Wooden unit blocks have been around for decades and continue to be one of the best toys available to promote learning. They are open-ended materials that stimulate the imagination and set the stage for discovery and invention. One child may want to create a zoo for the animals while another wants to create an airport. Then there is the fun of just building and building the blocks as high as they can go without falling over.
Blocks are used by babies, toddlers, preschoolers and even elementary school children. Babies and toddlers enjoy touching and picking them up. As muscle control develops, two and three-year-olds enjoy combining blocks, lining them up and stacking them. Older three and four-year-olds begin to balance and fit pieces together. Before you know it they are building towers, castles and enclosures. By four and five years of age patterns develop, as well as very advanced structures including cities and landscapes.
In the Early Childhood setting we want to focus on the numerous areas of growth which include; social/emotional, physical, intellectual and creative development. Blocks help children learn in each of these areas:
Blocks encourage children to work together, negotiate and compromise. Emotionally children can become frustrated when blocks fall down or when friends disagree on how to build a structure. When this occurs, children are given the opportunity to use their verbal skills in order to express themselves and solve problems.
Block building strengthens muscles throughout the body by reaching for, picking up and stacking. Eye-hand coordination is also developed as children start to figure out which block will fit where.
Children begin to develop vocabulary as they learn to describe different sizes and shapes. Math comes into play as the children group, add, subtract and eventually multiply with blocks. The concept of balance, stability and gravity begin to be understood.
Blocks are used by children to create their own designs as well as beginning to create what they see in the world around them. Animals, people, trees, pebbles and variety of other objects can be added to the block area to promote creativity.
It is always best to ask a child to tell you about their block building instead of asking them what they made. This allows for an open-ended conversation with the children and does not put more value on only structures that represent something.
Adults have even been known to enjoy working with good old fashion wooden unit blocks!