By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. If we were to sit down and calculate how many early learning environments we have visited individually and together it would boggle our minds, reminding us of our (almost) senior citizen status! We met many, many years ago when we were both teaching early childhood education at a community college. Part of our role was to visit students in their placements. Some were inspiring high-quality environments that were wonderful experiences for our students and others left a lot to be desired. Essentially, what these environments lacked were open-ended materials that had variables that children could imaginatively manipulate supporting their learning, creativity and overall development. Usually, these programs did not have an abundance of blocks. Blocks are probably one of the biggest investments that can be made to equip a quality early learning environment. Yes, they are expensive, but children are worth it. Every child should have access to quality blocks!
Blocks have a long history in early childhood education but we worry that their value is often overlooked. In Playing and Learning in Early Childhood, co-authored by Dietze and Kashin, 2018 the value of blocks play is clearly stated.
Children who participate in quality block play experiences develop knowledge and skills that are foundational for understanding language, science, and math concepts and processes. Block play contributes to children building confidence in working individually and in groups, which is essential for later social and academic settings. When children use blocks in pretend play, they are enhancing the use of their imaginations more than when they participate in other experience centres such as the dramatic play area, because blocks are an open-ended, less structured material. Through the use of blocks, children develop skills that are later beneficial to engineers, designers, architects, and artists. When children play with blocks they solve problems in spatial visualization, spatial orientation, planning and problem solving, and implicit measurement.
Blocks support schema play, repeated play behaviours and thinking that children experience and exhibit over and over. Children learn about the world around them through transporting, connecting, transforming, positioning and trajectory, just to mention a few. The affordances of blocks enable children to engage in this type of play on a daily basis.
Children need time and materials to become efficient block players and their level of engagement becomes more complex with experience. When children are invited to transport materials around the room and in the outdoors, and combine them with other accessories then the play potential is limitless. Blocks come in many shapes, sizes and compositions. When children are offered numerous types of blocks, a good quantity, together with an abundance of accessories that include loose parts, the magic happens.
Blocks belong indoors and outdoors. We love the selection of outdoor blocks from Louise Kool and Galt and the indoor blocks from Community Playthings are things of beauty. We are thrilled to once again partner with our friends from Louise Kool and Galt to offer a full day of hands-on block learning on October 11th, 2018 in King City, York Region, Ontario. This workshop is back by popular request. In the Spring, the session was held in the Durham region and there were over one hundred educators in attendance. Teachers were able to engage in the play proposals that were offered and through their personal encounters with the affordances of such beautiful and magnificent materials they were excited about similar playful learning invitations that they could share with children. Not only were there numerous types of blocks, you should have seen the array of accessories/loose parts! Register before September 14th for the early bird price. Learn more about the value of blocks! Add a comment to the blog about why you believe every child has the right to block play to win a set of coloured Luxy Luminescent Building Blocks (one of our favourites)! The prize winner must reside in Canada.
We are also taking this workshop on the road. Perhaps we will see you at the full day session in London, Ontario on November 22nd, 2018. Save the date and stay tuned for more upcoming information! Perhaps, there will be more dates for Building Minds and Bodies with Blocks!
In closing, because we want to acknowledge the history of block play, we pay tribute to Caroline Pratt, who is credited with developing unit blocks. While we love all the amazing new products and are big proponents of loose parts play we believe that a complete set of unit blocks should be mandatory for every early learning environment.
Consider the power of Pratt’s words as she reflects on why she developed unit blocks and let us know why you believe in these flexible and adaptable materials for a chance to win the block giveaway! Join us for our block workshops for more opportunities for play, reflection, resources and prizes!