Is there a toy that outshines the humble block? A versatile object that can transform into a palace, a hideout, a dwelling, or a path, captivating both infants and preschoolers alike? Blocks consistently hold a place in a child's play from their first endeavors to grip and manipulate items to their more complex constructions in their school years.
Block play is a symbolic system akin to writing, drawing, or dancing. You can use it to express all kinds of ideas like 'going up', 'in a line' and 'next to'. There is a language of blocks and it can be mastered with practice.
This may sound abstract but imagine the following scenario:
Your child has arranged a few blocks in a rough circle with lines coming out from the centre. It looks like the sun.
This is what’s known as a ‘core and radial’ arrangement and it is one of the foundational elements of letter formation. Think of letters like ‘p’ and ‘b’ and ‘R’ or the head and body of a stick man.
Lines joining a circle. It seems simple but for young children, understanding it is the work of many years.
But there’s no need for a toddler to sit, pencil in hand, trying to make the configuration on the page. A set of blocks is all they need to practice this arrangement until it becomes second nature.
Say no to worksheets and yes to play!Table of Contents
- Blocks are thinking tools
- Block play from birth to five
- Recommended blocks by age
- Block play with natural materials
- The power of constraints
- Final word
Blocks are thinking tools
"While digital technology may grab the headlines, traditional wooden blocks remain one of the most powerful learning tools for young minds. As they construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct their world in miniature, children develop critical cognitive skills such as spatial reasoning, problem-solving, and creativity. Blocks also encourage social interaction, negotiation, and cooperation. In essence, every block is a stepping stone to a child's imagination, a tangible tool for thought, fostering cognitive growth from the earliest stages of development." - Dr. Jane Healy, Educational Psychologist and Author of "Your Child's Growing Mind"
Blocks serve as 'thinking tools' for young children. What this means is that they make it possible to test hypotheses.
You may have an idea that it's possible to stack objects but unless you have something to stack with, your thinking can go no further.
Of course, we can stack with blankets or cups or books but having a perfectly cut block increases our chances of success.
Block play from birth to five
Block play progresses along with a child's cognitive and physical development. Here are some stages of block play from birth to five:
Birth to 6 Months
Newborns don’t play with blocks.
They are learning about their bodies and the environment and learning to control their limbs in an increasingly purposeful way.
But at some point in the first three months, they start to reach for and grasp objects. Initially, their reaching attempts may be imprecise, but with practice, they gradually improve their accuracy.
Around 3 to 6 months, babies begin to make their first intentional reaching movements. Initially, these movements are random swipes, but they gradually become more purposeful and targeted. They learn to extend their arm toward a desired object and adjust their reach based on visual feedback.
However, blocks are still out of reach.
6 to 12 Months
Before children start building with blocks, they first need to hone their skills in handling them. A six-month-old can reach, grasp, shake, chew, and bash. But dropping, piling, and stacking are yet to be mastered.
This is the age of the treasure basket.
Give your child a variety of safe and interesting objects to handle and inspect. Offer them daily, and it won’t be long before all the right skills are in place.
By the time their first birthday rolls around, it’s time for block play.
1 to 2 Years
Toddlers at this stage will start to build towers and knock them down, which is a great source of fun. They're also developing their fine motor skills and starting to understand balance and gravity. Building is not just vertical, either. There is much to discover about how blocks can be arranged end to end to form lines and enclosures.
2 to 3 Years
Children will start to build more complex structures, like bridges and roads, and they'll use their imagination to incorporate block play into pretend play. They can now stack several blocks and identify them by shape and color.
3 to 5 Years
At this stage, children will start to plan their constructions and create more complex structures like castles or houses. They'll experiment with different ways to balance blocks and will enjoy playing with blocks in groups. They'll also start to understand spatial concepts like "under," "over," "near," and "far."
Recommended blocks by age:
Baby blocks (18m+)
Baby block walker (18m+)
Nursery blocks (18m+)
Courtyard blocks (18m+)
Garden blocks (2yrs)
Garden patch puzzle (2yrs)
Primary magblocs (3yrs)
Block play with natural materials.
Has there ever been a time when children didn’t stack pebbles or make an arch by leaning two sticks together?
Playing with natural materials is part of our nature.
The beauty of blocks is that their surfaces are flat. One stacks easily on top of another. How much can a baby learn balancing uneven stones? It quickly gets frustrating.
But if your child is older, make sure to make time for natural materials. They add interest and challenge. You can even get creative by mixing them with your blocks.
The power of constraints
Bigger isn’t always better. Working with limitations can foster creativity. For instance, having only a single type of block available forces children to think through design challenges and get creative.
When it comes to choosing a set of blocks, consider your child's age and developmental needs. Infants and young toddlers can start with a simple set of cubes. However, preschoolers require more complex sets that can help them create doorways, windows, and other intricate structures. If the need arises, everyday objects like books or board-game boxes can be used to supplement the blocks.
Block play teaches children various concepts like spatial transformations, visual harmony, structural integrity, physical balance, and stage design for setting up small world play.
It’s a cornucopia of problem-solving challenges.
And perhaps the best toy you will ever put in the toy box.