A gift was an object given to a child to play with, which helped the child to understand the concepts of shape, dimension, size, and their relationships. These gifts or playthings included balls, globes, dice, cylinders, collapsible dice, shapes of wood to be put together, paper to be folded, strips of paper, rods, beads, buttons, etc. The aim was to develop elemental judgement, distinguishing colour, separation and association, grouping, matching and so on.
The occupations were items such as paints and clay, which the children could use to make what they wished.
Through the occupations children were developing a view of the world around them by comparing, testing, exploring, touching. In the Kindergarten, group activities were balanced with individual play, guidance from teachers was balanced with intervals of freedom, the studies of nature, mathematics, and art were balanced by learning them through the gifts and occupations, so that everything was connected with everything else in the teaching process.
Thus, the combination of play and education in Froebel’s method turned the process of learning into something that the children spontaneously wanted to do.
This issue appears to be of a great importance in contemporary approach to the role of play in the early years education. My own teaching experience and observation of the lessons at school (school attachment) reveal to me the shift towards an emphasis on a more formal, more restrictive and less creative mode of education.
After the literacy hour in Year 1 (Roby Park Primary School) some children seemed to be happy with the lesson, others felt left out (responses include: “I wish it was playtime”, “When am I going to show my picture? “) Literacy and numeracy hours in our schools seem to be completely segregated from play and art activities.
The implication is that play is not serious, play is something supplementary. In this situation Froebel’s idea of play as a tool of education challenges us to examine the current methods and trends in teaching young children.
If the shape of the children’s day at school could have been set not by government officials, but by the teachers and art assistants, (and maybe by the children themselves), that would probably help us to bring the joy of play back to the classroom. “Instead of concentrating on pre-specified learning objectives and then spending a great deal of effort in “motivating” children to want to attain these specified objectives, we ought to look more carefully at the conditions in which the children achieve their impressive learning success. ” (G. Blenkin, A. Kelly, 1988, p. 67)