Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More About Those Amazing Unit Blocks!

Blocks and Science
In a world of plastics and other synthetics, children rarely have the opportunity to understand where their toys originated. Unit blocks, however, are made of wood. And wood, of course, comes from trees. It’s the kind of simple scientific fact that can be as amazing to a young child as, say, realizing that carrots grow in the ground or that hens lay eggs.

Blocks also give children experience with scientific knowledge that’s more abstract. Remember from the last blog that “slanty-thing” the horses needed for walking in and out of the barn? It’s a simple ramp, of course. But the concepts discovered while playing with a ramp aren’t nearly so simple. Like all block play, they include complex ideas like gravity, force, balance, and energy. In a word: physics. Along with the unit blocks, DCM’s Ramps and Rollers Exhibit in the Make It Move Neighborhood allows further exploration of these concepts.

Blocks and Math
What’s a child to do when she runs out of the size block she needs to finish her horse’s stall or castle or house? She can’t call up the block store and order more. What she does do is reach for another size, quickly realizing that two half blocks are the same length as four quarter ones. Like any competent builder, she’s working with counting, addition, measurement and, of course, fractions.

The math learning doesn’t stop there, however. There are geometric shapes--squares, rectangles, triangles, half-circles, and even cylinders in a complete set of unit blocks. They give children a chance to experiment with part-whole relationships, and other important math concepts such as patterning, ordering, and classifying.

The next time you’re visiting the DuPage Children’s Museum, take a closer look at the wooden blocks in Make It Move and the Block Area. You’re looking at a set of learning tools. Simple, plain, and solid. But definitely powerful. And fun.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

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