Block play has been a focal point of early childhood education ever since Friedrich Froebel invented Kindergarten in the 1830′s. Since this time children worldwide have been given the opportunity to construct imaginary worlds and explore the “cause and effect” of the physical world with wooden blocks. Karen Miller, an early childhood author and consultant, says, ‘Unit blocks have such intense value; they touch every area of curriculum, every area of child development. It is no wonder that many educators recommend unit blocks as the first and foremost purchase in setting up a nursery.’ The wonderful thing about these play resources is that they are “open-ended”. To a child a wooden block can be anything: a plate, a boat, a dinosaur. There is no prescribed method or expected outcome. Children feel free to have a go, and each experiment encourages the next. Imagination flourishes, ideas multiply, confidence grows and creative play becomes endless. Block play opens up a world of possibility by offering them the opportunity to experience a range of playful experiences.
At KTB Kids a large area is a dedicated to block play where several children can play simultaneously. The construction area is enclosed on three sides with low walls and shelves to prevent through-traffic and so protect children’s activity. The area comprises of a vast range of unit blocks in a number of different sizes and shapes, hollow blocks, sensory blocks and accessories including little people, animals, and vehicles to inspire small world play. The nursery practitioners working within the block play area at KTB Kids give children the time to become engrossed in what they are creating. They do not make suggestions unless it becomes necessary to build a child’s confidence by offering encouragement or for safety reasons. However they will be ready to provide accessories or interesting materials that might add play value and to ask open-ended questions that begin with ‘Why do you think…’or ‘What if…’ if these seem appropriate.
Block play is developmental, for it progresses as a child discovers and applies new possibilities and it offers a vast range of experiences for all ages. The youngest children learn through their senses, so a young child may be seen unconsciously stroking wooden blocks, enjoying the feel and shape (in a way never seen when handling plastic). Toddlers carry blocks around, and preschoolers build highways and towers, and eventually to the five year old and his peers planning and building castles and caves for knights and dragons, then acting it out in dramatic play. The rate at which children pass through these stages depends on their exposure to block play. Block play offers natural exposure to likenesses and differences of shapes, counting, sizes, and amounts. As children work together it encourages collaboration, co-operation and conversation: building together, and helping each other to lift heavy blocks. It can support and extend stories, for example, using blocks to retell the story of the three little pigs and interaction with non-fiction books for example about bridges or buildings. Practitioners also note improvement in fine and large muscle control and of motor skills such as lifting, stacking, and balancing.