Block play is a valuable learning tool for young children of all ages. By setting aside an area for block play within the child care space, child care providers are creating an area for imaginative cooperative play. Children playing with blocks are practicing a wide variety of developmental skills, including manipulating objects, creating structures, and working together.
Block Play Supports Children’s Development
Block play enhances young children’s development across several different domains. Look for the following skills as children interact with blocks:
- Physical development: Infants and toddlers using blocks are practicing their grasping and hand manipulation skills. Preschoolers and school-age children can refine their gross motor and fine motor skills by building complex structures that require balance, a steady hand, and hand-eye coordination.
- Cognitive skills: Children working with blocks have a chance to use their ideas to produce real structures. Building complex block structures requires children to understand a variety of math concepts, including size, shape, number, order, area, length, pattern, and weight. Children can practice comparison, measurement, and classification, among other essential thinking skills.
- Language development: The block area is an ideal place for children to practice new vocabulary by using words to describe types of buildings, shapes, and structures. When planning a structure together, children must use verbal communication skills. Child care providers can enhance language skills in the block area by using new vocabulary words, encouraging children to describe their structures and their building process, and encouraging children to write stories about the structures they create.
- Social and emotional skills: When working together in the block area, children begin to practice negotiation. They get experience following rules, sharing their ideas and insights, and looking at the world from the points of view of others.
What Teachers Should Know about Block Play
Understanding the Child’s Role: Children go through four expected stages in their block play. Knowledge of these stages provides teachers with a reasonable expectation of how children’s block play will change over time.
- Stage 1 – Carrying blocks
- Stage 2 – Piling blocks and making roads
- Stage 3 – Connecting blocks to create structures (bridging, making enclosures, designs)
- Stage 4 – Making elaborate constructions
Understanding the Teacher’s Role: Teachers can support children’s play in the block center by talking to them about what they are building. Be sure to focus on the process of building, not the final product. Child care providers should comment on block choice, arrangement, number, similarity, or any special design features that a child has used.
Teachers are responsible for the following in the block center:
- Setting up props that teach social studies and community concepts, pattern formations, and problem solving
- Identifying blocks and accessories by proper name, shape, size, or color
- Urging cooperative play, protecting the rights of each child
- Assisting in clean-up
For more specific tips on setting up a block center, see Planning a Successful Block Center in Child Care.
For More Information
To learn more about block play in child care, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care video to hear a child care provider talk about young children and blocks.
For more ideas on how to create an effective block play center, check out the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:
- Different Types of Blocks for Your Child Care Classroom
- Planning a Successful Block Center in Child Care
- Three “Bs” in Child Care: Blocks, Balls, and Books
For information on other learning areas in the child care setting, take a look at the following articles:
- Child Care Environments for Learning and Routines
- Child Care Play and Learning Areas
- Keys to Planning Successful Learning Centers in Child Care
- Toys and Materials in Child Care
- Basic Math Skills in Child Care: Matching, Classifying, and Measuring