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.
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.