Boosting the Four Areas of Development Through Block Play

by Alison Glaser | Lakeshore Early Childhood Product Developer

Block Play

While individual programs may differ in their approaches to early childhood education, they all follow standards and frameworks that boost development in four key areas:

  1. Social-Emotional
  2. Physical
  3. Language/Literacy
  4. Cognitive

A very powerful way to help children meet their goals in all of these areas is through purposeful play in classroom interest areas. Below you will find tips and suggestions to help children meet their educational milestones while exploring your block play area.

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Social-Emotional Development

In preschool, children are expected to build social-emotional skills by learning to cooperate with others, persevere, practice self-regulation and develop feelings of empathy toward others. During block play, children can be encouraged to work with partners or teams to build the constructions of their choice. To accomplish this, they will need to collaborate and compromise as they share ideas, decide what to build and agree upon the best strategy to accomplish their goal. Outfit your block play station with basic hardwood unit blocks that encourage open-ended building and invite children to come up with their own ideas for structures. Whether children are building alone or with their peers, they should be encouraged to persevere in completing their structures. For example, if a child’s bridge falls down, teachers can help troubleshoot what went wrong and discuss ideas with the child for making the structure more stable. Children will learn that they won’t always be successful on the first try, but they can accomplish their goals if they test out different approaches and keep trying. By adding block play people or animal figures to your block play area, you can also provide opportunities for children to role-play, using their block play structures as backdrops for the action. As children act out different roles and situations, they practice seeing the world from different perspectives and develop feelings of empathy for others.

Physical Development

During early childhood, children’s physical skills are growing by leaps and bounds. Activities should be provided that boost gross motor skills—including coordination and balance—as well as fine motor skills, such as eye/hand coordination and the pincer grasp needed for writing.  In the block play area, children will naturally build eye/hand coordination as they learn to stack and balance blocks with a steady hand. Adding block play vehicles and play figures will provide additional opportunities for children to refine their fine motor control as they grasp objects and manipulate the action. Additionally, it’s a good idea to include smaller, unusually shaped blocks that encourage children to stack in different ways, such as Nature Blocks or ZigZag Blocks. Teachers can also encourage gross motor development by providing extra-large blocks that invite children to reach and stretch to build tall, towering constructions.

Language/Literacy Development

As preschoolers develop language and literacy, some of their primary goals are increasing their vocabulary, communicating and speaking effectively, building phonological awareness and developing alphabet and print awareness. As children play with peers in the block play area, they will refine oral language skills as they talk about their constructions and act out make-believe situations. Teachers can encourage effective communication and boost children’s vocabulary by helping children describe what they’re doing or making. For example, you can say I see that you’ve stacked several blocks there. How many blocks did you stack? Or, I like how you used the arch piece to make your bridge. Have you ever seen a real bridge like that? Where did you see it? Whenever possible, it’s also a great idea to incorporate block play props with print elements, such as road signs, vehicles and community buildings. This will help boost alphabet and print awareness as children play and interact with the props.

Block Play

Cognitive Development

As little ones prepare to enter kindergarten, they are expected to learn early math skills related to numbers, quantities, measurement, classification and patterns. They also begin to explore scientific reasoning skills, such as making observations, recording and communicating their observations, and analyzing the results. As children play with unit blocks, they naturally explore math skills and exercise spatial reasoning—learning how shapes fit together, choosing shapes in different sizes, naming shapes and exploring patterns by arranging the shapes in a certain order. Children also boost early STEM skills as they plan what to build, refine their design and make observations about what worked—and what didn’t. Teachers can encourage children to dig deeper into math, science and STEM skills by providing specific challenges for kids to try out. Include block play sets that have blueprints or illustrated construction ideas that children can attempt to replicate. You can also make verbal suggestions to encourage cognitive reasoning and problem solving. For example, ask,  Can you make a building that is three stories high? Can you build a sturdy ramp for your vehicles to drive down? Before children start building, you might have them draw a picture of what their finished structure will look like. Then have children compare their original plan to the final design. What changed and why?

Through activities such as these, children can make the most of your block play area—reaching essential early childhood milestones as they engage in purposeful play.

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