Wooden building blocks, invented by Caroline Pratt of the City & Country School in New York City over 100 years ago, are used in Reception to Grade 1 classrooms at B.D. Somani. This simple, yet versatile material, offers children a host of valuable learning experiences and engenders 21st-century skills in even very young children.
Children’s natural instinct is to explore and make sense of the world around them so they build their homes, their school, the post office, a hotel, the police station, the Burj Khalifa. They learn to gather information from each other, through many field trips within the neighborhood and from books in order to make their buildings realistic and remarkably detailed. Through daily work with blocks, children practice skills in collaboration, cooperation, observation, design engineering. They use the wooden people and animals to add characters to their structures along with other accessories such as pulleys for lifts, signs on buildings and roads, CCTV cameras, miniature books in libraries, electric lights, etc. Dramatic play naturally ensues as the culmination to their work.
In the West, many progressive early childhood educators, myself included, believe that every classroom should be equipped with a full inventory of blocks and other basic materials props so that children can re-create their world. This work and play encourages mental, physical, social, emotional and language development. As the blocks are carefully made to be fractions or multiples of the basic brick shape, mathematical thinking and understanding is deepened and sets the stage for future success in higher level mathematics.
Here are some of the key ways in which block building benefits young learners and thinkers
Block play fosters both fine and gross motor development as well as hand-eye coordination. Through planning, designing and mapping, strong spatial sense is developed.
As children are motivated to build complex structures, they are faced with numerous problems in design, engineering, balance, symmetry, detail, all of which are solved collaboratively and often through necessary trial and error.
Creativity and Imagination
With an almost endless supply of blocks in varied shapes and sizes, children can create and re-create their ideas and interests each day. They learn to respect the ideas of others when they work in a team to implement their plans. The addition of minute and accurate details to their buildings never ceases to amaze the adult onlookers.
In team planning meetings, children gain confidence to express their ideas. In the earnest quest to gather information, they practice interview skills as well as consulting books often above typical reading levels. Their stories, signage, community newspapers and character development are authentic and sophisticated.
Math and Science Concepts
Children learn to recognize shapes and symmetry. They learn to estimate, measure and count. They learn about size and length and comparison. They learn about balance. Blocks teach children scientific and design concepts of stability and gravity while encouraging them to experiment and explore all the possibilities.
Social and Emotional Growth
Building with blocks teaches children to take turns and share; it teaches them patience, compromise, and cooperation. They take great pride in individual and collaborative work and they respect the work of their peers. If someone’s building accidentally falls, numerous helpers jump in to assist with reconstruction. This kind of work teaches them to become self-reliant, builds self-esteem and increases attention span.
The outdoor block yard, equipped with large boxes, hollow blocks, planks, saw horses and ladders allows for buildings on a different scale. The children’s play space is invented and created each day using many of the same concepts as their indoor work. However, this outdoor play is far more physically challenging, imaginative and engaging than visiting the same jungle gym every day.
Whether a solo or group effort, one thing is for certain, block building prepares children to be risk takers, design thinkers, collaborators and communicators in their future endeavours.