Frank Lloyd Wright: Blocks, Play and Makerspaces

Frank Lloyd Wright: Blocks, Play and Makerspaces : Blocks played a part in the shaping of one of the world's greatest architects, so doesn't that make them good enough for our students?

Frank Lloyd Wright, Blocks and Play

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On a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in Oak Park, Illinois, we enter a large room – a sort of study combined with library and a tall ceiling.  This was a room for entertaining guests, the children, relaxing in the evening. There’s several built in bookshelves lined with antique copies of the classics.  A small piano. But what catches my eye are some sets of toy blocks safely tucked behind glass on the shelves. Frobel’s gifts, I learn. Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother went to an exposition where she learned about Frobel’s idea of kindergarten.  She purchased these blocks and other toys and brought the home to Frank.  He was around nine, above the traditional age of kindergarten, but he still loved playing with these blocks.  He later wrote in his autobiography that these blocks helped him to understand space. When designing a building, he would think about these blocks and manipulate them in his mind.   His play as a child increased his spatial awareness and influenced his work as an adult.

Frobel's Blocks in Frank Lloyd Wright's home in Chicago

Frobel’s Blocks in Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in Chicago

Makerspaces, Blocks, and Play

As an advocate of makerspaces in schools, one of the roadblocks I often hit are adults (teachers, administrators, parents, etc), complaining that the kids are “just playing”.  Or they’re totally fine with spending thousands on 3D printers and laser cutters but see no reason to spend a few hundred on LEGOs, K’nex or other construction toys because they aren’t “serious” enough.  They worry about how it will look when guests come to the school and see older students working with toys.

So the next time I hear this criticism, I’m going to refer them to this story about Frank Lloyd Wright.  Because if playing with blocks is good enough for one of the greatest architects in history, surely it’s good enough for our students.

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory School, an independent 6-12 in Tampa, FL. Previously, she was the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog She was a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest from 2015-2018. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Secondary Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves and is also the author Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.