In The Education of Man, Friedrich Froebel wrote about the importance of building blocks as simple playthings that allow children to "feel and experience, to act and represent, to think and recognise".
"Building, aggregation, is first with the child, as it is first in the development of mankind, and in crystallization. The importance of the vertical, the horizontal, and the rectangular is the first experience which the child gathers from building; then follow equilibrium and symmetry. Thus the child ascends from the construction of the simplest wall with or without cement to the more complex and even to the invention of every architectural structure lying within the possibilities of the given material." -p281
Froebel thought the "baukasten" or sets of building blocks made by the German toy makers of his day were unsuitable for children, because they discouraged discovery and creativity. The intricate, realistic components lacked mathematical or geometric logic and were designed to be assembled in models of familiar stuctures. Froebel created his own set of 500 blocks based on one inch cubes.
"The material for building in the beginning should consist of a number of wooden blocks whose base is always one inch square and whose length varies from one to twelve inches. If, then, we take twelve pieces of each length, two sets—e.g., the pieces one and eleven, the pieces two and ten inches long, etc.- will always make up a layer an inch thick and covering one foot of square surface; so that all the pieces, together with a few larger pieces, occupy a space of somewhat more than half a cubic foot. It is best to keep these in a box that has exactly these dimensions; such a box may be used in many ways in instruction, as will appear in the progress of a child's development." -p283
These blocks were also used by Froebel at Keilhau to teach mathematics.
Anchor Stone Building Blocks are an example of toymakers responding to Froebel's idea of simple blocks with mathematical or geometric logic. In the late ninteenth century they were manufactured in Rudolstadt, Thuringia and made famous all over the world by Friedrich Adolf Richter.
Their web site acknowledges the influence of Froebel
"It is true that people have always fancied making miniature models of the world around them, but it was the great pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel, the father of the kindergarten concept, who developed the first building block system for children. His blocks were made of wood, and the basic form was a cube."
Architects and inventors Gustav and Otto Lilienthal took Fröbel's ideas and looked for possible ways to produce artificial stone blocks. Using quartz sand, chalk, suitable dyes and a varnish made from linseed oil they produced blocks resembling the building materials, brick, sandstone and slate.
Anchor Stone Block Sets became a synonym for creative and pedagogically valuable toys.
Wooden building blocks are widely available. Decide for yourself how faithfully they embody Froebel's ideas.
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