Friedrich Froebel

Friedrich Froebel unused article written for Grafik magazine.

In the 1830s German Cystallographer and Educator Friedrich Froebel created the Kindergarten,
a complete integrated education system for pre-school children, where children learnt from
objects and actions, rather than books.. As the Kindergarten from the german, meaning both
Children's Garden and Garden of Children) was popularised in Germany and in the later part
of the Nineteenth Century across Europe and the USA, it also became one of the very few
occupations open to young single women.

But it's for the toys Froebel designed that I've chosen him for this article, a set of
20 non-representational playthings, intended to harness kids innate curiosity through directed
play activities.which. These 'Gifts' were introduced to kindergarten children, as they sat at
tables ruled with a 1 inch grid, in a prescribed order each toy building, developing and adding
to the knowledge gained before.

The first Gift was a set of simple primary coloured woven woollen balls, with strings
attatched so they could be spun, rolled, pulled and thrown. Gift 2 is a wooden sphere, cylinder
and cube set, exactly the right size for a childs hand, which can be suspended, rotated and
joined together. Next up were 4 boxed sets of plain, unpainted wooden blocks, each divided
into slightly more complicated shapes, all of which had to be reassembled into a perfect cube
to fit back into the storage box. Moving from 3-D to 2-D, Gift 7 is 'Parquetry', sets of
Coloured Wood or Gummed Paper triangles and squares which could be joined together in a
multitude of geometric forms or used to make pictures. Gifts 8-18 were sewing and drawing
materials followed by an assortment of wooden rods, curved wire shapes and numerous paper
folding, cutting and weaving activities. Gift 19 is a construction kit using cocktail
sticks as struts and dried peas for joints, a Victorian cousin of 'Magnetix'. Modelling
clay, the final gift, sets kindergarten kids free to make anything they can see or imagine.
I'm inspired by the idealism and clarity of thought involved in creating these playthings,
and seem to have an innate attraction to the objects themselves.

Toy Manufacturers very quickly changed and adapted the orginal Kindergarten toys,
making them more commercial and less obviously 'educational', original Kindergarten Gifts
are now museum pieces, but some of the products on today's toy shop shelves are direct
descendents of Froebels Gifts.

A couple of years ago I bought a packet of Gummed Paper Shapes in a Dutch Toy Shop,
I was fascinated by the red diamonds, green circles and sky blue triangles which were
instantly recognisable from my (non-kindergarten) childhood. Following the Gummed Paper
trail backwards I eBayed a 50's boxed activity set containing gummed paper shapes,
sheets of coloured paper, stencils and scissors - combining at least 3 of Froebels
gifts, and eventually got hold of a copy of Norman Brosterman's excellent 'Inventing Kindergarten'
book which helped me to understood the origins and principles behind these toys

When I have children I'm sure that I'll try to introduce these toys to them, so if
you see me in a few years time with a neat 1 inch square bruise on my forehead - you'll
know that my kids have revolted and attacked me with building blocks and demanded proper, plastic,
battery operated, cartoon character toys.