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Parents sometimes wonder why teachers devote so much time and space to block play. While the idea of stacking a few blocks on top of one another may seem quite simple, block play is actually a wonderful launch pad for a variety of sophisticated skill sets. To understand why this is so, let us look at one example from our Twos classroom.

This young girl is engaged in free exploration of our large foam blocks. She is learning how she can and can’t stack things. She can try as many configurations as she wants, and through this hands-on activity she will discover the properties of the blocks, as well as discovering the effect of gravity. Notice that she has experimented with leaning a block at the base of the structure, and is looking at how she can place the block in her hand to make it part of her structure. Early block exploration of this kind has been shown to develop three-dimensional thinking and spacial awareness, both skills that help boost mathematical reasoning ability in later years. The blocks become a great tool for dramatic play and offer a natural way for children to move from parallel to cooperative play as they begin to build roads for the cars, or homes for animals. Blocks also offer concrete problem-solving opportunities for children who can work alone or with others to find ways to make their structure work.

Different types of building activities call for different skill sets. When children build towers, they are focused on how to sustain the tallest structure. That is a different challenge than building an enclosure with a roof and openings for the occupants to enter and leave. The wonderful thing about this very open-ended activity is that it promotes creativity, problem solving, and cooperation among the children. Block play is multi-sensory, making it a highly accessible form of learning. During block play, we hear wonderful use of expressive language as the children learn to work with the building materials. They may narrate their own creation, or they may engage in detailed discussions with others about a group undertaking.

Block play can be completely open ended, with the children building something purely of their own devising. At other times, the teacher may offer a “challenge” to the children, asking them to come together to build homes for our zoo animals and transportation to move the animals to the zoo. Or showing them an “inspiration building” like the Taj Mahal or the leaning tower of Pisa and asking them how they would build it. There is a great deal of collaborative learning in these group activities.

In this picture, the children were exploring a type of block with both straight and curved pieces that could snap together. After trying some different configurations, the children decided to build a tower they could get inside. Because it was a round tower, it reminded them of the leaning tower of Pisa which they had learned about earlier in the year, so they decided that their tower would be a model of this famous structure. They were very excited to accomplish this, and worked together to figure out how to achieve their goal. Think of all the skills used in this activity; the children used creativity to see what type of configurations were possible with their building materials, they recalled a past lesson, they communicated their ideas to the teacher and to each other, and they worked together cooperatively. They used principles of proportion, balance and symmetry. Through trial and error, the discovered how to make their tower stand, how to leave an opening for the entrance, and how to take turns sharing their creation with one another. These simple playthings provided a truly multi-disciplinary lesson disguised as pure fun. This is the best way for children to learn, and it is the way we love to teach at Landmark Preschool.