Read here about Friedrich Fröbel, who founded the pedagogical system that features 'peas work', that in turn was a critical inspiration leading towards the discovery of tensegrity.


Friedrich Fröbel's (1782-1852) approach to early-years education had enormous global influence. He coined the term "kindergarten," not in the literal sense of "garden", but in the metaphorical sense of "place where children can grow in a natural way." He had worked in the Swiss school of Johann Henrich Pestalozzi and conferred with other educational thinkers of his time. He began his educational institution in 1817 but did not arrive at a codified system until approximately 1837. Over the course of 35 years, until his death in 1852, Froebel devoted his life to educating children and developing the methods to maximize human potential,

Froebel was influenced by the work of German Romantic philosophers Rousseau and Fichte, as well as ancient Greek thinkers, and had been exposed to Taoist and Buddhist teachings. Although the son of a Lutheran minister and a devout Christian, he frequently ran into resistance from the church and other authorities for his radical thinking. He rejected the notion of original sin while educating girls and boys (and rich/poor) as one group, a controversial practice in 19th century Germany. Froebel lived a devout life but did not preach or evangelize. He avoided the use of scripture in his schools but encouraged children to observe their world ... to recognize and respect the orderly and endless creation we all live within. A naturalist, philosopher and researcher (Froebel helped develop the budding science of crystallography), he approached the universe scientifically and developed his materials to demonstrate the geometry and patterns of the physical world. [1]

Froebel's method inspired and informed the work of Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner and others, who adopted his ideas and adapted his materials according to their own work. Prior to Friedrich Froebel very young children were not educated. Froebel was the first to recognize that significant brain development occurs between birth and age 3. His method combines an awareness of human physiology and the recognition that we, at our essence, are creative beings. Once early childhood education became widely adopted, it was the natural starting point for innovations that followed. Montessori and Steiner both acknowledged their debt to Froebel, but the influence of the Kindergarten informs Reggio Emilia, Vygotsky and later approaches.[1]

Influence on Modern Art and Design

Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and many other notable architects and artists were educated with the Froebel Gifts. Wright's connection to the Gifts is well-documented and he was a lifelong champion of the method, even constructing a Kindergarten for his own children (and others in the neighborhood). Buckminster Fuller developed his earliest concepts of structure in the Frobel Kindergarten. More than an opportunity for creativity, the Kindergarten provided Wright and Fuller a foundational philosophy for design, shaping their views of nature, pattern, and unity.

Bauhaus artists used Gifts & Occupations, creating the new language of modern art. Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, and others were either educated in the Kindergarten as children or were trained Froebel Kindergarten teachers. They utilized these materials and adapted the philosophy into their Bauhaus design school. Even today children of the Kindergarten receive a university-level 2D/3D design curriculum, learning a sophisticated visual language even before they develop their verbal skills.

Milton Bradley was the first major toymaker to produce the Gifts & Occupation materials in the United States. Not only did this lead to the rapid expansion of the school supply market but affected the design of toys in general. In the decades that following the spread of the Kindergarten, toys were marketed for their educational content and displayed more potential for creative expression. Tinkertoys, Unit Blocks, Cuisenaire Rods, Color Cubes, and many others are direct off-shoots from Kindergarten toys. F.A. Richter (a contemporary of Froebel) produced faux stone versions of the Froebel blocks in his Rudolstadt Anker-Steinbaukasten factory. These stone sets were a favorite toy of Albert Einstein.


frobel peas-work by brosterman cropd.PNG

Peas-work, also called cork-work or “sticks and peas” was identified by some early authors as Froebel’s 19th gift in his invention of Kindergarten. It consisted of dried peas, softened in water before use, and pointed sticks or wires used to connect the peas into various structural forms. The peas would then dry and harden again forming a lasting structure. In the case of cork-work, small cubes or balls of cork were used in place of peas, but to the same effect. As described by Edward Weibé’s book The Paradise of Childhood, “the material consists of pieces of wire of the thickness of a hair-pin, of various sizes in length, and pointed at the ends… As means of combination, as embodied points of junction, peas are used, soaked about twelve hours in water and dried one hour previous to being used. They are then just soft enough to allow the child to introduce the points of the wires into them and also hard enough to afford a sufficient hold to the latter.” [2]

Sticks and peas was instrumental in Buckminster Fuller’s development of structural concepts. As a child Fuller suffered from severe Farsightedness, or Hyperopia. In manipulating sticks and peas, his tactile sense guided him to create traingulated forms. As Fuller described it years later, “When the teacher told us to make structures, I tried to make something that would work. Pushing, then pulling, I found that the triangle held its shape when nothing else did…The teacher called all the other teachers in primary school to take a look at this triangular structure. I remember being surprised that they were surprised.”

Links and references

Tiffeni J. Goesel's comprehensive website on Fröbel,
Norman Brosterman's official website, featuring his early kindergarten collection,
Wikipedia on Fröbel,
Doug Stowe writes about peas work,

[1] From the Froebel USA website Frobel Gifts,
[2] Paradise of Childhood Quarter Century Edition, p. 264, Milton Bradley, Co., New York, 1896

Portal to Becoming Bucky
A series on how Bucky Fuller developed his methods, based on Lorance's book .
People> Bragdon, Bucky Fuller, Fuller Timelines, Margaret Fuller, Ioganson
Influences> Black Mountain College, Constructivism
Texts> Becoming Bucky Fuller, Margaret Fuller Bio, Your Private Sky, Tensegrity 1961
See also Portal To Basic Concepts for explanations of tensegrity concepts.