Gifts of Childhood

As a volunteer collections assistant at my local county museum, I am currently assigned to cataloguing shelves of artifacts, such as the school materials I was working on this week. I picked up a small wooden box labeled “Fourth Gift” and was immediately taken back to when my children attended a Froebel school. The Froebel gifts were a set of play objects – you wouldn’t call them toys – created to guide young children to learn about geometry, design, storytelling, all kinds of wonderful things. This fourth gift was made by Milton Bradley, a name we now associate with mainstream games. I wonder how mainstream the Froebel gifts were when this was used?

The ideas of Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) influenced many North American educators and the schools they set up for young children around the turn of the 19th century, which were named after the German word, kindergarten.

This fourth gift looked different from what I remember. It contained several smallish wooden pieces rather than the eight cubes in the Strong Museum collection, which looks more like I remember. But then again, other sources specify oblong blocks for the fourth gift. Perhaps the manufacturer took liberties with the design, or maybe the original contents of the box were replaced at some point. I wonder how many children today enjoy the magic of tiny wooden shapes that can become whatever they imagine.

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