand in Swedish and Finn. We human beings are quite capable of listening to people talk without ever fully understanding what's said... I'm convinced not fully understanding is more the norm than the exception, and I think that happens when children watch television or overhear adult conversations. Children really need the back and forth of direct conversation to confirm to them that it's important and that it matters. That is why lecture (and television) tends to be less than sufficient as a teaching tool, whereas, personalized instruction works far more effectively. And conversations between children and adults can carry great meaning, particularly when each is taking time to listen to the other.

  4. It does mean a lot to my children when I am at home (and it also means a lot to me.)

    The boys and I were busy in the workshop in December, but since it was Christmas gifts, I wasn't allowed to blog about any of their projects.
    We had a lot of back and forth conversations and discussions about how things could be made.
    One of the really great things was when Asger (7) explained to me that he would like some stumps of wood that were sawed of diagonally at the top. I was pretty amazed at how accurately he was able to describe what he wanted me to help with. (It ended up being Santas helpers).