Friday, January 24, 2014

Making Froebel's gifts...

A new history of Sloyd has been published by David J. Whitaker. The International Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd: Head and Hands in Harness.
I've read snippets of it as a eBook and it appears well researched and well written. I hope it serves to awaken some to the rich history of progressive education.

I have continued my own small research into the interconnection between Froebel's Kindergarten and the development of Manual and Industrial Arts training in the US. And part of my research is to explore means through which we can renew a revolution in educational methods that was abandoned as we became so enamored with statistical methods and forgot to consider the needs of the whole child. There is a difference between measuring children and observing them,  or learning from them and Kindergarten methods and manual arts training were based on observations of how children actually grow and learn.

Certainly, in the very early days as Froebel explored his educational gifts, there were no commercially made block sets available so he or his associates did exactly what I'm doing... making sets on their own. In the midst of the 19th century, woodworking skills would be commonplace and widely enjoyed... a situation quite unlike today.

In the interest of my own exploration, I've made Froebel's gift number 3 in two sizes. One size consists of blocks 1 1/2 in. in each dimension, designed for those parents with children under the age of 3 whose children might be left in unobserved play. The smaller 1 in. blocks associated with the original Froebel Kindergartens are slightly larger than what the Consumer Products Safety Administration would consider a choking hazzard, so both sizes should be safe in any case.  None of the blocks were not intended to be more junk dumped into a toy chest as would be the case today, but instead be used in interactive play between the child and the adult kindergartner.

Not knowing about Kindergarten methods, but having grown up as the son of a Kindergarten teacher, my wife and I made my daughter Lucy a play table where we would work together with modeling clay, finger paints, scissors, paper and string. My wife and I had great fun making the table and matching chairs that are now in the attic waiting for a next generation. We have wonderful memories of being fully present and attentive as our daughter engaged in her own creative explorations.

The idea of these gifts is not that they serve as idle amusements to occupy the child and allow the parent or teacher to be distracted from their duty, but rather to engage both parent and child. These are simple gifts that you can make yourself... and by doing so, you have given a gift to yourself, too, in that you will have awakened to the pleasure of your own craftsmanship.

The idea of "progressive education" is one that is often misunderstood. What does progressive mean? Some have had the idea that it means something new, and represents progress, but instead, the idea means that the child is led through a natural process of development, based on observation of how children actually learn and grow. Educational Sloyd described this process as: Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. The job of the teacher was not only to administer lessons, but to carefully observe the child's growth, to assess the child's interests, and to make certain that the child's most natural inclinations to learn were continuously and progressively engaged. To go back to that would be real progress, and nothing new, given the rich history of progressive education.

Make, fix and create... set an example for others to follow.

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