Blocks and Building

posted by Diann Gano

rainbow blocks     I am block crazy. I love blocks, particularly wooden blocks. Block play is so important in the early years to help children understand important concepts in measurement, spatial reasoning, comparison, estimation, symmetry, and balance. It fosters creativity and reasoning skills. Our home runneth over with blocks and we very often take these blocks outdoors. With all the emphasis on STEM and STEAM these days, block building is our passion, which fits in just wonderfully. You can’t teach creativity. It is learned through play; through trial and error and gifts of time to make their works of mastery grow.

Unit blocks used to be the standard in kindergarten classes across the nation. Teachers aren’t given the time or opportunities to allow children to explore with these very much anymore. It is vital that our children have time to play with these wonderful blocks. They are pricey, but definitely will be passed down for generations. We actually have a small set our family used fifty years ago, included in our block area.

large blocks

We have unit blocks in all sizes. There are tabletop versions and large hollow unit blocks. The hollow blocks also come in a smaller preschool size. We like to use those inside and the full-size hollow blocks outdoors. We also have Kapla blocks, Magnatiles, tree blocks, Legos, Duplos, Tegu, Korxx, the list goes on and on. We love them all.

My obsession with blocks may be partially responsible for the amount of building that happens daily, almost hourly around here. Block building is full of math learning possibilities. We have blocks in every room of our home, but we build indoors and outdoors with things other than blocks. When children learn to create with blocks, they take those skills and re-create that building in larger and smaller scales with supplies that are made available. Yes, loose parts!

Before I share with you our outdoor building set up, I want to share a bit about two of the blocks I mentioned above. The Korxx blocks are literally made from cork. They come from Germany and we have left them outdoors. That was the primary reason I bought them in the first place. However, the minute my “not so loving all these blocks” husband laid eyes on them he was sold. Why? They don’t crash and knick our hardwood floors. J True. So if that has been an obstacle for you and blocks, try these blocks. They stack great, they are quiet and are pretty close to unit blocks!

I also mentioned Tegu blocks. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to these, they are magnetic. The secret is the magnets are built inside these wooden blocks, so there is never a fear of choking or swallowing with young children. Genius, right? They also challenge our kids to figure out the polarity of the magnets, which is a true critical thinking skill, which we love! Tegu blocks are made by a socially responsible company that treats it’s workers, the land, and the people kindly. You can learn more about these beautiful and addictive blocks here.

SETTING THE STAGE

outdoor blocks basket of blocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

On days when the yard is too muddy, the sun and humidity are stifling, or we have all just hit the wall and need a calming day, I set the stage. I usually do this on our deck, but depending where the sun or shade or wind is, other parts of our outdoor play space work also. You need a flat space to build on. The deck, sidewalk, any flat area will work. A sheet of plywood covered by a blanket or rug will suffice.

 

When setting the stage for block play, I usually start with the unit blocks, but we have acquired a large number of wooden blocks of different shapes and sizes that create for some wonder hours of play.

One of the reasons that I love blocks so much is that although it is often a group activity, it is very individualized.

children with outdoor blocksThere are six children playing blocks, they are all getting along just great because they are sharing space. They aren’t sharing blocks or ideas. It is very personal play above. It’s not always like that. It was on this given day. It’s the beauty of block play.building wiht blocks outdoor blocks play block structure babies with blocks balancing on blocks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is always developmentally appropriate because the child creates at the level they are at. It’s very personal and very perfect! It is gender neutral. I also love to watch the mentoring and scaffolding that happens when children watch what their friends are building and how it was built. Block building follows the natural flow of children’s curiosity and concentration. They can try something over and over again until they are satisfied with their creation. When opportunities for math occur in such enriched environment and children are given the time to create, and think, they will develop the skills needed to be successful in the future.Our block area is also an ideal setting for loose parts to be added in. People are often added to the block area in the form of fairies, guys or Playmobile characters to name of few. We like people that don’t have a screen character associated with them because it allows for more imagination and creativity without repeating a scene we saw on television yesterday.

Our block area is also an ideal setting for loose parts to be added in. People are often added to the block area in the form of fairies, guys or Playmobile characters to name of few. We like people that don’t have a screen character associated with them because it allows for more imagination and creativity without repeating a scene we saw on television yesterday.

people sorted

Our farm and zoo animals are added, along with rocks, sticks and other natural materials.

block vehicle

OUTDOOR BUILDING

If you have the great fortune to own a set of hollow blocks, taking them outdoors will change the amount of time they are played with and how they are played with. Often these blocks get lost in a closet because they are big, loud and heavy. These have all the outdoor big block cartelements needed for some great outdoor building. We first built a box to store them in and added them to a pushcart. This worked well for a while, but it was still a bit difficult to get in and out of the garage to play with.

 

 

 

 

 

bin of blocksoutdoor container

 

 

 

 

 

outdoor platform

We are constantly building something. It may be in the sandbox, or in the rain garden. It may be hideout or a hut. All that building is math. It’s problem-solving and logical thinking. It’s estimating and measuring. It’s creative and risk-taking. We need to take risks to try new ideas in our math equations. It’s all so very, very good.

 

small rocks with child in pinkrocks as blocks

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree, in 1986—has long believed that “the earth gives us what we need to learn” and that nature is “the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day.” While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certifcation, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. After completing her master’s degree in 2010, she pursued Nature Explore Classroom certification for her family child care program. In 2011, Under the Gingko Tree was one of the first family child care programs in the U.S. to be certified as a Nature Explore Certifed Outdoor Classroom. Gano, an Erikson Institute Town Square Advisory Board member, has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics ranging from indoor and outdoor learning environments to math and science education in family child care settings. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award. She received her B.S. in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her M.Ed. in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

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