Tag Archives: blocks

Learning Through Blocks



Blocks were a toy of choice as far back as the late 1600s, when English philosopher John Locke declared the learning of letters and numbers printed on blocks would make it a more enjoyable experience. More than 300 years later the research is – learning through play is best and blocks are the cutting edge of this movement.

Which Block is Best

Blocks can be made from foam, wood, bamboo or plastic. Wood is the traditional material for blocks and offers the extra sensory advantages of smell and texture. Wooden blocks also weight more than plastic or foam, which means engaging muscles in small hands and fingers. We advocate wooden blocks when so few toys are made from natural materials these days.

Mini Architects

The act of arranging blocks in formations, shapes and mini buildings helps a child learn about gravity, balance and basic geometry. The natural urge for a baby will be to touch them or put a block in their mouth. As they get older they will be more inclined to build blocks higher or into shapes. This is an important step in developing their creativity and introduces them to the concept of building things to get a desired result. Arranging of blocks into structures helps develop spatial awareness and the ability to rotate objects in their mind. Keep the block building game open ended without nominating a building or thing that they should do with the blocks. Ask open-ended questions like: “why have you done that with those blocks?”, “what other things would you like to do with the blocks?”

Educational Blocks

A block with numbers on it doesn’t mean you should start teaching your child to count. Identifying blocks that look similar, or merely grouping or separating the blocks will introduce them to simple maths. Keep the block play as creative and free from traditional counting or alphabet learning as the child desires. Block play is essentially a crude form of model building – which is the common exercise of engineers, architects and scientists wanting to visualise their vision. As children get older you can introduce more sophisticated blocks. Only when they reach an age when they ask about counting or letters should you introduce these concepts. While studies have found regular block play in childhood helps teenagers with superior mathematics performance, there are also age-appropriate blocks for primary kids, tweens and teenagers that studies have found can continue to stimulate learning and intellectual skills.

Convergent Versus Divergent Play

Psychologists define two types of children’s play – convergent and divergent. The latter is a closed-ended activity like solving a jigsaw. Divergent play is open ended and involves working with objects that don’t fit together. A study of these two types of play found the latter – which block play is a quintessential example of – was a better skill to foster in children to help them solve problems more creatively later in life.

Other Developmental Markers

Last decade a study was conducted that involved one group of children where other elements of play like miniature cars, people and similar items were added to block play with instructions to parents to encourage block play. A control group of parents and children were given no instructions and blocks were only introduced at the end of the study. The study found the block play children scored higher on vocabulary, grammar and verbal comprehension and had less interest in television or other screen stimulation than the control group.

Block play may be overlooked by many parents as a bygone pastime for babies. But recent studies support the role and value of block play in a range of developmental skills and valuable life attributes.

Ten Play-Based Learning Ideas

Our list of play ideas for preschoolers will empower children to create, explore, imagine, discover, problem solve and achieve success. Open-ended materials that can be used in a hundred different ways are the absolute best choice for children.  The opportunities for creative exploration are boundless and children will use materials in a way we adults would never expect.


IMG_8443 Mortar and Pestle – Mortar and pestle with herbs, flowers, small bowls and cups, water. Children can make potions and perfumes, and experiment with colour, quantity and smell.
IMG_9076 Mini Sand Pit – Trays with a layer of sand on the bottom with sticks and twigs for drawing, writing, doodling, exploring and creating. Children are often mesmerized by this experience. You can also add small rocks or rakes to further develop this play experience.
DSCF8856 Pebble Play – Pebbles of different colours, different shapes, different sizes for transient art work. Transient art is art that is created then dismantled. It can be photographed but it isn’t permanent.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mud Kitchen – A mud kitchen with sticks, leaves, mud, rucks, water, bowls, trays and anything else you can access.  Mud and water are the key ingredients, and children love exploring the texture of mud in their imaginary kitchens.
IMG_8815 Boxes – Cardboard boxes, scissors, masking tape, sticky tape, cellophane, paper, pens, string.  The best toy ever is a cardboard box.
Dress Ups Dress Ups – Offcuts of fabric, old clothes, shoes, bags, purses for children to dress up and role play.  There’s nothing better than being a mummy or being a daddy or even a dinosaur, a fireman or a character from Frozen.  Children’s imaginations will take the lead.
DSCN8377 Dancing and Singing – Music and dance by making their own instruments and add scarves or other items. Try different styles of music including classical, jazz, blues, tribal drums, top 40, but don’t forget the old nursery rhymes that are wonderful for developing early reading skills with their rhythm and rhyme.
Water Water Play – Water, containers, bowls, cups, spoons, buckets, watering cans, funnels, tubing, pump, string, tape. Children are naturally attracted to water and learn many mathematical and scientific skills during water play while they are pouring, measuring, floating, sinking, filling, and emptying.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Clay or Dough – Playdough or clay – either with tools or without tools. Can add sticks, rocks, leaves etc. Not only great for a creative medium, but also for strengthening all the hand and arm muscles children will need as they get older. It is great to do these activities both standing and sitting, as they develop different muscles in each position.


block-play-1-1436165-639x958 Blocks – The old classic, blocks the plain wooden ones. with no required outcome.  Lego, duplo and mobilo are fine so long as they are used in an open-ended fashion where there is no requirement to ‘create what’s on the box’.