Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman

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This will be a report on the book entitled, “Inventing Kindergarten” by Norman Brosterman. (1997)

Brosterman, Norman. "Inventing Kindergarten" New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1997.


"Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel was born on April 21, 1782, in ... central Germany." (Brosterman, 14)


"This is a comprehensive book about the origin of kindergarten, a revolutionary educational program for children that was created in the 1830's by charismatic German educator Friedrich Froebel."

(quoted from the back of the book)



In this report I will write about how the author Norman Brosterman descibes the "revolutionary" kindergarten program which was created by Froebel.



Table of contents

Prior Froebel - What was he all about?


Who was Froebel?

Brosterman begins this book by briefly describing Froebel, which gives a context to his life's accomplishments. Froebel was described as having a "lonely youth devoid of parental attention." (Brosterman, 14) Since his mother died before his first birthday, Brosterman attributes Frobel's yearning for motherly affection to his creation of the kindergarten system.


Brosterman describes one of the fundamental ideas to which Frobel based his school upon as such: "...education for the very young must begin by sensitively channeling children's constant activity and interaction with the physical world, he consciously modeled the curriculum on the natural relationship of trust between a young mother and her growing child." (Brosterman, 35)


Much of Froebel's life was dedicated to connecting his faith to his theories on education. When he was young, Froebel had a much better grasp on geometric and spatial reasoning than he did on language which, in fact, shows through in his creation of kindergarten. (Brosterman, 16) As a child, Froebel always had an intimate connection with plants and trees. He loved the peace and tranquility of nature.

  • In what ways do trees, plants, flowers and nature connect with our skills in spatial reasoning? In studying the complex, yet unified, forms in nature, can children further develop their aptitude in spatial reasoning? Perhaps this is what Froebel had intended!


In "The Student's Froebel" which was adapted from "Die Manschenerziehung of F. Froebel" by William H. Herford (London, Sit Isaac Pitman &Sons Ltd. 1916) the author writes: "Man seeks a firm point and sure guide to knowledge of the inner connection af all variety in nature. What can give a surer and more pregnant beginning for this study of variety than mathematics? It includes all variety within itself, unfolds all variety out of itself, yet is the visible expression of obedience to law and is law itself. This comprehensive quality gave Mathematics its name, the literal meaning of which is, theory of knowing, science of knowledge." (Herford, 116)


What did Froebel study and believe?


Froebel, like Piaget, observed children and the educational system for many years as his theories and pedogogical ideas developed. "Froebel's own pedagogical writngs, generally in "The Education of Man", and on kindergarten, in the compilation "Pedagogics of the Kindergarten", were weighted with philosophical discourse in the Romantic style at the expense of practical advice." (Brosterman, 32) Unity was Froebel's fundamental law and self activity was his basic fundamental process. (Brosterman, 32) Play was also a very important aspect to his ideas surrounding kindergarten, as he emphasised the impulsive and curious nature of young children.

  • These ideas sound very familiar to the growing emphasis in our educational system today. Allowing children to play, explore and experience their world allows them to develop a stronger grasp of the skills and knowledge they are expected to learn in school. Manipulatives and "real-world" examples are a growing trend in our educational system. Children, or any learner for that matter, must be able to make connections between their own world and the knowledge they are attempting to gain. How does this relate to the topic of spatial reasoning? In developing our skills in geometry, do we naturally make connections between the 2D representation of the rectangular prism we see in the textbook and the cereal box in our cubboard at home?


What about the gifts?


The Froebelian system of kindergarten was based upon objects he called "gifts" which include common toys such as balls, strings, sticks, blocks, clay and more (a detailed account of each of these shall be givin later in this report). What is interesting is that Froebel used these toys in very different ways in order to achieve his purpose of educating the young children.


Exercises with the gifts began with allowing the children to create forms which were found in nature and in their daily lives. For example, trains, birds, flowers and people were common objects created by the children. (Brosterman, 37) Next, the children would be introduced to songs, stories and plays by using the forms they created. Once the activities involving imagination and creative thought were done, excercises developing basic knowledge were to take place. For example, the gifts were used to help teach arithmetic, geometry and reading. For example, "The eight cubes of the third gift that children had just made into the chairs and stoves in their mother's kitchens would not be laid in rows and expressed as 2x4 or 4+4." (Brosterman, 38) Finally, the children would use the gifts to created objects of "beauty, art, symmetry or dance." (Brosterman, 38)


Not only did Froebel create the gifts, but he also created resource materials, guides and activities for teachers to use with the gifts in order to aid in teaching with the gifts. In a recent set of articles about Friedrich Froebel, published by AIMS Education Foundation, Richard Thiessen writes, in the article entitled, Geometry: Froebel's Gifts, that these activities were, "based upon [Froebel's] understanding of how children learn and how they acquire understanding and the ability to communicate that understanding of early concepts of geometry and number." (Thiessen, p.12, 2005)


A typical Kindergarten day....


"A day (usually three hours) in kindergarten would typically begin with "good morning" music and a simple sing-along tied to the weather or season or other particular focus. After a group chat with the children seated in a large circle, the students would each find a place at communal worktables for their daily gift-play. Each child would have his or her own gift, and more than one type might be in use simultaneously if several teachers were present. Including distribution and collection, which was performed by the children themselves, the gift period would last thirty to forty minutes. The seated activities were followed by about forty-five minutes of active games and simple gymnastics. Occupation work for another half hour resulting in a take-home creation and a final ten-minute goodbye song ended the day." (Brosterman, 39)


The gifts

This section will be devoted to the several gifts as used in the Froebelian system. I wecome ANY comments and questions, and in fact I encourage those reading this to please discuss any errors, discreapancies and/or concerns through the discussion page on this wiki site or feel free to add any factual details to this site directly!



THE FIRST GIFT: Balls

"As a kind of summary of all the gifts to follow, the ball - typically a small, squashable, wool ball on a string in one of six rainbox colours- was impued Froebel with manifold physical and symbolic attributes [...] Perfect in form, the ball, or sphere, was the practical expression of stability and the material expression of motion." (Brosterman, 42)

Activities with this gift...

Typically, teachers would have their students pretend that their wool balls were different objects, such as "green leaves" or "hopping bunnies" or "red apples". Children would sing songs, tell stories and play with their pretend objects. They would learn about concepts of direction, motion, colour, counting, right/left, over/under, near/far, up/down and front/back through the games and stories told with their colourful balls.


THE SECOND GIFT: Sphere, Cylinder and Cube

"Consisting of a sphere and a cube linked by an elucidating cylinder (which he only added around 1844), it became the identifier for the system, the trademark of unity [...] In wonderfully simple fashion, he objectified the abstrcation of unity between disparate things by showing infants that a cylinder actually contains a sphere and a cube actually contains a cylinder." (Brosterman, 46)

Activities with this gift...

Children could easily stack, sort and relate the blocks to one another learning about their properties as 3-dimentional figures. The blocks typically had holes/hooks on either end and the children could attach rods/string to the blocks and by turning/winding the rods/string, the children could "observe yet other shapes being swept out by the spinning sphere, cube or cylinder." (Thiessen, p.16, 2005)


THE 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th GIFTS: Blocks

"The open ended nature of good building blocks provides opportunities for instruction in social studies- in mapping, the layout of cities, and people's work; socialization - in co-operation, clean up, respect for others, and self confidence; art and architecture - in patterns, balance, symmetry, and construction; language- in function, story telling, planning and conceptual exchange; science - in gravity, weight, trial and error and inductive thinking; and the mathematics - in geometry, number, measurement, classification, fractions, and much more." (Brosterman, 50)

  • These are interesting gifts because, as Brosterman describes they could easily be accounted for many of learning experiences which are needed during the early years of education. Specifically, gift number 3 were identical cube blocks, gift number 4 were identical rectangular prism blocks, gift number 5 were the cubes and identical triangular prisms (where by two of which could be placed together to form a cube), and gift number 6 were rectangular prisms of different dimension.*

Note that these gifts are the origin of the 'standard' children's blocks whiich are now sold. In fact, in the 1880's, Milton Bradley (the toy manufacturer) produced and sold versions of the Froebel gifts. Later as the program died away (under opposition to rich pre-school activities) the building blocks were one of the parts that survived.


Activities with these gifts...


Children were encouraged to take apart, stack, build, break and rebuild objects such as tables, chairs, towers, buildings, bridges ect.. with these blocks. The children could analyse and synthesis with these objects while developing their independent and creative skills in their own learning.


With gift #3, Froebel encouraged children to play on a tabletop with a grid system to allow for a more orderly set of arrangements. "He believed that children would not only begin to recognize the symmetry in the arrangements, but would also see the beauty in them." (Thiessen, p.17, 2005)


With gifts #4, 5 and 6, Froebel encouraged teachers to empasis the importance of seeing each of these subsiquent blocks as members of the whole. They could easily be stacked together in such a way as to create the original cube. The children would learn about concepts such as parallel lines, horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes, symmetry and fractions. "Froebel believed strongly that the geometric gifts formed a sequence such that each new gift was suggested by the previous gift and build upon it." (Thiessen, p.19, 2005)

  • Gifts 3, 4, 5 and 6 were sometimes referred to as the building gifts. Each of the first six gifts were all 3-dimentional, whereas gifts 7 and 8 are one and two dimentional.


THE SEVENTH GIFT: Parquetry

"Transition to the seventh gift was considered a profound conceptual leap. Parquetry was the first of the gifts that Froebel considered truly abstract, as it was used to create two-dimensional pictures of things rather than tangible things themselves.[...] A recommended device for bridging from three to two dimensions had students cover the surfaces of the cubes from the third gift with equal-sized square tiles from the seventh, and then "peel" them away in a graphic display of equivalence." (Brosterman, 58)

  • The form of these gifts varried in shape, size and colour. Everything from cirlces, triangles and squares made from flat lacquered wood or gummed parquetry papers. "There is a square with a side of one inch; an equilateral triangle with sides of one inch; a right isosceles triangle with legs of one inch; an obtuse isosceles triangle with angles of 30, 30 and 120, where the equal sides have lengths of one inchl and a scalene triangle with angles of 30, 60 and 90, where the short leg has length of one inch.Milton Bradley added...a one-inch circle, a one-inch semi-circle, and a rectangle having sides equal to the legs of the 30-60-90 triangle." (Thiessen, p.23-24, 2005)


Activities with this gift...


The idea, again, was to allow the children to compare and contrast the properties of these shapes with one another and with the previous 3D gifts. Children were encouraged to create pictures with the shapes - often resulting in symmetrical designs. Similar to the pattern blocks of our day, children would also be given the opportunity to explore and learn about the fractional relationships between the angles and side lengths of the shapes. Froebel stressed both the forms of knowledge and the forms of beauty embedded in this gift. (Thiessen, p.27, 2005)



THE 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th and 17th GIFTS: Sticks, Rings, Slats, Jointed Slats and Interlacing

"After the volumetric gifts, one through six, and the planes of the seventh gift, the eighth gifts, stick laying, was the first whose vocabulary consisted entirely of lines. Introduced as edges in the cubes and parquetry tiles, lines were here free and independent- the infinitely narrow represented for children by skinny sticks. [...] Ring laying, a practical addiction made by Froebel's followers to include curved lines in the training sequence [...] The jointed slats, flat sticks of equal length connected at their ends by simple brass hinges, were available in combinations of four to sixteen sections that were unforgiving for nature and beauty forms, but extrememly useful for introductory lessons in geometry. [...] Interlacing, the folding and bending of long strips of colored paper into geometric outlines shapes, was one of the more difficult manual operations of the system, and its rather perfunctory appearance in many old teachers' manuals suggests it presented difficulites even to adults." (Brosterman, 66-68)

Activities with gift #8...

The sticks of gift #8 were able to represent the 1 dimention of a line. Just as the squares in gift #7 were the faces of a cube, the sticks represented either the edges of the cube or the sides of a square. The children would hold the sticks in their hands while the teacher would as them how they were holding the stick (horizontal, diagonal, vertical). The children could create images of squares, crosses, letters and various angles. (Thiessen, p.30-32, 2005)


Some of my own thoughts...

  • I wonder what made the interlacing so difficult?
  • It's interesting how Froebel decided to begin his first six gifts in the 3D geometric realm, then, only once the children mastered excercises with the 3D objects, he introduced the 3D gifts. Could Froebel have been making a point as to whether 3D should be "naturally" taught/learned before 2D?
  • I also wonder about the very specific activities performed and taught by the teachers with these gifts. Brosterman gives some clues in the diagrams in the book, but it is not specified as to what types of lessons and activities the children were doing with each of these gifts. Were teachers specific in how they told their children to play with the gifts or did they simply use the gifts as toys, allowing the children to explore and experience? Some of the gifts are obviously used within the public schools, but of course not exactly used the way in which Froebel intended. There still exists Freobelian system of kindergarten classrooms in our world today, where they do claim to still employ the philosophy of Froebel within the kindergarten classrooms. It would be great to visit these schools to see how they use the gifts within the classrooms.


Okay, let's get back to these gifts... NOTE - The following are described as "gifts" by Brosterman, but most other authors refer to the following gifts as the "occupational gifts" (refering to gifts which directly relate to occupations of individuals)


THE TENTH GIFT: Drawing

"With a slate pencil that left white lines on grid-incised, individual slates, or crayon or pencil on graph paper, children copied patterns, followed their teachers' verbal instructions, or created their own designs in this activity, which was considered to be a bridge from the gifts to the occupations." (Brosterman, 70)


THE ELEVENTH GIFT: Pricking

"It was the end of the logical sequence that began with volumes in space, systematically deconstructed them into planes and lines, and finally existed merely as insubstantial pinholes on white paper. As both an independednt exercise and as a practical bridge between drawing and sewing, pricking was another of Froebel's clever adaptations of an existing craft to his course for little people." (Brosterman, 74)


THE TWELFTH GIFT: Sewing

"But like many of the other occupations that Froebel borrowed from traditional craft activities, kindergarten sewing was to sewing as kindergarten drawing was to drawing - the emphasis in each was not on the thing rendered but on the elements of the work." (Brosterman, 76)


THE 13th, 14th and 18th GIFTS: Cutting, Weaving and Folding


"Although Froebel deemed color so important for infant development that he included it as a feature in the first gift, it was int he paper occupations, cutting, eaving and folding, where color in the kindergarten really exploded." (Brosterman, 78)

  • These three gifts stem from other occupations. Each of these gifts are in fact activities rather than actual gifts, although, gift number 13, 14 and 18 are each organized into small pouches and labelled as : "Cutting papers" or "Folding papers" or "Weaving" (whereby, each of the papers are multi-colours, and the weaving package has pre-made papers cut with long slits


THE NINETEENTH GIFT: Peas Work

"Due to the dimensional sine wave of Froebel's kindergarten - solid, plane, line, point, line, plane, solid - the finale of the gift-and-occupation sequence was never a definitive end but always also a return to the beginning. The remaining gifts, peas work, which utilized peas softened in water or balls of wax as connectors for small sticks or toothpicks, and modeling in clay, serves therefore as summations of all those preceding, and reintroduced the concept of volume from the system's spherical start. [...] Peas work combined the previously learned lessons of lines and point in brilliantly simple fashion to express volume. The child would first make "flat" shapes like triangles and squares, and then expand them by "drawing" in space until they become pyramids, cubes, or other geometric solids." (Brosterman, 84)


THE TWENTITH GIFT: Modeling Clay

"As midnight serves both to end one day and begin the next, modeliing, which was typically describes as the last gift, was also used at the start of the sequence to clarify the first and second gifts. It was one thing to be given a ball and then a cylinder and cube, but to make a ball, and then by rolling it on a table, transform it with your own hands into a stubby cylinder, and with a little more work finally into a cube, was a perfect object lesson into the very heart of kindergarten's philosophy, and one that would be difficult to forget." (Brosterman, 88)


  • Interesting how Froebel stressed the importance of kinetic manipulation and interaction with one's own learning as described above with the modeling clay gift. I believe that he was correct in assuming the the hands on use of each of the gifts, helps to develop not only a child with wonderful spatial and visual reasoning, but also a well-rounded child filled with the understanding of concepts of unity, patience, hope and peace.


The above descriptions do not do justice in explaining the profound ways in which these gifts were used, or meant to be used, within Froebel's kindergarten classroom. Interestingly, Froebel actually had his small learners keep and care for their own individual gardens (hence the name of his system). For a more deeper understanding of the gifts and to get a visual understanding of their form:

[1] (http://code.arc.cmu.edu/~ellendo/0.Froebel/images.invis/1-6.jpg)


Post Froebel

The following will be a section devoted to how Froebel's Kindergarten was sucessfull/unsucessful.

Which gifts are still used today? Which gifts are completely obsolete? In what ways to we maintain and foster the ideas developed by Freobel within the standard educational system here in Canada? In what ways have Froebel's ideas affected or contributed to other parts of our society?


Initial success...


"Friedrich Froebel's person and ideas attracted energetic and committed disciples, mostly women...[especially] Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bulow," who was one of the strongest influences of kindergarten all over the world. (Broserman, 90) The schools spread from Germany to England to the United States and eventually all throughout Europe, Asia and the New World. The theories and ideas were widely accepted by the feminists and the religious alike.


The gifts themselves were originally made by Froebel and his followers. "[Milton] Bradley and other manufacturers in the United States and Europe started selling "kindergarten" toys of their own creation or ones had been designed by educators as adjuncts to the twenty or so noted by Froebel...With so much generic "kindergarten" merchandise on the market, it's no wonder the actual system started to get lost in the shuffle." (Brostermans, 101)


Kindergarten Art and Architecture


Froebel's kindergarten impacted other fields of study, especially that of art and archetecture. Froebel himself writes, "The artistically cultivated senses of the new generation will again restore pure, holy art." (Brosterman, 104) The kindergarteners might have been expected to become the new artists in their days, but rather, they learned how to appreciate the geometric art of cubism, neo-plasticim and abstract art. "Crowding around the grid of the kindergarten table in their lace and velveteens, the first kindergarten generations learned to transform the gifts into the kind of crystalline expressions associated with a new art: the art of their future." (Brosterman, 107)


Since many of the ideas, activities and gifts within Froebel's kindergarten system were based on a strong understanding of spatial reasoning, it's no wonder that there existed a large impact on the realm of architecture. "Even more direct connections can be drawn between kindergarten and the profound shift in archetectual expression that occured in the early twentieth century." (Brosterman, 136) For example, two archiects, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, were both children of the original kindergarten. (Brosterman, 136)

For example:

"All is unity, all springs from unity, strives for and leads up to unity, and returns to unity at last." Froebel, 1827

"UNITY was their watchword, the sign and sysbol that thrilled them, the UNITY of all things." Wright, 1932


The gifts today


Many of us who attended kindergarten in Canada may still remember playing with wooden blocks and cubes, building towers, bridges and cities. Personally, I do not recall playing with these blocks at any other time than free time. I do not recall Parquetry, Peas work, pricking or extensive paper folding. It is my understanding that the educational use of blocks within the kindergarten classroom has been somewhat lost since the days of Froebel. Brosterman writes, "Kindergarten had started a movement, exploded into a fad, and, by the 1890s, was on the verge of becoming yet another of society's many ponderous institutions. By the time poplularity made it an essential part of education and daily life, it resembled Froebel's model in outward appearance only." (Brosterman, 101)


It was the original objective of kindergarten classroom to be able to create "a sensitive, inquisitive child with an uninhibited curiosity and genuine respect for nature, family, and society; a reasoning and creative child who would later have few problems learning the three Rs or anything else, while gracefully incorporating all manner of diverse knowledge and experience into a unified and supple life." (Brosterman, 39) Would Froebel be disappointed by the way in which kindergarten classrooms are being run today? Do the kindergarten classrooms in Canada today run under a balance of both creative as well as strict instruction obtaining the results originally intended for kindergarten?


More Information


Another very informative and useful website to visit is www.freubel.com

This is a website for the Froebel School in Mississauga, Ontario. It is full of a lot of information on how they are currently using the theories and gifts created by Froebel in the school. It's worth a look!

  • Note - there exists alternate spelling of Froebel, namely "Freubel" but they are the same man

Links