Blocks should be a staple material in almost every child care classroom. With a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures to choose from, blocks can provide hours of fun on their own, even before adding manipulatives and other items to them. Blocks are a great way for children to strengthen gross and fine motor skills, practice science concepts such as weight and balance, and work together to create increasingly complex structures.
How Many Blocks Are Needed?
As a general rule, 2-year-olds should have at least 200 blocks available to them, 3-year-olds should have at least 300, and children 4 years old and up should have at least 400. Ideally, each class should have a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. Different blocks and building materials can be used for different purposes. If you are in a child care center that cannot afford several different types of blocks in each classroom, a great way to get variety is to supply each classroom with a different type and rotate them between classrooms on a regular schedule.
Different Types of Blocks
Below are some examples of the many types of blocks you can find for your child care classroom. Be aware of the age of the children in your classroom when choosing blocks. For example, toddlers may not be the best audience for large hollow wooden blocks because they may be too heavy for them to lift and carry. Be especially cautious with building bricks and other small building materials. Small pieces can be a choking hazard, especially for children under age 3. Toddlers and 2-year-olds may be better off with foam, cardboard, or cloth blocks.
Basic Building Blocks
Unit blocks: The most basic blocks are made from solid hardwood so they will last for years, if not a lifetime. They are called “unit blocks” because they are built on the same basic standard of measurement. Each block is a fraction of the standard unit (such as a quarter unit or half unit) or a multiple of the standard unit (such as a double unit or quadruple unit).
Large hollow blocks: These blocks are large enough that young children will need to carry them with two hands. The blocks are large enough for a child to stand on and can be used to build life-sized structures. They are hollow in order to reduce their weight. Large hollow blocks may have either open or closed edges.
Foam blocks: Foam blocks are soft and lightweight and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some sets of foam blocks use standard unit block measurements. Others are as large as hollow blocks.
Other Construction Options for Young Children
In addition to unit blocks, these are some other common tools used for construction in child care settings.
- Tabletop blocks: Wooden blocks that are not made in standard unit sizes are known as tabletop (or table) blocks. These blocks may come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Because they are smaller than unit blocks, they may be more appropriately sized for play on tables or in small spaces.
- Cardboard blocks: Like hollow blocks, cardboard blocks can be used to build life-size constructions. Cardboard blocks are made of densely folded corrugated cardboard. They usually come flat, and you have to fold them to put them together.
- Cloth blocks: Cloth blocks are soft and easy to grip. They are made especially for young children and are often seen in infant classrooms. Cloth blocks are machine washable.
- Building bricks: Building bricks are snap-together plastic bricks that can be used to build many different types of structures. The most common brands of building bricks are Lego, Duplo, and Mega Bloks. Building bricks are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Some building bricks are sold in sets intended to make a specific item following a pattern, but most manufacturers also have large sets that can be used to create many different things.
- Cuisenaire Rods: Cuisenaire rods are sets of wooden rods that can be used for building. The rods are all the same width but vary in length and color.
One of the main challenges of adding blocks to a child care environment is that they can be expensive. If you cannot afford to buy a large set of blocks, you can start small and build gradually. Choose some basic unit or foam blocks, and add more as funds allow. You might also consider making your own blocks. Here are two easy options.
- Paper bag blocks: If you don’t have funds to purchase sets of blocks, you can make them yourself by stuffing large paper grocery bags with cloth, tissue, newspaper, or some other filling and sealing them. To make these blocks more fun, vary the fillings and encourage children to explore the differences. Be very cautious to seal paper bags shut tightly if using plastic grocery bags as filling. These bags can be a suffocation hazard for young children.
- Milk carton blocks: Paper milk cartons can also make easy, inexpensive blocks. Wash milk cartons thoroughly, tape down the tops so they are flat on top, and decorate with markers, paper, and other materials. Single-serving milk cartons make great small blocks. Quart and half-gallon cartons can be used to make larger blocks.
For More Information
Still wondering how to incorporate blocks into your child care program? Read more in these eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles.
- The Block Center in Child Care
- Three “Bs” in Child Care: Blocks, Balls, and Books
- Planning a Successful Block Center in Child Care