Nowadays, the idea of Kindergarten is a given; it is a stepping stone, a right of passage for young children to begin their formal learning and get the hang of school. But prior to 1837, kids did not attend school until the age of seven. One man changed all of that, and his name was Friedrich Froebel.
Froebel was a German educator, which is why our word for early childhood education is a German one - Kindergarten = Children's Garden. He imagined his schools for young children as a place for discovery, movement, and expression. The teacher's role was not to instruct, but rather to guide her students in "self-activity." Each day was organized around
games, play, songs, stories, and crafts to stimulate imagination and develop physical and motor skills.
A central part of the Kindergarten curriculum were Froebel's Gifts - a series of objects (or educational toys) that were offered to the students at key developmental stages in order to encourage visual problem solving and awareness of mathematical concepts through play.
While Froebel made all sorts of Gifts, he only structured them up to number 7. The other play objects, however, are meant to help a child begin to think about the world in more abstract terms. Given that Froebel's Kindergarten philosophy inspired architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and artists such as Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian, it is pretty undeniable that the Froebel Kindergarten Gifts are a powerful tool to for developing great minds and visual thinkers. Perhaps it's time that a bit more Kindergarten is re-introduced to the early childhood curriculum so that the next generation can be raised as thinkers and problem-solvers instead of listeners and followers ...