Block play is a staple of almost every early childhood classroom. Just about every preschool has a block corner, and for good reason: Block play has so much potential for creativity, imaginative play, and problem-solving.
There are so many developmental benefits of block play.
- Exploring size and relationships
- Developing symbolic thinking
- Developing flexible thinking
- Developing concentration and persistence
- Laws of gravity
- Discovering and experimenting
- Exploring cause and effect
- Taking turns
- Listening to others
- Problem solving in a social context
But sometimes the children’s interest in the block area can wane a little, and because blocks are in the classroom all the time, they can get a bit boring.
Breathing new life and zest into this wonderful form of play
The key is to not make too many changes at once. Sometimes a basket of flowy fabric, or a provocation of blocks set up in an unusual way is all that’s needed (truth be told, sometimes during those quiet moments before the children arrive in the morning, I love designing something interesting for the children to discover when they walk in the door). And most importantly, watch and listen as the children play. Watch how the children use the space, and how they use the materials already in it.
Listen to their conversations, challenges and ideas when they’re working with the blocks. What can you add to enhance their research and investigations?
How to spice up your block area?
Make a class set of blocks. At the beginning of the year, take a photo of each child, cut it out and laminate it. Then attach each photo to a small block. The children can use the blocks to enhance their imaginative play in the block corner, and it also gives them an opportunity to get to know everyone in the class, and form relationships
Make sets of objects that are perfect for creating symmetrical patterns and adding a special touch, such as tiles, milk-bottle lids, glass gemstones and cotton reels.
Add baskets of plastic animals and insects to enhance imaginative play.
Add a basket of fabrics. Glittery fabric, Hessian, corduroy offcuts, chiffon, stretchy Lycra and patterned material can all add an interesting dimension to play and be used for everything – from making a roof, to creating a lake or grass.
Set up the blocks next to your tinkering area so the children can use the screwdrivers and hammers in the block area too. Hard hats, high-visibility vests and tape measures will make the area seem like a real construction site.
Add old building plans and architectural drawings.
Add clipboards, paper and pens so the children can draw their own plans, or document the building that’s taking place. This is a great way to encourage literacy – especially for those children who are hands-on learners that prefer constructing to picking up a writing tool!
Leave the camera in the construction area and encourage the children to take photos of their work. They could add the photos to a journal, watch them on a sideshow, or make a ‘building book’ of projects to keep in the block area.
Add natural materials such as leaves, pinecones, shells, feathers, stumps of wood, and pieces of bark.
Add open-ended loose parts (link to article) like nuts and bolts, cardboard cylinders, pipes, hoses, guttering and corrugated cardboard.
Set up a pulley -system or supply the children with equipment needed to make one, so they can move blocks from one place to another.
Learn about force and motion by making a pendulum. Be prepared for lots of crashing, banging, and noise!
Provide provocations by adding pictures of buildings, bridges, and interesting structures to the block area. Google “unusual buildings” and choose a few images that will provoke discussion, experimentation and thinking. Laminate them so they are more durable, or add them to a ‘building book’ for the children to look through.
Encourage children to revisit their building projects by leaving their work set up so they can continue the following day. If you have several groups of children that share the classroom throughout the week, you could suggest to the children that they leave their block construction out and invite the next class to add to it. Document the evolution of the project over the week by taking photos.
What are your ideas for making block play interesting?
This article was written by Wenone Hope (Blue Mountains, Australia).