Are You Playing with Blocks? Thoughts about All Ages Block Play

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. If we were to choose one quote that defines our view of professional learning and early childhood education, it would acknowledge our senior status and involve play.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing ~ George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time you played with blocks? Were you a child or an adult? When children play with blocks do you join in? I (Diane), love playing blocks with my grandson. Now 3 years old, Griffen and I have played together almost every time he visits. Griffen likes to stack blocks sequencing them from smallest to biggest. Other times, he likes to build towers so that he can knock them down with his “light saber”. Sometimes he stacks three blocks together to make a “hamburger” demonstrating the relationship between blocks and dramatic play. We have so much fun when we play together with blocks. Nothing but the best for my grandchildren! They have their own set of unit blocks at Bubbie’s house!

Recently, I chuckled when my son had me on speaker phone, and Griffen asked me. “Are you playing with blocks, Bubbie?” Perhaps if Cindy was over for a visit, I would have said, “Yes!” as we have been known to play with blocks together, on more than one occasion. I (Cindy), have taken great delight in watching how my great nephew Derrick is engaging with blocks. As an infant, he is taking interest and learning to navigate materials within his surroundings. In addition to mouthing the blocks, holding on to palm-sized blocks and banging them together is a current play interest. 

Last year, we wrote this blog post, Blocks are Essential for Play and Learning: Every Learning Environment Should Have Many of Them! Together we have facilitated a number of block workshops and we are very excited to announce that we have written an online block module which is offered by Strive, a collaborative group of Child Care and Early Years Practitioners who support learning and development in order to enhance quality practice. We believe that blocks are an essential part of quality practice. Blocks are iconic and historical. Every child needs access to an abundance of blocks so they truly can engage in complex play and thinking. Registration for the block module is available through Strive’s Community Professional Learning Calendar.

Here is a teaser from the introductory video in the module that shows us playing with blocks. In this part of the video we talk about adding loose parts to blocks.

Do you remember playing with blocks as a child? Blocks were probably part of your childhood! They were possibly part of the childhood of your parents and grandparents! Even your great, great grandparents would have played with blocks as young children. That’s how far back the history of blocks goes! Since the dawn of time children have constructed with the abundant building materials that nature provides. The recognition that children’s inherent impulse to construct is connected to learning, is an old idea. According to Hewitt (2001), Plato (429-347 BC), Comenius (1592-1670), and Pestalozzi (1746-1827) it was understood that it was important for children to have opportunities to construct. These giants of early childhood education were also proponents of play. Play is the way children learn.

We contend that play is also the way adults learn. We learned so much about blocks during the development of the module, Blocks Build Bodies and Minds through research but the most impactful learning was when we played with blocks. To really understand the affordances of blocks we needed to act on the blocks to discover their different physical properties. Affordance alludes to the qualities of an object that define its possible use or make clear how it can or should be used. The term was defined by Gibson (1979) and suggests that perception and action are inseparable as we immediately can see the operational properties of particular objects and how we might interact with them. There are now so many different types of blocks. Every day, it seems like new blocks are being designed and developed. What do you think children would learn from playing with blocks that are magnetic, sparkly, or translucent? What do you think you might learn?

We would like to invite you to experience, Blocks Build Bodies and Minds. This online professional learning module will provide you with the theory and the practice of blocks play! You will be able to engage with other colleagues taking the course as you bring the joy of blocks to children!

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