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The Importance of Block Play to children's learning

Block play is an important part of our nursery because when children construct, they enter a world of their own imagination and when we add carefully thought-out props, their imagination can fly. Children become engrossed, thinking happens and we see many wonderful constructions appear before our eyes. It is an essential support to our mathematical curriculum and gives support to all other areas of a child’s development.

Children come with ideas that are unique to them and start to build only to adapt, destroy and build again.

Other children become interested in constructions taking place and this helps to develop communications skills as they enter another child’s play. It supports self-esteem and emotional growth. We see children of all ages come together and work together.

There is always talk happening when children construct, they share their ideas, discuss what is next and when props are introduced give narratives to their play, supporting early literacy.

Here we see children scaffold one another to learn new things like vocabulary but also how to build and balance resources, solve problems, and combine wooden blocks with other types of resources.

Block play helps children develop spatial awareness, name shapes, and count.

Develops hand-eye ordination / fine motor skills.

Self-expression: Children are able to express themselves through their play, creations and discoveries, a form of communication that’s particularly valuable for bilingual or non-verbal children.

Supporting Mathematical Development

  • Shape terms: standard math names for two- and three-dimensional objects, such as circle, triangle, rectangle, cone, pyramid
  • Dimensional adjectives: words describing the size of objects, people, and spaces, such as big, little, long, short, tall, tiny, huge
  • Spatial features terms: words describing features and properties of two- and three-dimensional objects, spaces, and people, such as curvy, edge, side, line, corner, straight, flat
  • Spatial location and directions: words that describe the relative position of objects, people, and points in space, such as between, into, forward, over, behind, near, far

Communication and language: As children encounter new experiences through block play, it leads to countless opportunities for discussion and the development of new vocabulary. Social interaction with adults and peers unlocks further benefits while using blocks can support story creation and collaborative storytelling

 

Block Play and Construction Outside

Outdoor construction with larger wooden blocks and other loose parts gives children a different dimension to the skills they already have in construction. They use what they already know and understand and have experienced using small blocks and transfer this to larger materials. This brings about new challenges and therefore children develop new skills. Children use large motor skills when using larger materials.

 

Practitioners understand that children’s play with blocks will change over time as their understanding and experience deepen. Knowledge of these stages allows practitioners to support children’s learning and provide what they need in order to take the next step.

Stages of block play include:

  • Carrying
  • Stacking
  • Bridging
  • Enclosures
  • Building complex structures
  • Dramatic Play with complex structures

Carrying

  • Children explore the blocks using their senses – they examine them closely, touch, and taste them.
  • Children hold one block in each hand and hit them together, exploring the sound.
  • Children carry the blocks from place to place.
  • Children knock down structures built by others.
  • No actual building takes place within the carrying stage.

 

Stacking

  • Children have a need to build rows and towers repeatedly – they do this before moving on to build other structures.
  • Children can haphazardly stack blocks until they fall.
  • Children can line blocks up, pushing them into an even line.
  • When children have mastered building rows and towers, they build them in multiples – this can resemble floors and walls.
  • At this point, children move on to the next stage.

 

Bridges

  • This is illustrated by children bridging or roofing the space between two upright blocks – the upright blocks need to be placed the correct distance apart to support the bridging block, or the bridging block needs to be long enough.
  • Children can become confused at this stage if they place the upright blocks at either end of a base block and then the bridging block is not long enough when they have considered them all to be the same size.
  • Children who are persistent at this stage will be more successful quicker than those that go back to the previous stage of building towers.
  • When a child has learned how to bridge, they repeat it over and over again.
  • Children use this skill to build bridges on top of bridges

Enclosures

  • Children use blocks to enclose space. They need to have a cognitive understanding of knowing which direction to turn the blocks to enable this to happen. Otherwise, they place the blocks end to end like a road.
  • Children need to practice enabling them to take four blocks and create an enclosure in the shape of a square.
  • When children can successfully do this, they repeat it over and over, making many enclosures.
  • Children then begin to experiment with the size and shape of them and begin to connect one to the other

 

Complex Structures

 

  • Children are fascinated with symmetry, balance and patterns – they use the blocks to form patterns and symmetrical designs.
  • Children use the blocks to express their creativity – the building techniques they have learned in the other stages are evident in their structures.
  • Children use a larger number of blocks – they incorporate towers, rows, bridges, enclosures and patterns in the same structure.
  • Children have mastered the basics of construction and design using blocks.
  • Children name their structures whilst they are building or after (not yet before) – this is usually in connection with staff questioning, “what are you building

 

Dramatic Play with Complex Structures

  • Children tell you what they are going to build before they start – this illustrates that children have a plan for their play with the blocks being used to set the scene.
  • The buildings children make resemble familiar structures.
  • The design features of the building represent the actual structure, for example, windows or a drawbridge.
  • Children create and add their own accessories to the structure, recycled materials (loose parts) supporting the dramatic play and their interpretation of how the world works