Blocks are Essential for Play and Learning: Every Learning Environment Should Have Many of Them!

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!

The Potential of Block Play

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.

Can you see the schema play?

Can you see the schema play?

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.

Can you see the magic?

Can you see the magic?

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.

The affordances of luxy blocks

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!

Promo for 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.

Caroline Pratt

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!

48 thoughts on “Blocks are Essential for Play and Learning: Every Learning Environment Should Have Many of Them!

  1. Blocks have endless possibilities, they can be used at building devises, as make believe play and these ones specifically as science resources and the light and shapes that filter through. An amazing resource for anyone. Just beautiful.

    Like

  2. Those.blocks look amazing. Our outdoor playground is lacking some provocations, these would be awesome in any season. Sun/rain/snow/fog. ❤️

    Like

    • The luminescent blocks look amazing. My class continually amazes me innwhat they come up with to build. Lately they have been building different structures with varied rooms for animals.

      Like

  3. I love observing my students’ mathematical thinking that comes about from building and creating with unit blocks! All blocks are open-ended and easily accessible by all my students of varying developmental and academic levels. Incorporating loose parts and different types of blocks together (including natural blocks like stumps, tree cookies, etc.) inside and out, leads to so much meaningful learning! Great blog post. Thanks.

    Like

  4. Would love these for my kiddos. They can learn so much through building. These blocks would be a great addition to our light table as well as outdoors.

    Like

  5. Blocks are always popular in our class…so versatile and inspiring…lots of imaginative play that can change each day based on add ins. Awesome idea for a workshop!

    Like

  6. It was more than 45 yeas ago that i was a hippie-looking student teacher at The Froebel Institute in London England, when i first encoubtered a sacred brick(block)! I thought i was in trouble because i was called to the Principal’s office. She looked prim and stern sittibg behibd her desk piled high with papers, and she got up without acknowledging me as her secretary entered the room to annoubce my arrival. Walking straifgt past me, she continued in a way that indicated that i was to follow. Stopping by the side of tall glass cabiners she turned and unlockwd the doirs with keys that had been atrached to her waist. she stood in sillence for a moment that felt like an age. She reached forward and picked up two wooden bricks, fondled them in her old skinny hands, and then passed them to me. They werw Friedrich Froebel’s wooden blocks- the ones that were his original bricks that he made for children’s play. Froebel was the person who initiated block play, kindergarten (child’s garden),’gifts’ and ‘occupatiobs’, crafts, math patternibg work, and other things that have been absorbed into the consciousness of early years work. Miss Brierly explained about the bricks and then handed me two of the gifts for me to examine. i will never know why, out if hundreds of students, i got that opportunity. My grades had not been good, my paricipation was only average, and i am sure i looked most uninspiring. Froebel’s work did inspire me for years in seveeal ways, but i am not totally a Froebelian in my philosophy (ssorry Froebel). Those bricks(they dont call them blocks in Enland – in German they are baukasten), are now in a museum with the gifts and occupations.

    Like

  7. Blocks allow children to fully engage in the inquiry and scientific processes. The opportunities are endless to engage in mathematics, literacy, science and technology, and the arts, while using gross and fine motor skills. Blocks provide an entry point that is accessible for all children. They are the ultimate differentiated material!

    Like

  8. Blocks offer such a variety of open ended opportunities. The Luxy Luminescent Building Blocks would be a wonderful asset. I can see our children using them in natural ligbt to bring their ideas to life and express themselves through their creations.

    Like

  9. I am so excited to see these workshops offered to support block play in the Early Years! I am making it my focus this year to build up my block resources, to modify how I introduce and encourage the use of blocks, and to learn more about incorporating loose parts into block play! Thanks for the very informative info to help me get started on my journey.

    Like

  10. Blocks are the original “loose parts” they were the spot in the daycare/school where the children decided what the theme of the centre would be – some days it was a city, some days a forest, some days mountains for dinosaurs or caves for wild animals. Blocks is where each child an be themselves.

    Like

  11. Blocks are the one thing tht every child in our early learning centre uses on a daily basis! It always amazes me what they can create.

    Like

  12. Blocks enable students to explore, think, create, investigate, build and so much more while engaged in creative play and inquiry. I teach a grade 1/2 and still have blocks as part of my maker space.

    Like

  13. My SA use the blocks every single day to build intricate structures. No structure is ever the same as they keep adding to their play every day. They bring their dramatic play not the area. I would love to be able to bring the acrylic blocks into the program. We could use them both snide and outside. It would really add another dimension to their block play.
    Thank you for this opportunity to win these blocks!

    Like

  14. my kiddies love block play and they are always pulling the loose parts into it and believe me I have a lot of loose parts, so clean up time is a whole class event in the block area 😉

    Like

  15. Blocks provide an engaging entry point into play. I appreciate how your article touches on multiple aspects of block play spanning the spectrum from the foundation of it to the research behind it. Blocks will forever be an integral component of a holistic open-ended playful learning environment. I am inspired by the gorgeous block resources that you have showcased here. The vibrancy of the Luxy Luminescent building blocks is sure to captivate and invite children to explore and create.

    Like

  16. Blocks are wonderful open ended materials. They allow children to be creative by using them in a variety of ways! A quality block area is an essential piece is any Early Childhood program.

    Like

  17. Taking wooden blocks outside was something I had never thought of. We typically just used sticks and stumps for block play. It was an amazing addition to their play. And they are now permanently outside now! Thank you for the opportunity 🙂

    Like

  18. Love this article, Diane. I’d like to hear a little more about which, if any blocks, you find to be your favorite. I certainly know I have a few in our classroom that my students cherish.

    I’ve noticed that wooden blocks, especially those that are well-maintained or hand-crafted, become a vehicle for self-regulation for some students. Many of our students with sensory disorders use blocks for olfactory and textural exploration. For these students, block play isn’t about building, it is about satisfying their diverse sensory needs by experiencing the innate qualities of the blocks. One or two of our students have even requested to nap with them!

    Like

    • Thanks Misha! By far my favourite are unit blocks. I love the history behind them and their versatility. I also love the feel of the blocks so can completely understand why your students respond to them in that way! I have my very own set of unit blocks – which are actually my grandson’s but we keep them at my house!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve got some birch candleholders I just repurposed as blocks for our new classroom, and I can’t wait to see what the students will do with them. They are so soft to the touch…

        Like

  19. when i took my placements as student many years ago, the first things i noticed in the classroom were unit blocks. i was fascinated with them! And i loved observing children playing with them: building, discussing, transporting, helping, and sharing the final work! i still love blocks for how they can inspire children and how versatile they can be.

    Like

  20. I love watching our toddlers play with blocks. I enjoy seeing their emerging skills come out as they play with the blocks. We currently don’t have our own set of large blocks, we have to borrow the 3-5’s set. It would be wonderful to have our own set

    Like

  21. We have many different types of blocks. Wooden, plastic, plastic see through for the light cube, as well as larger cardboard ones that they can build forts with. Endless possibilities for play when you are young and have an amazing imagination. Children of all ages and stages can use blocks safely with the right size. Definitely a staple in childcare as well as home.

    Like

  22. I love that all ages of children can bring a unique perspective to block play. All ages can take a simple object amd create an amazing masterpiece from their own imagination.

    Like

  23. I agree 100 percent that block play is essential inside and outdoors. Children develop unlimited skills when they are allowed to play freely with blocks. I like how you can use the blocks and then the children can add whatever they would like to their play stations. Since the wooden blocks and the transparent blocks are not affordable for many schools and centres it is important to know you don’t need to purchase blocks but you can reuse and recycle items until you can afford to purchase the quality products.😁

    Like

  24. I am always discouraged when educators say “the boys never leave the block center”
    so much learning going on that is fabulous so I point it out.

    Like

  25. blocks are the first and foremost loose part. i advocate for block play whenever i can. it supports all areas of development and is fun and engaging. the epitomy if hands on and minds on play!

    Like

  26. Last year in Kindergarten, we did a project on China. A boy in the class built the Great Wall of China. He knew it had to be long so it wound its way throughout the classroom. It was colossal! When my Ks went to French, I would have 22 Grade 3/4 students in my room for Art class. I told them to try not to step on the Great Wall of China and crossed my fingers. It survived for weeks, till we went on to the next project and had to dismantle it. That project was a lesson for me in how a child’s joy of building – builds self esteem and awe and respect for even the smallest people in the school.

    Like

  27. Love this so much!! Blocks have so many amazing and important qualities and elements to them and also have endless possibilities!

    Like

  28. If I had to preserve one area at the cost of all others, I think it would be “the block area”. It seems all varieties of other play and interactions flow from it – of course engineering, but also, socio-dramatic, problem-solving, and the language of aesthetics. One of the features of block play that fascinates me most is how children first build the basic setting of their co-created story drama, then add all these wonderful details using smaller bits of fabric, stone, coloured paper…whatever they can find. Just as adults put their personal stamp on their living room for instance, adding candle holders, photos, pictures, and other decorative elements, so too, do the children. The impetus to “decorate” what they have built seems universal and it truly intrigues me.

    Like

  29. The children at the centre where I work love to play with blocks. They are so open ended, they travel all around the room becoming buildings, farms, roads, food and even music! You can never have too many blocks!

    Like

  30. I absolutely love watching children play with blocks. The whole thought process that goes into their work is amazing. We have various blocks in most areas of our room, and outside we have scrap lumber that they create with. Our group of children spend the majority of their day building/creating/testing ideas/planning. I started at the program I am working at 3 years ago, all the youngest children are leaving off to school in a week. I was looking back at pictures, I love the progression of their skills. from small, mostly all on the floor, to big 5 feet tall structures.

    I think your block workshop should come to Kelowna, or somewhere in the Okanagan 🙂

    Like

  31. I LOVE the deep thinking that can surface from blocks exploration. Besides the look and feel of the physical, I get the privilege of listening to student’s stories as they weave and refine their thinking. As a district, I’ve promoted adding Keva planks to all maker spaces and I see the results as I go from school to school. This idea of lots of building should not be kept at primary level but extended to all grades. I see great value in secondary classes being more hands-on.
    Thank YOU for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

  32. What a wonderful read. I value block play and the transformation of materials that develop from deep thinking and exploration of them. Investing in a variety of blocks is so important to meeting the minds of children. We currently don’t own the Luxy Luminescent Building Blocks but can see the beauty in the clear blocks and how the light beams from within them in one of your images. Thanks for sharing and let your light shine.

    Like

  33. I think block play is such an essential part of any early childhood program.

    We offer the children a variety of blocks and loose parts, however I have noticed that the children tend to gravitate towards the unit and hollow blocks. I can understand why.

    The texture, weight and smell of the wooden blocks as you hold them in your hands provide such a multi-sensory experience. The magical sound they make as children pile them on top of each other to make “skyscrapers,” or watch them fall into a heap on the floor is like no other.

    Also blocks are timeless and offer wonderful, opportunities for adults and children to connect and share stories. They will never become obsolete.

    Thank you for such an inspirational blog.

    I hope to participate in one of your block play workshops in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Blocks, like humans come in all types of sizes, colours and are made up of many varying types of materials. Blocks three dimensional design lends them into being one of the most accessible sources of creative prototypes. Individuals have the ability to plan, design, test, re-design, re-test just like actual prototype idea design theory. A great resource for engineering strategies, math, creativity, science, literacy, movement, music, design etc.
    The wonder of Blocks.

    Like

  35. Absolutely love blocks! I had to get a set of wooden blocks at my place for my niece who is a toddler she gets ecstatic when she over at my place just to use them! The best purchase I’ve made for her I would say! Love the fact that they are SO open-ended, and something that a child can grow with. This would be a wonderful addition in our home that would add endless possibilities of exploration!

    Like

  36. I often refer to blocks as an example, when explaining to parents what is meant by open ended materials. Playing with blocks, for children, offers endless opportunities. One child might build a sky scraper, another a castle, or a farm. Each child will use the blocks in a completely different way than the child before, each expressing their individuality. Blocks remain a staple in our early learning playroom. I am so excited for the opportunity to continue my learning and the chance to explore the use of blocks further during your visit the Ottawa area this fall.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. While building with blocks, continual problem solving comes into the play. While children are building alongside and/or with others, body language (nods, frowns,…) and oral language naturally occurs…(let’s see how high, what if we add more, that didn’t work…), along with math (counting blocks used, identifying shapes/figures created and/or used…). Children seem to never tire of building, balancing, imagining, creating…

    Like

  38. Just began learning and discovering block play! I have been amazed to see how these little minds can create such complex structures. Their problem solving skills are unbelievable. Can’t wait for the workshop!!!

    Like

  39. As a Kindie Teacher and now Mom to two girls block are on my must have list. Watching my toddler create with blocks continues to amaze me on a daily basis as she develops vocabulary and imaginative skills.

    Like

  40. I have a variety of blocks and what always amazes me how they utilize all the blocks in different ways and you never have to instruct the students how to do it. They become risk takers and their play with the blocks give me insights into their past schemas and past experiences which have taught them something to get them where they are today.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s