Fröbel advocated the importance of free play in childhood. Each gift (Gabe) 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.
Ottilie de Liagre in a letter to Fröbel in 1844 observed that playing with the Froebel Gifts empowers children to be lively and free, but people can degrade it into a mechanical routine.
"Realising how the Gifts were eventually misused by Kindergarten teachers who followed after Froebel, it is important to consider what Froebel expected the Gifts to achieve. He envisaged that the Gifts will teach the child to use his (or her) environment as an educational aid; secondly, that they will give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and finally that they will create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them" Joachim Liebschner on page 82 in his book, A Child's Work: Freedom and Guidance in Froebel's Educational Theory and Practice
Frank Lloyd Wright was given a set of the Froebel blocks at about age nine, and in his autobiography cited them indirectly in explaining that he learned the geometry of architecture in kindergarten play, writing "For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top . . . and played . . . with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks . . . All are in my fingers to this day . . ."
The Gifts (Gabe)
The Gifts were each assigned a number and ranged in complexity from simple (e.g. Gift 1 for young children) to advanced (e.g. Gift 20 for older children).
The first Gift consists of six individual, crocheted coloured, woollen balls. Each ball is attached to a matching string. The balls are dyed in one of six solid hues consisting of the primary colours red, yellow and blue, as well as their secondary colours, purple, green and orange.
The balls themselves are not completely solid and can be squashed in the hand before reverting to their original shapes.
The first gift was intended by Fröbel to be given to very young children. His intention was that, through holding, dropping, rolling, swinging, hiding and revealing the balls, the child may acquire knowledge of objects and spacial relationships, movement, speed and time, colour and contrast, weights and gravity.
The second Gift consists of four wooden objects, each about 2 inches square: two cubes, one cylinder and one sphere, with holes drilled in them and a wooden hanging apparatus. These wooden blocks are smoothly finished, but are not painted or stained.
Fröbel called this gift "the children's delight" and believed that as children observed the similarities and differences of the properties of these blocks, it would set the educational foundations for later physics education.
- Alofsin, Anthony (1993). Frank Lloyd Wright--the Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence. University of Chicago Press. p. 359. ISBN 0-226-01366-9.
- Hersey, George (2000). Architecture and Geometry in the Age of the Baroque. University of Chicago Press. p. 205. ISBN 0-226-32783-3.
- Norman, Brosterman (1997). Inventing Kindergarten. Harry N. Abrams. p. 42. ISBN 0-8109-9070-9.