By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Building on my last blog post – The Back to Basics Conundrum in Early Learning: Reflecting on the Past to Move us Forward this post is about one of the most basic and essential elements of early childhood education … BLOCKS! Blocks can be defined as visual-spatial construction play objects; materials that children use when they imagine and construct something in their world (Ness & Farenga, 2016). They can also be defined as fun and engaging! Karyn Wellhousen Tunks author of A Constructivist Approach to Block Play in Early Childhood calls them a source of pleasure and learning. Blocks are a basis of joyful learning for all children. If blocks are basic materials for children’s play and learning experiences, then we have to bring back the basics!
Blocks are actually basic and beyond. They have a long history and a strong connection to the theories of constructivism. Block play is an opportunity to make meaning and learn. Kinzer, Gerhart & Coca (2016) state, “throughout history, humans have utilized natural materials in the environment such as soap, wood pieces, rocks, and boxes to build and test their ideas and inventions” (p. 390). It was Friedrich Froebel, the father of kindergarten that first introduced blocks to an educational setting. It was Caroline Pratt, who invented unit blocks; the most common essential blocks for children. Pratt, founder of City and Country Schools, designed the first unit blocks in 1913. Blocks are tools for learning as Hewett (2001) describes in this article. Children of all ages (and adults too) love engaging with blocks. The second edition of Playing and Learning in Early Childhood Education (Dietze & Kashin, 2018) has a whole chapter on blocks. The following table from that chapter shows the benefits of block play for children from infancy to school age, along with lists of recommended blocks.
Blocks connect to multiple developmental domains and learning areas such math, science, engineering, language, literacy, dramatic play and more. Blocks work outdoors as well as indoors. Blocks are a form of expression – an opportunity for a child to speak in the language of blocks. Blocks are one of the hundred languages, and a hundred, hundred more. Blocks can be seen developmentally through stages. Harriet Johnson (1867-1934) observed and documented the structures children built with unit blocks and recognized patterns. In 1933 she published a description of seven stages of block play.
Once again I am excited to be working with Cindy Green and partnering with Louise Kool and Galt to present a full-day block extravaganza: Building Minds and Bodies with Blocks: A Day of Professional Learning for the Early Years on April 20th, 2018. In addition to receiving a poster with the stages depicted that can be used on a daily basis to support and encourage block play, participants will learn about the affordances of block play, schema play as it relates to blocks, setting up the block environment and more. The most exciting part is that we get to play with blocks as our good friends at Louise Kool and Galt will provide an ample supply of unit blocks, hollow blocks, outdoor blocks, block accessories and loose parts so that we can see for ourselves that they should be in every early learning environment. Please join us for a day of block play! If you book before March 12th, 2018 you are eligible for the early bird rate! “Blocks have been with us for a long time—and the activity of building even longer”. Blocks have rich potential as a “learning tool for young children to invent and represent ideas” (Hewitt, 2001, p. 12). Blocks are as relevant today as they were a hundred years ago. Blocks are the essential learning tool that children can use in their play.