Fun and Learning with Blocks

Long before computers, remote controls, or even batteries, there was the simple, humble building block. And it remains a pillar of childhood fun and learning both in the classroom and at home.

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The world of toys is a sophisticated place. Toys walk, talk, blink, beep, sing. Toys can help a child learn to spell, count or recognize the sounds of different barnyard animals. But long before computers, remote control, or even batteries, there was the simple, humble building block. And it remains a pillar of childhood fun and learning both in the classroom and at home.

The Whole Child

Building blocks involve the child as a whole. Playing with blocks requires her to move her muscles, to bend and lift. With blocks she will discover the way different objects feel in her hands. She'll need to think about spaces and shapes. She'll need to formulate and risk thoughts, ideas and interests of her own. Building blocks stimulate the early mathematical sensibilities in a child, exposing her to angles, lines and rudimentary geometric awareness.

The Real McCoy

Blocks are made of various materials and come in many colors. The most basic ones are wood and the true Unit Block is rectangular and sized according the proportional standard of 1:2:4. Wood is a great material for unit blocks because its tough, not too heavy but heavy enough to feel substantial and accurately cut.

He Might Not Ever Outgrow Them

Well, he's sure to eventually, but a good set of unit blocks will grow with your child. Little ones may do little more than touch and grip them, or toss them around and knock them together. As a child gets older he'll and develops more muscle control, he'll be able to combine blocks, stack them and line them up. As early as two years old a child may make his first attempts at building structures. This is the first step toward imaginative, creative play with blocks. By the age of three, a child may learn how to fit pieces together. He'll build towers and bridges and experiment with enclosures. At three or four, a child will start to recognize and construct patterns, working them into his ideas for the structures he wants to make. Children in kindergarten and early primary grades use blocks to recreate structures and scenes from the world around them.

Social Development

Blocks help children to learn socially. The block area of a classroom is usually alive with conversation, the sharing of ideas and the struggle for the best blocks. It's about as complete a social experience as a small child can have. To enjoy block time, children have to make friends and cooperate.

Physical Development

Building with blocks is a physical exercise. Picking up a block, lifting it, stacking it, fitting it into place - it all builds up the strength in a child's fingers and hands. It develops hand-eye coordination. By age two, children begin to recognize the relationships between the blocks and the spaces where the blocks will fit. This understanding of perspective is important for everything from reading and understanding maps to keeping your balance stepping onto the sidewalk while trying to read that map. Design and representation rely heavily on the skills first stimulated by playing with unit blocks.

Academic Head Start

Experience with blocks can be academically beneficial for a child. Recognition of sizes and shapes is usually followed by a desire to articulate them. This is the motive for acquiring and using vocabulary. Grouping, adding, subtracting and even multiplying with blocks is a great way for preschoolers and kindergartners to develop math skills. Older children might use blocks to make playful, early experiments with gravity, balance and geometry.

Creative Expression

With blocks, a child gets a chance to make his own designs and experience the satisfaction of creating structures that didn't exist before. Around two years of age a child may embark on pretend play using a variety of blocks. Blocks give a child the equipment to manifest his imagination with something tangible. The details exist in the child's mind and heart while his hands participate, as does the space around him, through the anchoring power of the blocks. Children create drama and sculpture - the possibilities are endless.

The Setting

The block area should be three-sided. This allows for easy access and it give the child walls to build against if he needs them. Also, a large open side allows for lots of coming and going. The world of blocks may quickly expand to a world of stuffed animals, pots and pans or things from outdoors. It's good to have enough room for a number of children to work together, or have separate projects going. And it should be a reasonably secure place so block structures can be left standing for the builders to come back to later on.

An oldie but a goodie, the unit block continues to satisfy and challenge all at once. It's longevity is testimony to its basic substantial value. Give your child a set of unit blocks and you will open doors you don't even know are there. The mind of a child, set free to learn as it wants to, will guide itself on an exploration into the vastness of the playroom.

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