Monday, November 25, 2013

not your typical play with blocks...

Play with blocks, (before the computer age in which toddlers and young children play with iPhones instead) became a thing familiar in the lives of many children as a result of the tools used to stimulate learning in Kindergarten. Froebel's 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th gifts were sets of blocks that came in small cubic boxes with sliding tops, that allowed them to be strategically and systematically introduced (and subsequently be put safely away) and thus control the child's initial engagement and consequent "self-activity" in their use.

Remember that Educational Sloyd was first introduced to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper grades and assure the child's actual interest in learning, and the sad thing is that many early advocates of manual arts training never realized that important connection. Manual arts training became a system for preparing kids for employment when it was indeed a means through which children could be prepared for life… even for those children who would be going on to higher education. The thread of purposeful play that runs through effective learning should never be ignored. The following is from Grace Fulmer's book, "The Use of the Kindergarten Gifts:"
The third gift is a wooden cube divided into eight equal cubes.

Every young child instinctively puts things together and takes them apart, not for the sake of accomplishing any definite thing, not at first because he wants to see what he can do with them, but just because he has a certain instinctive curiosity which impels him to handle every thing that comes within his reach.

It is at this stage of his development that we see him on the nursery floor, opening and shutting a box over and over again, taking a cork out of a bottle and putting it back or attempting to do so numberless times, taking from tables and shelves every available piece of bric-a-brac, pulling things out of drawers and stuffing them back or leaving them on the floor and numerous other acts of the same kind.

Froebel would lead the child from mere handling--the simple activity of taking apart and putting together--to productive or creative self-activity. In other words he proposed to take account of the development from mere instinctive curiosity to genuine intellectual interest, and his kindergarten materials were designed with this purpose in view.
What was proposed by Froebel was not your ordinary play with blocks, and all teachers should become aware of what was done with those blocks. Froebel was a genius and from the gradual introduction of blocks in sets of growing complexity, lessons were offered that connected the child with community life, with knowledge and mathematics, and with the ability to discover beauty. These exercises were called "forms of life, forms of knowledge and forms of beauty.

You can learn about Froebel's use of these blocks in the Milton Bradley publication, "The Paradise of Childhood, Quarter Century Edition," free from Google Books. The gridded surface shown in the image above was one of the features of early Kindergartens. Work tables had grid patterns laid out on the surface for blocks to be arranged in symmetrical patterns expressing beauty and natural order. The additional sets of blocks, 4, 5, and 6 each added to the complexity and potentiality for expressing form, knowledge and beauty. Through preparation in Kindergarten, when kids finally reached woodworking age, they were prepared to do amazing things. And would do amazing things in life.

These days, kindergartens are nearly all directed toward reading and verbal skills for which the children see no use. And these days, few schools have woodworking activities to engage the creative imaginations of kids.

Today I am in Madison, Wisconsin for my daughter's "defense of thesis" on depletion of groundwater related to high volume wells used for irrigation. Trout streams and lakes are currently threatened by groundwater depletion.

Make, fix and create...

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