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Building with blocks provides one of the most valuable learning experiences available for young children. Block play stimulates learning in all domains of development, intellectual, physical, and social-emotional and language. The current research shows that block play is fundamental for later cognitive success for learning math and numbers. In a research study, “Block Play Performance among Preschoolers as a Predictor of Later School Achievement in Mathematics”, published in the Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education, the researchers proved that children who play with blocks when they are 3, 4 and 5 years of age will do better in math, especially Algebra in middle school.
There is a natural progression of block play and introducing infants and toddlers to block play is invaluable.
TODDLERS- When toddlers are first introduced to blocks they may learn how to hold on to them, how they feel, how heavy they are and begin to carry them around. They will experiment with how blocks may sound when they fall, or when they bang them together. Soon toddlers are learning cause and effect as they are filling and dumping, stacking, knocking down, and laying blocks side by side on the floor. Concepts such as learning sizes, comparing objects by making exact matches and the order of objects are also being learned. Socially, block play contributes to their developing self-confidence, for example as they learn how to stack blocks they are proud of their success and feel a sense of accomplishment. Through block play, a young child’s expressive and receptive language is being expanded by learning words such as “fill,” “dump,” “pick up,” “stack,” “balance,” “tall”, and “short.”
3 YEAR OLD- Three-year-olds block play will look different as they move into a simple constructive type of play. A three-year-old usually plays alone or near other children and are beginning to engage in pretend play. They are starting to build enclosures that resemble zoos, farm pens, roads, and castles. They are learning concepts such as sorting, ordering, counting, one to one correspondence, size and shape.
4 and 5-YEAR-OLDS- At four and five children’s block play is more experienced, developed, balanced coordinated, and organized. Constructive play involves play that is more open-ended and exploratory. Children begin to combine structures to make more complex buildings. Socially, four and five-year-olds are beginning to share ideas and are starting to cooperate and build with others. They may use block accessories such as people, transportation vehicles, and animals to engage in imaginary/ pretend play. They are learning more complex patterns, classifying, sequencing, counting, fractions, and problem-solving. According to article “Constructive Play” written by Walter Frew et.al, “Block play shows the opportunity for conceptual understanding in the area of structural engineering as children explore forces of gravity, compression, tension and the relationship between materials and successful design to achieve balance, stability, and even aesthetic sensibility.”
Preschoolers are beginning to notice and explore more 3– dimensional objects such as cones, cylinders, cubes, and prisms, (geometry). Science is also being learned through block play as children start making predictions, comparisons, experiment with cause and effect, stability, and balance. Their vocabulary is also expanded by block play as they develop an understanding of spatial relations and words such as “under,” “over,” “off,” “bottom,” “top,” “through,” and “beside.”
What type of environment and materials are needed to encourage block play?
Toddler Environment- Block play should be set up in an area that is free from other distractions and out of traffic. The type of blocks needed in meet the Environment Rating Scale for Infants and Toddlers – Revised Edition, should be non-interlocking and at least 2 inches by 2 inches. The ITERS-R tool suggests at least three sets of different types of blocks. Each set should contain at least 10 blocks to allow the children enough to properly explore. Accessories such as people, animals and transportation vehicles should also be available to expand play.