Block Play: Building A Child's Mind
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Toys that Stimulate Young Imaginations
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.
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