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Block play and kindergarten readiness

Posted on June 20, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Mary Ellen Braks

This article is second in a 2-part series. The first article is 7 stages of block play: Building and early learning.

As a librarian my go-to choice for baby gifts has always been books. The more books you have around your house and the more you read to children, the more likely it is that children become readers. However, after the last few years, I’ve added another item to my go-to list for baby gifts—blocks. It turns out that blocks are great for developing many skills that are needed for kindergarten including literacy skills, math skills, social-emotional development, and physical development.

LITERACY

I found this idea very interesting. The more I thought about it and reflected back to my time in the classroom and with my own children, the more it made sense. Imagine a group of children around a set of blocks. They start off building on their own. And as they want to make their structures bigger, they start asking the other children if they can use other blocks and a conversation starts. Pretty soon the children are talking about what they are building and sharing ideas about how they can build together and what they can make.

The conversation itself is building literacy skills. They may be introducing new vocabulary to each other during the conversation. If you add an adult into the mix, the adult can ask open-ended questions to promote conversation. “What are you building?” and “Tell me more about your building” are examples that promote more conversation. Sometimes this can even turn into a story about their creations, building narrative skills.

On a very basic and introductory level, children learn the different shapes as they play with blocks. Children need to know the different shapes before they can learn letters and recognize the shapes within letters. Children also learn to differentiate between sizes, also a literacy skill, as they learn to recognize the difference between upper- and lowercase letters.

MATH

In addition to literacy skills, children are learning math skills. Along with their shapes as we mentioned above, they learn about symmetry, positional words (over, under, next to…), and patterning. Science comes into play as the children learn about balance, stability, and gravity. Trial and error comes into play as they may try to stack the blocks and the blocks topple over. Most children will keep trying until they get the structure to stay up.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL

But some children may get upset if their building keeps falling over. (Oh no. None of us have ever seen that, right?) My oldest learned quickly that his twin siblings, during their toddler years, were going to knock down everything. So after a few times of tears and frustration, he started building intentionally so they could knock them down and because it was his plan, it wasn’t upsetting. Learning that they can build it again and not to be upset puts those social-emotional skills to work. Sharing and building together in a group is also social-emotional skill building.

All of this takes time and differs from child to child. You’ll see children go from “Mine!” and “No!” to “Here” and “You can have this one.” Self-confidence starts to creep in to their cooperative play, building social-emotional development.

PHYSICAL

You can even see physical development in block play. As children are learning to place blocks on top of each other, they are working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

So yes, blocks are a multi-purpose skill building toy for young children. The icing on the cake for me is that all this skill development takes place while children are playing. Play is how young children learn, all while having fun. The children don’t know that they are learning, all they realize is that it’s enjoyable.

You can join in the fun with your children and ask lots of open-ended questions, as a great way to help your child get ready for kindergarten. I’ll always love books and continue to give books as gifts to new parents and young children, but now I just add a set of blocks, too.

And don’t forget to come out to the library this week, through June 23, for our Storytime Mash-up theme of Building for all ages. We’ll be providing building activities at all our storytimes.

Also, as part of our Build a Better World summer programs, you can bring the family to our Hands-on Building events during the week of July 3–7 (no events on July 4). Kids and families can build with KEVA planks, straws and connectors, architecture blocks, and other kid-friendly construction materials.

We hope to see you and your family soon, perhaps having fun with block play at the library.

Mary Ellen Braks is the Library Services Manager in charge of Early Learning for children, from birth to age 8, for the Spokane County Library District and has been working in libraries for 29 years. She has a Masters in Library Science from Simmons College and has worked as the Head of Children’s Services at the M.G. Parker Memorial Library in Massachusetts and as a Reference Librarian for children and teens at Longmont Public Library in Colorado. Before her library career started, Mary Ellen worked in child care and as a preschool teacher while completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education at Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts. Her current position is the perfect combination of her degrees and passions—children, books, and education.

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