Back to basics
Blocks are one of the most important tools in an early childhood classroom. In block play, children learn math concepts like size, shape, proportion, weight, and counting. They discover scientific facts related to gravity, friction, spatial relationship, and the operation of simple machines. Block play also offers opportunities for social and emotional growth through problem solving, creativity, cooperative play, and discovery. Use these guidelines for building and maintaining a lively, productive, and safe block center.
Learn about and support the developmental stages of block play.
Blocks require lots of space. Expect the block center to be the largest in your classroom.
Try to keep the block center away from major traffic paths so structures are not accidently knocked over.
Position the block center so children’s movement and noise don’t interrupt other play. Consider placing it near the dramatic play center to foster social interactions and prop sharing between the two centers.
Use a low-nap rug on the floor. The rug will help minimize noise and make floor play more comfortable. It will also help define the space for block constructions.
Provide sturdy shelves for block storage. Mark silhouettes on the shelves to guide children in block placement at clean-up time. Show children how to match the block to its outline on the shelf. A hodge-podge of blocks in a bin is both dangerous and uninviting.
Store large hollow blocks on the floor against a wall.
Buy high-quality unit blocks made of hardwood. While this is a large financial investment for a program, these blocks can serve generations of children.
Talk with children about their block building. Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to the children’s responses.
Work with children to make rules for the block center. Rules might cover the size of constructions, the procedures for taking down buildings, the use of other classroom materials in the block center, and clean-up activities.
Block center basics
Build your collection of blocks and props to maximize block play.
Unit blocks. When you shop for unit blocks, check measurements. Two half-units should be exactly the same as one unit. Mis-measured or poorly cut blocks will keep children from creating sturdy buildings. You’ll need 100 to 300 blocks for a class of 15 children.
Hollow blocks. A set of hollow blocks will include 15 to 30 blocks of different sizes.
Props. Provide vehicles, human and animal figures, and signs. Rotate the props to correspond to children’s interests and areas of study.
Measuring tools. Offer measuring tapes and rulers as well as lengths of paper, adding machine tape, string, and cutouts of hands or feet. Show children how to estimate and then measure their constructions.
Dress-up clothes. Support imaginative play with construction hard hats, engineers’ hats, and farm hats, for example.
Photographs and posters. Mount pictures of actual buildings. Try to provide pictures of both finished buildings and those still under construction.
Books and writing materials. Help children make their own signs. Encourage them to dictate or write stories about their constructions.