The two chief ideas underlying Froebelian education are that a child should acquire knowledge by acquaintance with things rather than by means of words, and also that the unfolding and developing of his nature should be brought about by work.
Thus, gifts and occupations play an important part in early education, and although the distinction between them has been drawn since Froebel's time, they are unlike in character and aims, and each serves to carry out one or other of the fundamental ideas which have just been mentioned.
Every adult person realises that a clearer conception is formed when things are seen than when they are described, no matter how graphic the description may be. In the case of a newly invented machine, a description of it may call up a very fair idea of its appearance and mode of working in the mind of any person versed in the intricacies of machinery, but the clearness of the notion will depend upon the extent of previous knowledge, unless the acquaintance with machinery is so slight that the person cannot understand what kind of article is being described to him. Yet a person who has very little acquaintance with machinery gets a tolerably clear notion of a machine when once he has seen it and watched its action, and having seen it, can recall it later more accurately than if his notion of it had been gained only through words.
Children are in an almost similar plight. They know so little, and have so much to learn, that they cannot gain new ideas by associating verbal descriptions with past experiences because they have so little knowledge on which to build; and their difficulty is yet greater than in the case of an adult, because they have a more limited vocabulary, and, moreover, the meaning of the few words at their command is wanting in definiteness and accuracy, and conveys less to their minds than is the case with an adult who has gained facility in the use of words.
Fig. 1. The first kindergarten " gift" consists of six soft wool balls of different colours, each suspended from a frame by a string. By means of these balls a child learns to perform many manual movements as well as the names of colours and their combinations
The word "gift," applied to a form of kindergarten work, is somewhat misleading, and should never be used in this connection in the hearing of the child. The primary meaning of "gift " is something given, and when the articles which form the kindergarten gifts are taken up and put away at the end of the time, the child feels that it was only a loan, after all, and consequently his idea of the meaning of the word " gift " is vague and misty. He is too young to understand that the gifts are intended to give him ideas of the external world suited to his powers and comprehension, and accordingly the kindergarten teachers discourage the use of the word "gift" in this connection.
Occupations differ from gifts in that they consist of material of plastic nature, such as clay, sand, paper, etc., on which the child exercises certain forms of manual skill.
The form of the gifts being fixed and determined, they afford scope only for the arranging activities, while the occupations call forth the transforming and creative activities. The gifts lead to the taking in of knowledge, the occupation to the unfolding of the mind and self - expression. The gifts give insight, the occupations power. Froebel spent fifteen years in inventing and systematising the gifts, but the modern kindergarten teacher, while striving to retain the Froebelian spirit, feels bound to modify the original programme, owing to weaknesses which have become apparent through more extensive knowledge of physiology and child nature.
Some of the occupations originally devised require the exercise of delicate muscles which should not be called into use until the larger muscles are under control. Thus the method of teaching drawing has been modified of late years, and children now begin by making large drawings which exercise the large muscles of the arms before they attempt the delicate and fine work which depends on finger movements.
Again, much kindergarten work of former days was of so minute a character that close application of eyesight was necessary, and thus children, in whom the eyesight is naturally long, were made short-sighted by the strained action of the eyes over fine work. Accordingly, fine needlework, pricking, and embroidery, bead-threading, needle-threading, etc., are left until the eyes are strong enough to bear the strain of close application.
Gift I. is certainly one of the most valuable of all the gifts. Nothing can arouse so effectually in a child's mind the consciousness of an external world of individual things and of his own dawning individuality. A ball is the most simple yet most complete of all forms, and it is easily grasped by a child whose finer muscles are not sufficiently trained to hold an object between the thumb and forefinger.
Froebel found that in most cases the first toy which an infant is able to appreciate is a little woollen ball. The tiny hand grasps the new toy, and to the mind is conveyed the ideas of roundness, warmth, and softness to form a foundation on which future knowledge may be built up by comparisons.
The roundness of the ball is further demonstrated when it is set rolling along the floor or table. The child follows it with his eyes, and gains his first notions of direction and distance. Then the child tries to imitate what he has seen, and rolls the ball in like fashion, which affords a pleasurable exercise to the muscles of the arm, and those of the other parts of the body when the child is old enough to follow it and fetch it back.
Ball-rolling and ball-throwing are never-ending sources of pleasure to children, and the fascination of this form of exercise is evidenced by the fact that the majority of games in which adults indulge are played with one or more balls. For these advanced ball games, dexterity, quickness of the eye, accuracy of aim, and co-ordinated muscular movements are necessary, and the foundation of these qualities is laid in the ball games of childhood.
The ball is the essential of Gift I., which consists of six soft wool balls of different colours, each ball attached to a string by which it can be suspended from a frame which is included with the containing box. (See Fig. 1.)
Besides rolling and throwing the ball, which the child has already accomplished with his first toy, the string allows futher movements with it. Thus the ball may be bounced up and down and the words "Up " and "Down" associated with the movements. It may, likewise, be swung to and fro, and whirled round, and the phrases " To and fro " and "Round and round " associated. This may seem a very small addition to a child's stock of knowledge, but it is surprising how quickly he will utilise it as a foundation for further knowledge, which being self-gained, will be of greater value. He will compare the form of the ball with other things, and learn that an apple and orange are rather like a ball and can be rolled. He learns the word " soft," and the quality of softness, and associates it with other things.
Fig. 2. The second kindergarten "gift," consisting of dissimilar objects, from handling which the child acquires knowledge of the nature and properties of the sphere, cyclinder, and cube, all of which are of wood
From the ball in Gift I. he may likewise learn the names of colours, and be able to identify by the colour many things with which he is familiar. The balls in Gift I. are coloured red, yellow, blue, and the derived (or what is commonly called the secondary) colours of purple, green, and orange. The first three should be presented in pairs on the frame, and the ball of derived colour suspended lower down between them. By means of coloured glass or gelatine film, or by mixing dissolved water-colour, the child will soon learn how pigments of different colours, when united, give rise to a new colour - thus, red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and so on. Gift II. has less educational value than Gift I., and is very little used in kindergarten. It is doubtful whether it quite realises the idea in Froebel's mind of gaining knowledge by contrasting unlike things, and by tracing the connecting links of dissimilar forms. As will be noted by reference to Fig. 2, the gift consists of a box and frame, as in Gift I., but that the three contained objects are a sphere, cylinder, and cube respectively, made of hard wood. Dealing with the sphere first, the child notices its points of resem-blance to the balls of Gift I., and then finds out for himself the difference between his soft ball and the hard sphere. Thus the sphere feels hard and resistant, and less warm than the ball; it rolls more easily, and can be bounced without the aid of string. The cylinder is next examined, and it is found that it can be rolled in a restricted fashion, but that it differs from the sphere in standing firmly on either of its two ends. So with the cube there is a resemblance to the cylinder in the firmness with which it can stand. The child gets an insight into the meaning of surfaces and edges, and gains his first ideas of number and mode of counting.
In using either gift, uninteresting descriptions must be avoided, but if they are looked upon as play, the facts set forth above may be firmly fixed in the child's mind by means of story, song, or simple verse. To be continued.