The Froebel gifts (German: Fröbelgaben) are play materials for young children designed by Friedrich Fröbel for the original Kindergarten at Bad Blankenburg. Playing with Froebel gifts, singing, dancing and growing plants were each important aspects of this child-centered approach to education created by Friedrich Fröbel.
The Sonntagsblatt (1838-1840) published by Fröbel explained the meaning, and described the use of each of his five play gifts (Spielgabe):
"The active and creative, living and life producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active."
Fröbel also developed a series of occupations such as sewing, weaving and the modelling with clay, for children to reconstruct their experiences through play.
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.
Each of the five gifts was assigned a number by Fröbel in the Sonntagsblatt (1838-1840), which indicates the order in which each gift was to be given to child.
The first gift is a soft ball or yarn ball in solid color, which is the right size for the hand of a small child. When attached to a matching string, the ball can be moved by a mother in various ways as she sings to the child. Although Fröbel sold single balls, they are now usually supplied in sets of six balls consisting of the primary colors red, yellow and blue, as well as their secondary colors, purple, green and orange.
These soft balls can be squashed in the hand, and they revert 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 spatial relationships, movement, speed and time, color and contrast, weights and gravity.
The second gift originally consisted of two wooden objects, a sphere and a cube.
Fröbel called this gift "the child's delight" since he observed the joy of each child discovering the differences between the sphere and cube.
The child is familiar with the shape of the wooden sphere, which is the same as the ball of the first gift. The wooden sphere always looks the same, when viewed from any direction. Like the child, the wooden sphere is always on the move. When rolled on a hard surface the wooden sphere produces sounds.
In contrast, the wooden cube is the surprise of the second gift. It remains where it is placed and from each direction presents a different appearance.
The second gift was developed by Fröbel to enable a child to explore and enjoy the differences between shapes. By attaching a string or inserting a rod in a hole drilled through these wooden geometric shapes, they can be spun by a child. Although the sphere always appears the same, the spinning cube reveals many shapes when spun in different ways.
This led Fröbel to include a wooden cylinder in the second gift, which may also be spun in many different ways.
The familiar shape of the cube is now divided into eight identical beechwood cubes, about one inch along each edge, which is a convenient size for the hand of small child. A child delights in pulling apart this gift, rearranging the eight cubes in many ways, and then reassembling them in the form of a cube. This is the first building gift.
This second building gift at first appears the same. But a surprise awaits the child, when the pieces are pulled apart. Each of these eight identical beechwood blocks is twice as long and half the width of the cubes of the previous gift. Many new possibilities for play and construction arise due to these differences.
Considered by many too complex for a young child, this building gift consists of more cubes, some of which are divided in halves or quarters.
In 1850 production was moved to the Erzgebirge region of the Kingdom of Saxony in a factory established for this purpose by S F Fischer.
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 . . ."
Froebel gifts were adapted by Caroline Pratt for the school, which she founded in 1913 in the Greenwich Village of New York City. This school embodied a child-centered approach to education. Children worked together to reconstruct their experiences through play. Based on the ideas of Friedrich Froebel, the curriculum was drawn from the environment of the child: observations about the neighborhood inspired each child to reflect on their world directly so that they could make sense of their experiences.
"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
- Norman, Brosterman (1997). Inventing Kindergarten. Harry N. Abrams. p. 42. ISBN 0-8109-9070-9.
- 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.