Last week we studied the work of German educator Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), who invented kindergarten in the 1830s.
I do remember kindergarten being a fun place, and last week, we brought some of that fun into class when learning and playing with ten of the twenty ‘Froebel’s gifts’ (see pictures below). These gifts are open-ended toys made with different materials like wood, fabric, or clay to complement the different activities in kindergarten. Children play with these toys and create figures or forms in the context of the abstract concepts of life (nature), knowledge (science), and beauty (art). That is, children make figures that represent something they see in nature like a tree, or the plus sign when learning addition, or beautiful geometrical patterns, all projects using solid, lines, or points. But all these fun toys support the philosophy of Froebel's kindergarten, which I loved learning more about it.
Bosterman’s book (1997) Inventing Kindergarten*, explains the philosophy behind this educational program putting the 'gifts' into context. I especially enjoyed reading the statement called “natural needs of earliest childhood” written in 1859 by Froebel and his protégé Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow. I summarized that statement in the table below to easily see how the kindergarten method satisfies each of the children needs (Bosterman, 1997, 30, 32). Using the table below, fill in the blanks of this statement
Kindergarten satisfies the need __________ to develop _______
Kindergarten satisfies the need for physical movement to develop limbs
When we played with the toys in class, I could see how children could easily create something in short sessions of directed play to satisfy their needs like curiosity and even work with other kids as a member of the community.
Now talking specifically about the attributes of the toys, I especially like their openness or extent of possibilities, that is, any person can represent animals, people, patterns, or whatever comes to mind. The gifts really afford exploration and playfulness without the limitation of a prescribed activity or project. For instance, gift number two has a wooden sphere, a cylinder and a cube. Though the implicit purpose of this gift is to show opposite forms, the cube versus the sphere, one representing motion and the other rest (the cylinder combining the sphere and the cube), the toy affords exploration and playfulness. One can create different figures by stacking each piece over another one or use the long thin dowels and insert them in each piece to rotate them and see other geometrical figures appear. When I played with gift eight, I was excited of seeing all the sticks from one to five-inch increments and I was able to create a 2D house, a square, a rectangle, and combining all of the different shapes. The gift afford the freedom to create anything in the two dimensional plane.
Finally, all this talk about kindergarten reminded me on my own experience in it in the early 1980s in Mexico City. Kindergarten was indeed a fun place to make stuff and play. Every morning we rode a little train that took us to our classrooms and also loved going outside to the playground to slide down the long-neck dinosaur slide (i.e. Brachiosaurus). Kindergarten was the space where I started to use watercolor paint (see one of my creations to the right). I also started to grow beans and my love and fascination of plants was born there. I just remember being very young enjoying taking care of my plant, creating colorful drawings, and running outside with all of my friends.
*Brosterman, N. (1997). Inventing kindergarten. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers