Saturday, November 09, 2013


The images at left and below are of Froebel's 5th gift, as interpreted by an architecture grad student at the University of Miami, Ohio. The teacher, John Reynold's is an enthusiast for Froebel's work and his influence on architecture as manifest through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Froebel's 6th gift, and the one most influential in Wright's career as an architect, consisted of small blocks that when assembled and put away in its wooden box formed a wooden cube. In play, it could be used to create an infinite number of architectural forms.

At one time in American education, kindergarten meant play, and was not used exclusively to guide children onto a track toward standardized testing as it is today. What passes for Kindergarten these days would not be recognizable to Froebel. The following is from the close of Paradise of Childhood describing the importance of play and of games...
In the whole world of nature nothing develops without activity, consequently play or the exercising of the child's activity is the first means of development in the human mind, the means by which the child is to become acquainted with the outer world and his own powers of body and mind. Watching the play of children Froebel found it was a spontaneous God-given activity, by which they were surely but consciously educating themselves, getting their first knowledge of duty and the truths of life through play.
And so Froebel devised a series of directed games, gifts and occupations to help guide children's most natural development of intellect (a no-brainer) and social responsibility...
The community spirit is fostered as the child finds he is only one of many, and that each one has his part to do to make the many happy and useful. It is also an aid to self-government, for through play he learns that certain effects follow certain causes, and in all that he does the child feels constant freedom under law and soon finds the closer he follows the law the more freedom he has. Thus the will of the child is guided and strengthened, and the principles of justice, honesty and kindness are inculcated.
We have become so strongly focused on standardized testing and so adverse to recognizing schools as places in which moral development takes place that we seem to have forgotten this important role of schooling. I have written before about the moral implications of craftsmanship and shared with my readers that woodworking was understood by early manual arts educators as being a way to extend Froebel's kindergarten method into the upper grades.

Moral behavior has its roots in empathy derived from seeing how closely interconnected we are with each other, and understanding that what we do has real effect either to hurt or to harm each other. There is no better arena for this than a wood shop in which children or adults are brought together with the shared goal of creating useful beauty. And yet, most educators, after they'd removed most manual arts from schools, would be reluctant to admit that we might ever have actually learned anything from them.

As stupid as this may seem, Toys-R-Us has a new television ad mocking outdoor education and telling kids that it is more fun to play with plastic toys than to spend time outdoors. If corporations could be embarrassed by their own stupidity, this would be one of those times. The ad presents one more good reason to limit children's exposure to TV. Help them to be makers instead of consumers of imported plastic junk. Help them to be actively engaged rather than passively entertained. Help them to find toys that lead to greater learning without disparaging the natural world that Froebel hoped to engage them in.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

  1. Doug,

    That toy ad reflects greed more than stupidity, in my opinion. They know just how powerful their commercials are, and they target the most susceptible, who will then whine to their parents that they "need" whatever toy is the current fad.