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Building blocks: foundations for learning

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Publish date: 2019-07-31

Every playroom should have multiple sets of unit blocks with assorted props linked to the children’s developmental stage and current interests. They should be displayed on open shelves with plenty of time and space to build and rebuild invented and familiar structures.

Block play helps to build the foundation for strong maths and science skills in children. It seems such a simple activity that we often overlook the value of block play.

During block play children learn important maths and science concepts including length, comparisons, number, 3D shapes, estimation, symmetry and balance.

Problem-solving and creativity is encouraged and with the teacher’s guidance they learn the language of maths and science. Words like bigger, tall, more, less and next to become real as they build. Children are able to test a hypothesis and start to build scientific reasoning.  For example what will happen if I balance this long rectangle on a cylinder?

Block play is not just for boys. Add props and accessories that will encourage girls to enjoy this area. This is a vitally important thing for teachers to consider when encouraging girls, from a young age, to become interested and engaged in STEM concepts and learning.

Let us not forget that children learn best when they choose to play and are having fun. So make your block area inviting and interesting by adding different props perhaps linked to your theme for the week.

If you don’t have space in your playroom for a permanent block corner, then you could consider setting aside a small room or an area on your veranda  as a permanent block corner for the whole playschool to use at different times.

Remember that in order to optimise learning in this area you may need to limit the number of children interacting there at any one time. The number of children would depend on the size of your block area. Encourage children to work together or alone, respecting the space of others. Many social and language skills are learnt in this way.

Supervision and thoughtful guidance from the teacher can stimulate and extend learning in this area.

Both selecting and packing blocks away is an important part of the learning experience. If the blocks are stored on open shelves with each unit clearly marked on the shelf, children can sort and match blocks in order to pack away. Encourage each child to pack away what he has created after you have taken a photo or he has done a drawing of his construction to record his efforts. This makes children feel that their creation has been respected and not just destroyed.

Having a knowledge of the stages of block play helps you to rediscover the value of block play for all age groups. Keep these simple stages in mind:

Tote and carry – at first it is all about moving the blocks around, piling them up, pushing them over, exploring the qualities of the blocks – are they colourful, smooth, heavy, light, interlocking etc.

The beginning of building – this can be piling blocks in a tower or laying them in rows on the floor. It can be working on the horizontal surface or starting to work vertically. Beginning to use blocks in representative and pretend ways as the child drives them as ‘cars’ along the carpet or flies them through the air as ‘aeroplanes’ is evident.

Bridging – this is when children begin to explore using blocks with the space around them. They may pile two blocks to make a bridge or tunnel in a trial an error way. It shows the development of motor control and the understanding of the concept of balance.

Structures – this is when children start to build enclosures with an inside and outside. They experiment with the space that is around the blocks. This can be encouraged by using props in play making these structures into houses, car parks, caves etc. ​​​​​​​

Representational building – this is the point that children start to use symmetry, patterns, design, and balance. Their structures become very intentional, they name different functional parts, and incorporate and element of planning not previously seen.

So, remember – the building is only as tall as the foundation is strong enough to build on. Help create strong foundation skills for maths and science by getting your children building building building!

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