Friedrich Froebel’s Gifts and Education through Play

Friedrich Froebel had beautiful ideas about early childhood development. In 1837 he opened the first kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg with the belief that young children would benefit from an education that incorporated self-expression, creativity, social activity, motor ability and work.

Froebel believed that education relates to all capabilities of each child: imaginative, creative, symbolic, linguistic, mathematical, musical, aesthetic, scientific, physical, social, moral, cultural and spiritual, and he created a series of toys to develop an understanding of these capabilities from birth.

These toys are called “gifts” and are given to children at various stages of their development. Each gift builds on the last and children are encouraged to make connections between them. Babies were presented with soft balls as their first gift. The second gift was a wooden ball, a cylinder and a cube that hung from strings on a small frame. The wooden ball replaces the soft ball and the cube presents a direct contrast to the sphere while the cylinder serves as a transition between the two.

Froebel's Gifts

The third and fourth gifts are cubes made up of smaller blocks. The third is made of cubes and the fourth is made of rectangles. These gifts relate to each other and to the cube from the second gift. The gifts go on from there. Froebel also created occupations, activities to go along with the gifts.

Froebel’s gifts and occupations were incorporated into his kindergarten education, which spread throughout Europe and America, influencing children who became prominent artists and thinkers, including Kandinsky, Frank Lloyd Wright, possibly Alfred Adler and others. Architectural thinking and education at the Bauhaus was influenced by Froebel’s methods. Students experienced materials and used them in new ways until use of the material became second nature.

Kids playing with Froebel blocks

In 1851 the education ministry of Prussia banned kindergartens, confusing Friedrich Froebel with his nephew Karl Froebel, whose book Female Colleges and Kindergartens met with disapproval? In The United States, Kindergarten became a transitional space to prepare non-English speaking children for school. Eventually Froebel’s gifts and occupations were phased out but private educators trained in Froebel’s methods still existed.

The core belief of Growing Tree Toys is that children do indeed learn through play and that nurturing playthings are a key to intellectual and physical growth. Although we don’t carry Froebel’s Gifts (which you can get over here), we do seek out open-ended and creative toys similar to Froebel’s. I put together a list of a few toys that I think Froebel would appreciate: Pattern Play Block Puzzle, Pattern Block Boards, Block Buddies, Fantasy Blocks, Trix Baby Toys, Skwinkle, Discovery Blocks Building Set and Oball.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim

This has been another Growing Tree Toys Amazing Toys Post. There is a lot more to learn about Friedrich Froebel and his philosophy. I found these sites to be very useful: Froebel Web, Associated Content and Mike’s Blog.

(On a final note, LEGO® makes some pretty good versions of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Falling Water.)

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