Monday, October 20, 2014

Gift number 4

A gift number 4 beauty form
Froebel's gift number four consisted of a small sliding top box and 8 small tiles, each 1/2 in. x 1 in. x 2 in. The tiles were used to create "knowledge," a sense of relationship, and a sense of beauty.
  • Knowledge in this case had to do with number and form, how one shape could be used to build another geometric shape, in that the tiles could be used to construct the cube proportionate in shape to the box from which they came. 
  • The sense of relationship came from building the various forms that they child witnessed in his or her environment. 
  • Sense of beauty came from the arrangement of the tiles into patterns expressing harmony and symmetry. For example, one of hundreds of possible patterns of beauty is shown in the photo above.
The small wooden box was an essential component of gift number 4. As the gifts became more complex to meet the growing complexity of the child's inner landscape, a means of keeping order was necessary. But the box also played an important relationship to the whole. A cube, within a cube, but within that cube was infinite potentiality. The arrangement of the gifts and their delivery was based on the following precepts that will sound familiar to those readers who have taken an interest in educational sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. Within this simple prescription as outlined by Otto Salomon is the basis of "progressive" education.

This morning I received an email from an educational website proclaiming"every child reading." I proclaim an equivalent imperative, that every child make, and that we make that possible.

Make, fix and please join in the creation of the universe...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

the construction gifts...

Froebel began having his students play with blocks early in his teaching career, and his various sets of blocks, starting with gift number 3, left a lasting impression on generations. Unlike tinker toys and legos, the way blocks fit together requires paying particular attention to gravity. But as long as we serve as earthlings, we must find no particular error in that.

Yesterday, in addition to inlaying another 50 or so box lids, cleaning the shop enough so I could walk around without tripping, mowing the grass and being visited by a former student from Marc Adams  School, I made gifts number 3 and 4. I chose to do finger jointed corners, as these are the types of joints we associate with the finer remaining examples of the gifts as manufactured by Milton Bradley.

There are those in the world who have wood shops, and need to know what to do with them. There is no better excuse to cut wood and to put those wood shops to use, than to make one of these special sets of blocks for a child or grandchild. So, as I explained to my friend Rich yesterday, my objective in writing this new book, is to set parents and grandparents in motion, just as I might set a cylinder spinning on a string with a stick in gift number 2.

With gifts 3 and 4, I begin making what were referred to as Froebel's construction gifts.  Frank Lloyd Wright was one of those who attested to the value of Kindergarten and particularly to the play with Froebel's blocks. He said, referring to Milton Bradley Kindergarten Blocks his mother purchased for him in the 1876 Philadelphia Worlds Fair Kindergarten exhibit: "The maple-wood blocks...are in my fingers to this day,"

In the meantime, gift number two is fascinating. I believe both children and those responsible for their learning opportunities will enjoy playing with it and learning from it. It is of particular interest to play with it when you've made it with your own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

a marvel and a joy

Today I will be finishing inlaying lids for an order of boxes for corporate gifts. I can't tell where they are going, as they will be a surprise for the recipients. I got over 50 done yesterday, and will inlay an equal number today. After sanding, the lids will be ready for the laser engraver to put text on the underside so that it can be viewed when the box is open.

I am also proceeding to chapter 3 of my book on making Froebel's gifts. Edward Weibé wrote in his discussion of gift number 2:
"In using the same form to represent different things in a play, do not fear that there will be any incongruity, provided the suggestion comes from the children, and the objects symbolized are closely related in thought, for the child's imagination is so free that he can clothe and re-clothe the same form with new life. The sense impressions which come from tracing resemblances and differences, experimenting and handling, will give a familiarity with the forms and their relation to each other, which no abstract lesson on surfaces, edges and corners could afford."
A couple days ago, in "play" with gift number 2, I inadvertently stacked the parts in a manner I had not done before, and discovered hidden in it a shape one might take as symbolic of man. Perhaps the real magic of Froebel was that he chose not to make a parade of the obvious to his children, but chose instead to offer a realm in which discoveries were made by them. When I stacked these three simple blocks in their new form, out of the order in which they have become associated with Froebel, I felt a sense of discovery.... a moment of pleasing but visceral response. Eureka. Not enough to launch me running naked through the streets, but enough to feel as though I had discovered something important, and enough to help me to better understand the use of symbols and symbolism in Kindergarten.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gift 2, screen two.

Froebel's second gift, consists of a sphere, a cube and cylinder and a storage box/stand from which they are hung so that they can be spun. The cylinder, when hung at the center spins to produce a cylinder that appears solid within the blurred outer shape. Watch this in the short video shown above.

I can hardly imagine a group of 30 or more children in a kindergarten classroom, playing with this technique. But I can imagine parents and their children or teachers with a small group of kids exploring and observing the kinds of transformation that take place when objects of various shapes are set in motion through self-activity. Would you not do this as an experiment with your own children? Double click on the video to see it in full width. The drawing above is from Edward Weibé's book The Paradise of Childhood, showing the transformation of shapes from gift number 2.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

gifts, still and in motion...

Stacked in this order #2 presents a human form
A stand for Gift number 2 shown in the video below allows the three geometric solid shapes to rotate on a string and for kids to see that objects set in motion do not appear just as objects appear when still. In this case, the cube is spinning with the string attached to one corner. Naturally, the sphere, when spun appears unchanged. According to Wiebé's The Paradise of Childhood, describing Froebel's original kindergarten gifts:
"an interest in form, inspired in this way, may lead to later investigation into the mysteries of the sciences, results of which eternity alone can measure."
Modern schools seem to care little for eternity.

Make, fix and create...

how to make a kid

Popular Mechanics Magazine, in a special DIY issue, has an article called How to Make a Kid (Who Can Make a Boat). I figure the purpose of Popular Mechanics Magazine has always been to get people of all ages making things, but this issue seems to have stated the concern better than most and I thank Mario for forwarding it to me. A real kid is not made by sex alone. Human beings are made more complete when they are engaged in crafting their realities, hands-on.

Today the Clear Spring School kids and most of the staff are going on the fall camping trip. Some might think that camping is simply a recreational activity. It is much, much more. We regard it as an outdoor learning school. It is multidisciplinary. The kids are organized into patrol groups and learn to accept responsibilities to care for each other. They elect leaders and do real things.

Yesterday in preparation, the kids made pancakes and salsa. At camp, while some are preparing meals others are tending the fire, cleaning up, and performing other assigned roles. During the day, students learn from park rangers and authorities on nature. At night, they look after each other. Of course a team of teachers and parents are never far away. Camping is a thing that all children should have the opportunity to do in school, and is a long-standing tradition and method of learning at Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Montessori and Froebel compared...

In 1911 Ellen Yale Stevens, Principle of the Brooklyn Heights Seminary visited schools of Maria Montessori in Italy to see if what she had come up with was a fad, or whether it held merit when compared to Kindergarten. She fell in love with the method and wrote the article to acquaint American readers with what she hoped would become a new standard for American education.

It seems like whatever the greats come up with in Education, policy makers and politicians have ways of messing things up.

In my own comparison between Froebel and Montessori I would first note that there was a hundred year difference between the two, with Froebel being the predecessor in the work to promote early childhood education. By the time Montessori had begun her work in Italian schools, the Kindergarten method had been promoted around the world, distorted by zealots, and practiced by thousands of teachers unsuccessfully trained in the method with too many students in the classroom for the method to be successful.

In her comparison, Stevens wrote:
"The Kindergarten in Rome is without exception so far as I have observed, of the strict Frobelian type. The classes are large, sometimes as many as fifty children of five years of age under one teacher; the occupations entirely dictated and the games directed. Yet nowhere have I seen the kindergarten circle; instead the children sit in pairs on a bench in front of a long narrow, slanting desk. It is the banco as thus satirized so severely by Madame Montessori, who has introduced in it place, in the schools under her direction, low, broad, firm tables, where two or at most three children can sit comfortably in little, broad chairs."
So what she compared was in essence, not Montessori and Froebel, but the methods of a living educator and the distortions of the methods of the other having been put forth 50 years before. Froebel had no way of envisioning that they would take his simple gifts and use them ritualistically to impose tyranny in over crowded rooms full of 5 year olds.

Yesterday, at Clear Spring School my 6 year olds finished their wooden birds.

The photo at left is of the new woodshop and outdoor classroom at Covenant Christian School in St. Louis. The head of school had visited Clear Spring in 2010 and this new classroom is the result of his interest in building a woodworking program at his school.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

AAW offers free student memberships

Today my first through 4th grade students will making sloyd trivets and finishing their model birds. Yesterday in the wood shop, I prepared material for boxes, cutting hundreds of parts to size, and I also made a box for Froebel Gift number 2, designed oversize to hold the objects for spinning. I'll show how that works later.

The American Association of Woodturners (AAW), deserves a post of their own. In their efforts to promote woodturning to a new generation they've adopted a clear position in relation to hands on learning, and offer free youth membership to their organization. If you teach woodturning, you can go to for details. I am planning to get my students involved.

I am at that time of the year in which I am getting proposal materials out to magazines. One process that I think would make a nice short article is about the use of the sled to cut tenons. Many woodworkers have experience cutting tenons on the table saw using a large cast iron tenoning jig. They are expensive and difficult to set up, but worse, they do a very poor job of holding small parts. And just in case you are not stuck on making small boxes, this technique can work for larger tenons, too. The image below shows the simplicity of this technique.

To prove the usefulness of this method, I made parts for 8 deckles yesterday, which our Clear Spring art teacher requested so that our students can make their own paper.

Make, fix and create...