Encouraging Block Play
Building on your child’s interest to encourage meaningful block play.
Blocks are a classic toy that never stop challenging, stimulating, and engaging young children’s learning. Building with blocks provides one of the most valuable learning experiences available for young children. It stimulates learning in all domains of development, intellectual, physical, and social-emotional and language. Toy blocks can help children develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, cognitive flexibility, language skills, social competence, and engineering skills. Block play also helps boost creativity and encourages children to match, count and sort. There are so many benefits to block play, so here are some tips to encourage it!
1. Make a designated area for building
By creating a physical space designed for building, you are helping your child to focus on creating without distraction from his or her thoughts. Think of it like this… Don’t you have a designated space where you work? This area does not have to be spacious, just make sure it’s big enough for your child to move around and build without getting in her own way.
2. Organize your materials
How do you store your blocks? Are they all dumped into a bin, stuffed behind the trucks and puzzles? You are not alone. Pull them out and sort them by shape. Once you have them sorted by shape, decide on a shelving system. The shelving system can help define your designated area for building. When you have your shelf in place, lay out the blocks according to shape and size. You can organize them in a manner that makes sense for you and your child– maybe placing the larger, heavier blocks on the bottom. The most important thing is that each shape is visually represented and can be easily accessed by your child.
3. Have different types of good quality blocks
Start out with your regular wooden blocks of a few different shapes, but grow your collection so your child doesn’t have to use just one type of block while building, but can combine them all. With different shapes, sizes and colors, your little architect will be able to build without inhibition. Try natural construction blocks, rainbow blocks, imaginarium blocks, and Grimm’s rainbow stacker.
4. Engage young children by participating yourself
Research shows that children spend more time exploring objects and focusing on complex tasks when playing with a parent than when playing alone — so grab a block, Mamas! Demonstrate how to build by “pre-building”. That means laying out a very simple structure and asking your child how he can add to it. Then follow his lead. He adds a rectangle, you do the same. Try to mirror their block building behavior. Once they get going, you can slowly step back and let them go. Remain interested, but do your own thing. You want to encourage independent play.
4. Engage them in spatial talk
Kids also benefit when we talk with them about spatial ideas. Ask questions like: How can you use these squares to make a long, flat line? How can you use them to make a tall, standing up line?
5. Encourage cooperative building projects
Younger children sometimes need help breaking the ice, so play the part of a party host to get joint building projects started. Ask what they might build? Will it be a house for stuffed animals or a parking garage for her race cars? Will they build flat or will their building be tall?
6. Challenge kids with specific building tasks
Free-wheeling block play is important. But as we’ve seen, it’s likely that kids also reap special benefits from trying to match a structure to a template. To get started, suggest a type of structure to build or ask them to make a pattern. You can use pictures and diagrams to inspire or guide a construction project.
7. Remember that fantasy is a valuable aspect of play — even play with toy blocks
Construction play seems so obviously mechanical, it’s easy to think only of the development of practical engineering skills. But kids also benefit from fantasy and make-believe.
For example, experiments suggest that kids become more creative and inventive when they are exposed to stories about magic. And encouraging preschoolers to engage in imaginative, fantastical, pretend play may help them develop better executive function skills, like impulse control. So if your child’s block-play seems focused more on fantasy than engineering, he or she is still reaping important cognitive benefits.
8. Stimulate interest by adding a small basket of accessories to the block area.
Is your child a reluctant builder? Take a cue from the experiment on language skills in toddlers: The researchers didn’t just give kids toy blocks. They also provided children with appropriately-scaled accessory toys, like people and cars. Such toys give kids ideas for construction projects (e.g., a barn for a toy cow) and encourage pretend play.
9. Combine block play with story-time.
Researcher Janie Heisner used toy blocks and block- accessories to illustrate parts of the stories she read to kids in a preschool. After each story, the kids were given access to the props. This tactic seemed to increase pretend play. It also gave kids ideas for things to build.
10. Sit in your block area
If you notice your children haven’t been building a lot, sit in your block area. Just sit there quietly and read on your phone or read a book to them. They usually want to go wherever you are. So if you are in your block area, that’s where they will be. And when the blocks are organized and displayed in an inviting fashion, they can’t resist them. And that, my friends, that’s where the magic happens.