Block play is one of those areas of the early childhood environment that is teeming with learning in every developmental domain. Children are drawn to the large blocks as a place to play independently, in a parallel way, or cooperatively. The children’s natural curiosity in the block area involves mathematical thinking, which is easily observable if you sit back and watch.
Children will consider the size of the blocks they choose in a systematic and organized way. They will consider the attributes of each block they choose so that the block can perform its specific function in the building.
Imagine a child is building a tower. She knows that in order to make it tall, she will either need the long blocks, or several short blocks to build it high. She will consider the width of the blocks to determine if the ones on the bottom will support those on top. She won’t choose the rounded blocks for the base, as they won’t provide enough of a foundation to build the rest of the building. This spatial knowledge is underlined by her ability to determine each block’s attributes and apply them accordingly. We see this in even very, very young children.
If a teacher comes over and enhances the play by providing rich vocabulary words to help define the attributes, even better. Using language like “edges,” “faces,” and “corners” to describe the flat blocks, and “arches,” “rounded,” and “circular” to describe the rounded blocks will build mathematical vocabulary while providing another means of exploring attributes.