Have you ever wondered why blocks are such an important part of any good early childhood classroom? Or why your child seems to like playing with them so much? Perhaps it is the simplicity of their design and the multiplicity of their uses that make blocks a perennial favorite with preschoolers. Even more important, blocks represent a microcosm of life: your child can use them to construct his own understanding about how things work, and even how life works.
The Science of Blocks
When your child plays with blocks, building replicas of the world around her, she is like a little scientist, experimenting with balance, structure, space, and even gravity! Have you ever watched your child attempt to build a simple tower, only to have it fall down at a particular height? Perhaps you have noticed that she tried different ways of placing the blocks until finally she created a tower that stayed up! Amazingly, what she is doing is using the scientific method of experimentation, observation, and cause-and-effect to solve the problem of the tumbling tower.
The Math of Blocks
Given the many shapes that blocks come in, they are the perfect tool for hands-on learning about basic math concepts: shape, size, area, geometry, measurement, and equivalencies. While playing with blocks, your child may naturally begin to sort them by a particular attribute, such as shape or size. He may notice that long rectangle blocks make much better bases than the triangular ones, or that curved blocks need to lie flat on the floor. This exploration into the nature of shapes prepares your child for later geometric understanding. You may also notice that your child enjoys making long lines of blocks. This is an important first step in grasping the concept of measurement. Children often delight when they notice that things are the same length. For example, "Look, my blocks are as long as the couch!" This would be the perfect time to ask your child, "Do you think you are the same size as your line of blocks? Can you lay next to it to see?" By asking a "next step" question, you extend the learning by asking your child to apply what he has learned from the first measurement of the couch to a new object — himself!
The Language of Blocks
Block play is an effortless way to get children to practice language skills simply because there is so much to talk about! Many children like to describe what they're building, or they narrate as they go along. Some young builders talk to themselves as they try new things. This makes the block area a prime place for your child to experiment with open-ended questions such as, "What might happen if . . ." and "How many ways can you . . ."; Just by presenting a question, idea, or new prop, you can inspire your child for hours of constructive play.
The Social World of Blocks
Of course, the "pretend play" aspect of block-building also supports the development of emotional and social skills. In an early childhood classroom, the block area is an active social center that encourages children to share, take turns, listen, and communicate. While blocks can be a solitary activity, in most classrooms they are the place where children congregate. Even in your own home you may notice that when you bring out the blocks, everyone wants to join in the fun! Perhaps it is the open-ended nature of blocks that makes them so good for practicing a variety of social skills. There is no one "right" way to build with them, thus requiring children to work creatively together to decide how to use them.