Building Blocks for Kids & Cinematography Professors

“From objects to pictures, from pictures to symbols, from symbols to ideas, leads the ladder of knowledge.” ~ Friedrich Froebel


Natalie played with Froebel blocks at home when she was little. She built houses, schools, villages, fairylands, and playgrounds. In her kindergarten class, she was thrilled when they spent days re-creating the Getty Center with big blocks, after going on a field trip to the museum. As she got older, she began building with Legos. One of her friends came over regularly to work with her on a “Harry Potter” world. Naturally, when we were erecting a garden shed in our backyard (which would become Applewood Schoolhouse), Natalie wanted to help.

building shed


When Steve Burum, Oscar-nominated cinematographer recently presented Bill with a beautiful set of handmade blocks for teaching cinematography, it reminded us of Natalie’s Froebel Gifts.

Burum 1 copy

Burum 2 copy









Developed in the early 1800’s by Friedrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten, the Froebel Gifts appear deceptively simple but represent a sophisticated approach to child development.  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.

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 geodesic dome as a child in the 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. Paul Klee, Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondiran, 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.

I was not surprised to learn that one of Steve Burum’s hobbies when he was a child was building model airplanes. Building models is a wonderful way to learn all about art, design, craft and function. He said, “I loved seeing how things work. I was a great ‘gadgetier.’” Steve Burum’s beautiful gift has inspired Bill to think about creating a UCLA film class around the “Burum Gifts.” If he does, I’m enrolling!

Burum 4 copy




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