I am 36 years old and I am obsessed with blocks. There, I said it. Judge me if you must. Truth is, I have always loved blocks. I have warm and fuzzy memories from my Kindergarten classroom of the plentiful supply of basic wooden pieces. To me, they held (and hold) so many limitless possibilities.
Working with infants and toddlers as a physical therapist, I always gravitate toward incorporating blocks into play when working with my clients. Blocks are helpful in working on balance (stepping over them or walking in a straight line), jumping, and using as visual targets to direct movement.
Since Milestones & Miracles was created and Lacy & I began speaking more to groups of parents and professionals, I began researching and reading more about blocks. Their magic and practical uses for me as a therapist are not the only reason I love them. I learned even more about how important blocks are in shaping the growing brains of children. I want to share my block enthusiasm with you. Here at Milestones & Miracles, we believe that understanding HOW play affects development makes PLAY more meaningful. Many aspects of play positively encourage many domains of child development (that’s why we designed 1-2-3 Just Play With Me the way we did. More here). Blocks are no exception.
BLOCKS ENCOURAGE COGNITIVE SKILLS – PARTICULARLY MATH CONCEPTS including:
– concepts of surface volume and area (based on the shape of the block)
– Visual recognition of length width, and height later used in geometry and algebra
-Spacial configuration concepts later used in math & science
– Concepts of gravity, weight, balance, and stability
Some play in CONVERGENT (meaning there is only one way to solve the problem posed during play — for example a puzzle piece can only fit one way). Other play, such as that with blocks, is DIVERGENT (meaning there are many options in finding a solution). Studies show children who have played with blocks, are more successful at solving divergent problems (often presented in higher level math) than children who did not.
One interested study found that the constructive ability of 4 year olds using blocks correlated directly with math scores when they were high schoolers. This same study showed a gender difference (boys scoring higher than girls) only when boys had increased EXPOSURE to block play. Parents of girls — grab your blocks NOW!
Additional COGNITIVE benefits of blocks include:
– Mapping skills
– Part/whole concepts
– Classification skills
– The ability to think, create, and act out a plan creatively
In addition to the non-traditional ways I mentioned that I use blocks for gross motor work, Blocks provide MOTOR benefits such as:
– Fine Motor dexterity
– Grasp/release skills
– Hand/eye coordination
Skills such as these later translate to important daily activities such as handwriting.
Blocks provide social opportunities for development in children. Blocks teach SOCIAL skills such as:
– Understanding responses from others
A study with Autistic children showed that their social skills were stronger when engaged in group play with blocks vs. play without.
Finally, blocks encourage LANGUAGE development. With block play children have the opportunity to:
– Express immagination
– Expand vocabulary related to creative play using blocks and concept words such as quantity and size and language related to group behavior.
One study showed that children from low socio-economic backgrounds that were given blocks showed improved language skills and a decreased trend toward less TV watching.
Blocks are so important that Sharon McDonald actually developed a staging to describe and assess ability to play with blocks. It can be found here.
What does this mean for YOU? It means if you have a child of your own, grandchild, or special child in your life, make sure they have some blocks! There are so many options of amazing types to choose from that fit age and stage of development. Some of my favorites are standard wooden sets, Lincoln Logs, and of course Legos! Did you know some communities even have Lego clubs?! Choose well constructed sets with more than enough blocks. Children get frustrated if they don’t have enough pieces to complete their master plan. Get down on the floor and build with them. There is no better way to know a child than to PLAY alongside him/her.
What does this mean for ME? I am a mother to 6 and 8 year old girls. All this information had me questioning if I had provided enough exposure to blocks when they were younger. Not only do I want them to be confident and excel academically as they develop (girls should not automatically hate or fear math!), but I want them to have access to the endless creative possibilities that blocks provide during play. I decided it’s never too late. So my husband I purchased a large set of CitiBlocks for them for Christmas. I decided that just as I keep books in baskets in rooms where our family frequently hangs out, I need to have a basket of blocks to encourage my girls. We’ve had a great time building together the last few days.
What are your family’s favorite blocks? How do you creatively use blocks in your home or school?