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Playing With Block | Child Development | giggle Blogs

playing with block

October 15, 2009

Block Play & Exploration

We have all sat and watched our children playing with blocks. I never really knew what to expect when I put my children together with a bunch of blocks but I guess I was thinking that they would create some interesting structure with them or at least sort them into categorized piles of squares, rectangles, cylinders or cones.

For a baby of course these things did not happen. Instead I would see my 6 month old bat the blocks around on the floor, struggle to get her hand around one to pick it up; eventually picking up two with one in each hand, then banging them together. I would see my one year old fill a container up with blocks, then pour it out, or maybe nest blocks inside each other and certainly knock over towers that I created (raisingwhit.com or http://bit.ly/3INbHj and http://bit.ly/32oZbo ). So what is happening with these seemingly simple block explorations and why should we care?

Let’s take a closer look at each age & stage. An infant with a cube, a cylinder, and a cone block will notice that the cube will slide, the cylinder will slide or roll (depending on its orientation on the floor), and the cone will also slide or roll, but the roll will be arched instead of straight. By moving through the blocks and batting at them, the infant begins to make a connection between the form of a block and its movement.  When sitting upright, the child will not always pick up the block that is closest at hand.  Sometimes he will reach way across the tray or table to get a particular block.  That means some thinking is going on.  Perhaps that block has a brighter color, a point or corner that the child recognizes as “graspable.”  Perhaps the block is sought exactly because it is far away.  In any event, the child is “reading” the blocks and making decisions about which ones are familiar, more fun, or more predictable in its action.

Babies are developing an understanding of cause and effect. They also begin to understand that an effect sometimes “resides” in the action performed by the child and sometimes in the shape of the object.  Thus, pushing one block does not always produce the same effect when pushing a differently shaped block.  Even in infancy, there is lots going on without the creation of complex structures!

One year olds will naturally explore the blocks by picking them up and sometimes placing them in a particular place. They do not usually “build” with blocks.  However, what they do can tell us something about how they think.  If a child picks up only the round blocks, that means he notices the differences in the shapes.  If a child bangs two square blocks together, that means he notices the similarity in their shape.   If a child starts to stack a cube on the pointed top of a triangle, but changes her mind, that means the child understands the function of blocks, the relation between shape and action (the cube will fall down).

Learning the relation between form and function helps children become better problem solvers, such as figuring out how to open a box by noticing where the hinges are located. Learning how to make new shapes by realigning parts will increase your child’s creativity and ability to make more interesting structures or better symbols when they begin to use blocks as representations.  Learning to group similar blocks together moves the child toward thinking about sets (i.e. classes) and their qualification (all, some, few, and many).

Some time after two years, children will shift their goals from moving blocks to making structures, such as an aligned tower or a symmetrical row.   They may continue to move blocks, but now their movement has a “script” such as turning it into a pretend airplane or pretend car.  The learning occurs as your child continually makes changes or adds complexity to the structure of his arrangement or adds nuance to his pretend play with blocks.

Your child, in essence, is learning all about the various levels of what we loosely call “organization” and “logic.”  We say that something is organized when we can see a pattern or logic to the arrangement of the elements. Building structures with blocks gives your child an opportunity to invent, study, and modify the rules of organization, that, in time, are used in logic and mathematics.

Again, this exploration of open-ended materials in their world is how the richest learning works. In the context of exploring and figuring out blocks, they challenge and exercise all the budding skills of development from the physical skill of precisely placing a block on another and the cognitive skill of organizing structures or pretend play in a logical fashion to the social skills of soliciting your help. To see tons of ideas for block play, eebee’s adventures has a great block play adventure in its Figuring Things Out DVD currently available in stores like giggle or at www.eebee.com.