Friday, December 9, 2011

Plain Blocks = Deluxe Learning

A toy not decorated with TV characters or bright colors? No blinking lights? No microchip? Nothing that wiggles or twinkles or giggles? Why would kids want to play with something like that? And yet, they do. They play with blocks. Plain, wooden ones. Many early childhood educators say wooden unit blocks are the one piece of play equipment they wouldn’t do without (e.g.

For many children, exploring the Block Area on the second floor is one of the highlights of visiting the Museum -- complete sets are usually too expensive and large for home use. A good set of blocks and another child or an adult to enjoy them with is an unbeatable combination. Here’s why: When kids are constructing something with blocks, they’re also constructing knowledge. The result? An increased understanding of language, science, math and much more.

Blocks and Language
Watch a small group of children building a barn for toy horses. As with most construction projects, problems arise:

“We don’t have enough of this size to finish the stall.”

“We need a place for our horses to get a drink. It’s called a trough. I saw a real one once.”
“Yeah, horses need stalls, and troughs, and a slanty-thing to walk on.”

Talking about their structures stretches children’s language abilities. New words, like “trough” and “stall” are tossed back and forth with ease. And because it’s necessary, they find words to describe problems. They listen to each other’s suggestions. Clearly, conversation thrives in the block corner.

But talking isn’t the only way that blocks encourage language development. The barn made of blocks represents a real barn. It’s a child’s way of translating an idea into something visible, a symbol of a barn. Playing with blocks can help children strengthen their ability to use other symbol systems, too -- such as written language. In fact, it’s not unusual for children to want written signs on their block buildings. Sometimes they invent their own, and other times they seek an adult’s help. “Horse Barn: Cows Keep Out!” was the warning these barn builders asked their teacher to print.

In addition to language skills, children who are building with blocks are also building a foundation for understanding science and math. More on this topic next week!

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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