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Block Play Teaches Children Many Skills

by Micky Smith

Do you remember playing with building blocks when you were a child? The first blocks I remember were the wooden “ABC” variety. I can still see the bright letters and pictures that were carved onto those blocks.

Blocks are not only versatile toys, they are wonderful educational tools, also. The variety of blocks available today is tremendous, ranging from wooden unit blocks to soft, squeezable blocks for infants.

Most early childhood classrooms have a set of unit blocks, sturdy wooden blocks that come in many sizes, each based on a multiple of the basic unit block. Unit blocks teach children math concepts such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

To encourage imaginative play, provide simple accessories children can use with blocks. For example, sticks propped up in balls of play dough or modeling clay can become “trees.” Dollhouse people and toy cars, trucks and airplanes can be added to transform the blocks into a playhouse and community.

Provide a convenient container for storing blocks and a storage area that children can easily reach. Don’t forget to teach children to pick up blocks after play. Picking up after play develops organization and self-help skills, as well as independence.

Homemade blocks offer children a lesson in recycling and creativity. Karen Stephens, an Illinois State University child development instructor, gives the following suggestions for making homemade blocks:

*Sponge blocks—Collect an assortment of different size and color new sponges. These are good for even very young toddlers to stack. (Avoid sponges that already have soap in them.)

*Shoebox, oatmeal boxes and empty detergent boxes—Tape the lids closed on clean, empty boxes. Don’t cover the print on the boxes. Seeing the words on detergent or food boxes helps children begin to understand letters and their relationship to words.

*Big blocks—Shipping boxes and appliance boxes offer opportunities for large scale building, especially outdoors.

*Milk or juice carton blocks—Thoroughly clean and dry, stuff with newspaper and tape flat to close.

*Paper bag blocks—Fill paper bags with newspaper, fold opening to close and tape shut. Shape sides as flat as possible for easier stacking.

*Styrofoam blocks—Use the foam shapes that come with shipping materials for block play.

Other activities for encouraging creativity in block play include:

*How Tall? Children stack blocks as tall as they are. How many blocks does it take?

*Name It—Have children spell their names using blocks. Stretch it across the whole room.

*Stuffed Animal Houses—Have children build block homes to fit different-sized stuffed animals.

*Making Patterns: Provide blocks of different shapes or colors. Create a pattern for children to repeat. Example: Square, rectangle, square, rectangle, etc.

*I Spy A Block—Place a variety of blocks in the middle of the floor. Encourage children’s observation skills by describing blocks for them to find. Example: “I spy a triangle block. Where is it?”

For Release: Week of 08/29/04

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