How can a theory published in 1936 still help you to understand your children and how to encourage them through their cognitive development? While Jean Piaget’s Theory of Play is closing in on its hundred-year anniversary it is still used in education and psychology to understand the stages of children’s development. And I can help…
Take a look around your playroom – what do you see? Balls, puzzles, dolls, electronics ……. toy blocks? I hope you have them, because toy blocks are a powerhouse when it comes to quality playtime for children!
Every playroom needs blocks.
These flexible toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. Indeed, there is something for virtually every child out there to enjoy in the world of blocks.
The Value of Blocks
What might seem like a simple, old, reliable toy might surprise you with its options and merit. Playing with blocks is time well-spent – that’s why every playroom needs blocks. Here are just some of the skills and abilities addressed by block play:
Exploring and building with blocks encourages both fine and gross motor exercise. Imagine a toddler using his whole body, and all the balance he can muster, to stack blocks – it’s not an easy task for a little one! Now picture a seven-year old doing the same thing – the precision involved in manipulating the blocks into just the right position is impressive! This gross motor exercise aids in overall body strength, balance, and the ability to bend and lift.
Fine motor skills really blossom when working with blocks. Children perfect the skill of bringing hands together and also hone the pincer grip, which is used in coloring, writing, painting, etc. Children will transfer this fine motor strength to life skills such as buttoning, zipping, and tying.
When the brain imagines something, it is no small feat for the fingers and hands to make that vision into reality. By manipulating blocks, children are perfecting this process – getting the eyes to communicate with the brain and the brain to relay directions to the hands and fingers.
The value of eye-hand coordination cannot be overestimated. Besides being essential for throwing and catching, eye-hand coordination is also instrumental in the visual tracking process involved in reading.
Through block play, children have endless opportunities to solve problems. What do you do when your tower falls down? How can you carry several blocks at once? Which blocks should you use to build a bridge? These are just some examples of problems that might present themselves during a typical session of block play. Through trial and error, your child will build competence every day.
Anytime a child uses an open-ended toy such as blocks, he is exercising creativity. The builder can create whatever his imagination dictates – a skyscraper, fortress, or castle. Architects-to-be will never tire of creating.
In pretend play, a block can be a cell phone or a hot dog. There is no ‘right’ way to use blocks! A block wall can provide shelter from a thunderstorm or the big bad wolf. Playing blocks with a peer only increases creativity and imagination.
Another reason every playroom needs blocks is for the growth of language skills. Anytime a child is using his or her imagination, language is a natural connection. Offering questions and concepts can enhance the play experience.
Playing alongside your child? Block play is the perfect time for narrating your child’s actions and exposing him to language. Be sure to use positional words like ‘over’, ‘under’, ‘through’, ‘on top’, etc., to encourage spatial awareness, too.
Types of Toy Blocks
Every playroom needs blocks – but which kind? Toy manufacturers have responded to consumer demands by creating blocks of seemingly every type. Whether made of wood, plastic, foam or cardboard, each variety has its virtues. Blocks can be smooth, bristly, and even magnetic.
Each sort of block has something important to teach a child.
Wooden Toy Blocks
From as far back as 1811, wooden blocks have been admired as an ideal toy for learning. Friedrich Froebel, known as the inventor of Kindergarten, developed a series of wooden toys for exploration in the year 1837.
Decades after their development, these wooden toys underwent a transformation with the work of Maria Montessori, Italian physician and educator. Montessori found that wooden blocks helped develop motor skills while also exploring the laws of physics.
Wooden blocks are available painted or unpainted, and come in a variety of sets. Sets including only colorful square cubes are as valuable as larger sets with more shape variety – both are engaging for young children.
A lighter (and safer if being thrown) version of the standard wooden variety, foam block allow children to explore shapes and experiment with stacking and building. These blocks come in a variety of colors, and some blocks even fit together like puzzle pieces.
There is something magical for a small child to be able to manipulate a relatively large item – these blocks are in the shape of big bricks, perfect for building a fort or just stacking one atop the other. Best of all, it doesn’t hurt when they fall on your head!
The precursor to Legos, these blocks are the perfect thing to fit into the chunky hands of toddlers and preschoolers. For younger children, large Duplo blocks provide the challenge of building without the danger of chocking on small parts.
Completely different from wooden blocks, these building materials are 3D, translucent and magnetic. School-age children will especially enjoy the possibilities with magnetic blocks, which add another dimension to play.
Preschoolers on up will have hours of productive and imaginative fun creating whatever they can think of with Legos. Then they can take their creation apart and begin again!
Legos can be purchased in large general kits, which is the most open-ended choice. Lego manufacturers also make ‘kits’ (Star Wars, for example) so that children can create favorite movie scenes.
The great news is that, regardless of when you bought your Legos, they all fit together flawlessly.
Now is the Time!
Regardless of your current block status, now is the time to take action! Already got blocks? Rotate them! Put the old ones in a cupboard for a month or so while introducing a new variety. Don’t have blocks yet? Choose a variety to use with your child – and get ready to have some fun!
Want more information about how play impacts your child’s development?
Check out my e-book: Simply Play: Everything You Need To Know About The Most Important Part of Childhood
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