block-playOverview: Block play is one of those types of play activities that kids can get lost in, but did you know there is a whole process of block play development and a load of skills involved?

Welcome to the Learning Through Play Series where we are exploring everything you need to know about play. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series.

  1. The Importance of Play in Early Childhood: Why You Should Just Let Them Play
  2. The Importance of Sensory Play
  3. Play & Learn: Can You Really Do Them at the Same Time?
  4. 6 Stages of Play
  5. 7 Types of Play
  6. Imaginative Play: What You Need to Know
  7. All About Block Play

If you asked me what I thought was one of the most versatile activities for a young child, I would have to say block play. Playing with blocks reaches every learning domain and a multitude of skills.

Benefits of Block Play

There are a million different types of blocks, so you can switch them out and always keep your child’s interest. Blocks is a toy that you can introduce to a baby and have it grow with them up into elementary age. Block play supports every learning domain and a variety of skills in each domain.

Math Skills

-Geometry

-Patterns

-Length

-Weight

-Volume

-Area

-Ordering (biggest to smallest; lightest to heaviest)

-Fractions

-Symbols

Social Skills

-Taking turns

-Sharing

-Cooperating

-Negotiating

-Making choices

-Building confidence

Physical Skills

Related: Physical Development

-Variety of fine motor

-Variety of gross motor

-Hand-Eye Coordination

-Strength

-Body Awareness

-Balance

Language Skills

Related: Language Development

-Use blocks to build letters

-Descriptive language

-Comparative language

-Social language

-Writing

-Planning

-Storytelling

-Sequencing

Science Skills

-Planning ahead

-Hypothesize

-Problem solving

-Stability

-Gravity

-Cause/effect

-Simple machines

-Experimentation

Social Studies

-Types of structures

-Structures around the world

-Modes of transportation

-Community

-Working together

-Mapping

-Role playing

-Symbolic thinking

Art Skills

Related: How to Incorporate Process Art at Home

-Patterns

-Balance

-Creativity

-Shapes

-Design

-Symmetry

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Stages of Block Play

Block play should start with babies and be available for children through the elementary years. Children go through 6 distinctive stages of block play as their minds and bodies evolve.

Exploring Blocks (babies-3 years)

This stage is all about exploring. Babies start by mouthing the blocks moving to carrying, moving, holding, dropping, and feeling the blocks through the toddler age. Children in this stage love containers that they can use to fill and dump the blocks.

This is a full sensory stages. Children are working to figure out what the block is and everything it can do.

Building Starts (2-4 years)

Children begin to line up the blocks horizontally and stack them vertically in this stage. They work on balancing the blocks to stack them as high as they can.

Most of the buildings are 2 dimensional, but may begin to grow into 3 dimensional at the end of this stage. Children spend a lot of time in this stage repeating the same motions over again. Stack, knock down, stack, knock down.

As they evolve to the end of this stage, blocks may be part of their first role playing experience by creating roads.

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Building Bridges (3-4 years)

In this stage, children begin to make bridges and passageways. They start by standing two blocks up with a bit of space between them then add one block on top to connect them.

This stage includes a lot of trial and error testing to learn balance and how to move things through the bridges and passageways. Their hand-eye coordination is strongly challenged in this stage.

Building Enclosures (4 years)

At about 4 years old, children begin to create enclosures. They start to plan ahead at this point, and may ask for paper to draw their ideas before actually building.

Kids work on problem solving skills by trying to figure out the best way to close the space to reach their goals. They begin with flat enclosures on the ground sort of like a fence. Once they master this, you will see stacked enclosures like houses and other buildings.

They will begin to include the bridges and passageways with their enclosures. Children begin to incorporate blocks into their storylines, and will start adding props, people, and signs.

Representational Building (4-5 years)

Their enclosures now start to represent real buildings and structures. They may use blueprints or pictures of real life structures as a model.

Children in this stage work hard to create symmetry and balance. They use patterns to decorate their structures. Blocks are sorted and matched by size and shape.

More elements of imaginative play are being added into their storylines, and their structures often have a name and deliberate function.

block-play-stacking
Picture by Randee Davison

Complex Building (5 years and older)

Children work independently and cooperatively to plan and build complex structures. Their structures now include curved buildings and multiple levels. The structures will be built over other structures and objects. They are able to revise their plans if something isn’t working right.

When they are working cooperatively, children assign roles to build the structures and when creating storylines for the structures.

Block play now includes a wide variety of materials, props, and loose parts to achieve their goals. They spend a lot of time sorting, matching, and arranging blocks.

Extending Block Play

Block play can be used for almost every interest, and is a great way encourage your child to make their learning visible.

You can extend block play by adding…

-people

-animals

-loose parts

-paper and pencil

-blueprints

-props

-a variety of block types

-large block play area

For carpeted areas, I use a large plastic poster frame to provide a hard surface to build on.

Block play is something you can start at an early age that will grow and evolve with them. Join our Learn by Play Challenge for more ideas on how to incorporate learning into your child’s play.

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Print & Play Calendar

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Simple, low prep activities that can be modified for toddlers and preschoolers on a simple calendar. No more worrying about how to keep the kids entertained. Just print and go!

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