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Kindergarten and the 'Froebel's Gifts' offering free play

'Kindergarten' (or 'children's garden' as translated in German) was developed in the 1830's by a man named Friedrich Froebel, a practical and philosophical system that has now unfortunately lost much some of its meaning in 'kindergartens' today.

Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman describes the period in which kindergarten arose,originating as a radical and highly spiritual system of abstract design activities developed to teach the recognition and appreciation of natural harmony. Kindergarten has always included singing and dancing, as well as observation of the workings of nature—the growth of plants, the symmetries of crystals and seashells. One’s teacher was usually a woman and she led the class in activities that would have been considered as free play.

Unidentified kindergarten from the book, Los Angeles, c.1900.

Karl Blossfeldt, Natural Geometry, 1900-28

Blossfeldt took close-up photographs of plants and held that all of the forms of art could be found in nature. Froebel, a child of the enlightenment was also very interested in natural philosophy. With a father who was a Lutheran minister, his theories about human and nature development were inextricably intertwined with aspirations towards God. In his kindergartens the goal was to awaken the senses to what he understood to be the God-given structure underlying all growth.

But long abandoned, and thus hardly known today is the heart of the system—Fröbel’s interconnected series of twenty play “gifts” using sticks, colored paper, mosaic tiles, sewing cards, as well as building blocks, drawing equipment, and the gridded tables at which the children sat. (Brosterman, 1997)

Froebel's Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Gifts - Building blocks

Froebel's Seventh Gift - Triangular and Quadrangular tablets of coloured paper.

Anonymous artwork from the Norman Brosterman Kindergarten Collection.

Froebel's 14th gift - Paper weaving.

Paper Weaving Artwork by an anonymous kindergartner, from the Norman Brosterman Kindergarten Collection.

You can see their resemblance to the abstract (De Stjil) art at the time. Here is Piet Mondrian's New York City, 1942.

Froebel created The Froebel Gifts as a model of universal perfection and the key to recognising one’s place in the natural continuum. Froebel believed that learning the sacred language of geometry in youth would provide a common ground for all people, and advance each individual and society in general, into a realm of fundamental unity. (Brosterman, 1997) He envisaged that the Gifts would teach the child to use his or her environment as an educational aid and that they would give the child an indication of the connection between human life and life in nature; and that they would create a bond between the adult and the child who play with them. (Liebschner, 2006)


  1. Hello Jess

    You might be interested in the posts I've written about Cowgate U5 Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland. This childcare centre is based upon Frobel's Philosophy and has a very forward thinking approach. The design of the building has won awards too. Here's the links:

    Best wishes

  2. Thanks Juliet!

    Yes, i'd heard of the Cowgate centre - through a book by Sarah Scott: 'Architecture for Children'.

    But your posts are very helpful offering further insight :)

  3. There is one true Froebel Kindergarten in North American, that uses the Gifts & Occupations. Norm Brosterman visited it in the creation of his book "Inventing Kindergarten" It is located outside of Toronto, Canada in a city named Mississauga.



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