3.15 – Froebel Gifts

I’m going to start today with a slight worry; I’ve realised how much reading I’ve given myself.

In the last fifteen days I have added (to a fulsom list of things I’ve lined up to read anyway) a whole new pile of books and URLs, which as we speak are gathering dust in my nagging conscious. I’m just going to face up to the fact that it’ll be tough to get through them all by the end of the project on 31st August, and that I’ll just have to try some speed reading to get to something that makes me go ‘ahh, that’s a useful thing…’

Read a bit, grab something, think about how it fits in the context of other bits, and move on. Anything I really want to finish, I’ll go back to in September.

To that end…

I’ve been reading just enough of the excellent biography of the father of American Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright, written by Robert McCarter and as recommended by Tom.

There are many, many interesting things I’m learning about Wright, who I admittedly knew little about beyond the obvious (Fallingwater… and something Chicago-ish). His upbringing, multi-talented parents, learning his trade not by education but thropugh apprenticeship (“A good pencil in the master’s hand” as he called it), making a studio on the side of his house (with a corridor connecting the two that still had a live tree growing through it), it’s really fascinating stuff. I’ve read about a quarter, and would say without hesitation that it’s well worth a read.

The most useful thing that I’ve pulled from it for application here though is not yet anything about Space and Structures, but actually about education.

Wright was, from the age of nine or so, given Froebel Gifts, a sequential series of toys that were given to children to explore and learn about the world in ways that they could build upon later in life. They were designed by Friedrich Fröbel (or Froebel, apparently either spelling is fine??) for his first kindergarten in 1837.

From Wikipedia:

“Each gift was designed to be given to a child to provide material for the child’s self-directed activity. These Gifts are a series of activity-based playthings ranging from simple sphere-shaped objects, through to geometric wooden blocks and more advanced Gifts pertaining to sewing, cutting, weaving and the modelling of objects in clay”

15 - froebel gifts


Wright not only went through this ‘training’ as a child, but returned to it as a parent, reading aloud from the instruction manual in the playroom in his house as his children set about exploring the task themselves. It seems to have had a profound affect on the way that Wright approached the world; not just to picture, convey or represent it, but to actively design it.

It’s made me wonder if, in setting up The Relativity Matrix for productive use, there could be a simple, sequential series of exercises that starts people thinking with increasing sophistication about how their actions in one part of the business can affect all of the others.

The interconnectedness of actions is something key to the Froebel idea. I found this video explaining the history of Froebel’s gifts. The voiceover is a little reminscent of “fitter, happier, more productive…” but don’t let that freak you out:

Towards the end of the video, they’re talking about how Froebel fell out of favour; bad, by-rote application of the methods by people who thought that the things were the important thing.  Yet there’s nothing mystical or quasi-religious about the gifts as inherent objects, they are simply a demonstration of the principles Froebel is building on. A quote from the video tells us about the thinking at heart of Froebel’s idea:

“This is Froebel’s goal – the understanding by the child of the logic and interconnectedness of the universe. All future information can be put into the right context or framework. His method allows children to form the outline of future knowledge, before they are asked to fill it with otherwise meaningless facts. Children are not empty containers waiting for information to be poured in. It is more important in this age of the internet to know how information fits together than to memorise the facts themselves.”

This chimes with a lot of the stuff in Rupert Wegerif’s ‘Dialogic: Education for The Internet Age‘ which I first picked up when researching the Fracking the Social Web talk. I always come back to a section from the opening of that book, about how we need to change the way we all learn, not just those in formal education:

“We must learn, think and thrive in the context of working with multiple perspectives and ultimate uncertainty”.

All this, I think, provides many good steers for building out the workings of The Relativity Matrix, or indeed any structural system of education. Much like the way I’m going through the books perhaps, it’s about finding the context of the new piece of information, and working out where it might fit into the existing framework.





3 responses to “3.15 – Froebel Gifts”

  1. Hi John

    I love the way he development of this framework meanders yet remains connected and has some coherent themes.

    Picking up on the last 2 posts and the theme of games, the idea of the the matrix being 3 dimensional – rubies cube like popped into my mind as a way of exploring connections and implications. There would not be 1 ‘solution’ but rather more of a discovery process that helps consider connections between dimensions not adjacent on the matrix. This could be achieved by artefact cards, but I wonder if a.cube encourages spontaneous ‘multiple perspectives’


  2. […] for Kids arrived yesterday, after I’d bought it to get some more ideas about the  whole Froebel Gifts thing for doing stuff with our kids (there are twenty-one different activities in there, it’s […]

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