Block play: Building a child's mind
Unit blocks may not be as sophisticated as some toys we find in stores or on
TV commercials, but they are ideal for learning because they involve the child
as a whole -- the way she moves her muscles, the way she discovers how
different objects feel in her hands, the way she thinks about spaces and shapes,
and the way she develops thoughts and interests of her own.
Unit blocks vary in name and material by manufacturer, but they are all
based on the proportions 1:2:4. These blocks must be sturdy and accurately cut
so that children of all different ages and levels of learning may use them to
create, solve problems, and challenge themselves.
Toys that grow with your child
Unit blocks are a good investment because children may continue to use them
as they grow. Infants and toddlers enjoy simply touching and gripping larger,
textured blocks. As toddlers, they develop more muscle control and are able to
combine blocks, stack them, or line them up. Two-year-olds may demonstrate their
first attempts at building structures, and show the beginnings of fantasy play.
Around the age of three, children learn how to balance and fit pieces
together to build sturdier towers, then bridges and enclosures. Threes and fours
begin to recognize designs and patterns, their towers and buildings becoming
works of art. In kindergarten and early primary grades, blocks allow children to
recreate structures, cities and landscapes from everyday life.
Blocks help children learn
Socially -- Blocks encourage children to make friends and cooperate.
Large block play may be a young child's first experience playing in a group, while
small block play may encourage an older child to work with others in solving problems.
Physically -- When children reach for, pick up, stack, or fit blocks together,
they build strength in their fingers and hands, and increase eye-hand coordination.
Around two, children begin to figure out which shapes will fit where, and get a head
start on understanding different perspectives -- skills that will help them to read maps
and follow directions later on. Blocks help kindergarten and primary grade children develop
skills in design, representation, balance and stability.
Intellectually -- Blocks help children learn across many academic subjects.
Young children develop their vocabularies as they learn to describe sizes, shapes, and
positions. Preschoolers and kindergarteners develop math skills by grouping, adding,
subtracting and eventually multiplying with blocks. Older children make early experiments
with gravity, balance, and geometry.
Creatively -- Blocks offer children the chance to make their own designs, and
the satisfaction of creating structures that did not exist before. Beginning at the age
of two, children may use a variety of blocks for pretend-play. Children may become life-sized
actors in large block structures, or use figures to create dramas in miniature landscapes.
Children value their own block structures whether or not they represent specific things.
Rather than asking a child, "What did you make?" say, "Tell me about what you
made." This will encourage a dialog and offer the child new opportunities to explore.
Blocks in the classroom
Ideally, the block area in a classroom should be three-sided, appropriate
for noisy activity, out of the way of other classroom traffic, and big enough
for many children to work in at once. Create safe places for block structures to
remain standing so that children may go back and continue building at a later time.
Shelves at children's eye-level can be used to store blocks and provide
space for other activities. Blocks should be organized neatly so that children
are invited to use them independently and capable of cleaning up on their own.
Block play is open-ended, and its possibilities are limitless. Even as children grow
and develop new interests and abilities, blocks remain an active, creative learning tool.
Hirsch, E.S. 1996. The Block Book.(Third Ed.) Washington, DC: NAEYC. #132/$5.
NAEYC. 1993. Block Play: Constructing Realities (video). Washington, DC: NAEYC.#838/$39.