My minor in college was Child Development, but I took more than the required classes because I found them so interesting, plus I knew I would use them since I knew I would be working with children one day. In one of my classes, we had a textbook called Block Play. Yes, we actually had a text book on wooden unit blocks. A whole book dedicated just to blocks and their benefits to children.
What exactly are unit wooden blocks? They were designed by Caroline Pratt back in the early 1900's. This was long before Lego's were invented. They are made of hardwood, not hollow, and they are not multicolored, pink or blue. Just plain ole wood colored.
This picture is credited from the Froebel Gallery shop, and the hand is put in the picture for perspective purposes :)So I pulled out my old textbook the other day to refresh my memory since my child is now reaching the age to really start using blocks. I haven't bought her a set yet since I was waiting for the right age (and price), and I know that a good set is important, and not to cheap out on them. So it will probably be a Santa gift this year :)
If you want to order a set, click here. There are a lot of copy cat block companies out there, but as long as you get the real hardwood ones, they will last forever! Plus cheaper hollow ones do not balance as well and the structures are not as 'real.'
So what is the big deal with blocks?
Here are just some of the benefits the book talks about:
-Blocks encourage problem solving such as: How do you make the road turn here without a bump? Why does the bridge keep falling?
-Physical Benefits: When children reach for, pick up, stack or fit blocks together, they build strength in their fingers and hands, and increase hand-eye coordination. Around age 2, they begin to figure out which shapes will fit where, and get a head start on understanding different perspectives.
-Cognitively/Intellectual benefits: Blocks help children develop their vocabularies as they learn to describe sizes, shapes and positions. They also develop math skills by grouping, adding, subtracting and eventually multiplying with blocks. They also learn about balance and gravity.
-Creatively: Blocks allow children to design their own creations, making structures that did not exist before and they use them in pretend play. They can make large life size structures such as office buildings and doctor's offices during their play and miniature landscapes.
I also found this little fact: Children who played with blocks scored on average 15 percent higher on language tests — an early indicator of cognitive development — than their peers who didn’t get a chance to stack and pile, according to research released by the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute.!! Wow, pretty impressive.
As a play therapist, we use them in our playrooms as they can create a world of many different imaginative play scenarios.
As a parent, how can you encourage further creativity and non directive play with blocks?
When interacting with your child, let them lead the play and build their own designs. Make comments such as "tell me about what you made" rather than telling them what you think they made, or asking them,"Is that a house?" or "You made a house?"
It will encourage more creativity and it lets them lead the play, which is what us play therapists are really big on. Letting the child lead their play helps them learn, grow, explore, be creative and increase their self esteem.
Have any of your children started block play yet?