Building Blocks of Learning

by Dana Smith Bader
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As my children played and grew, I think I built over 100 tumbling towers, brick buildings, basic bridges, and fighting forts. We had one large tub of Lego, but it lasted through three children and countless hours of building fun. When my girls were really young, sometimes we would just ‘dump out the blocks’ and ‘toss them back into the tub,’ and that two-step activity alone was engaging. Once we moved on to actually building things, our imaginations opened to a whole new world of construction projects, and we built a foundation of learning block by block.

Experts say construction paly is proven to make a difference in the way children think and complete tasks. As a result, it is a form of play all schools and nurseries adopt to aid child growth and development. According to experts, when children engage in construction activities, and they dump out, stack up, and knock down their blocks, they are learning many valuable lessons, including math and science skills, how to sort and classify objects, how to cooperate and take turns, as well as how to be patient and persevere through a task. They are also building fine motor skills and learning to plan and to solve problems. Moreover, they are using their imaginations to create and learning critical thinking skills.

By allowing children freedom in construction play, they think independently and make decisions based on what they are learning, which is great for building confidence. When children engage in this way of playing, they start to ask themselves the question ‘what if’ – an indication they are challenging themselves. For instance, they may stack the blocks as high as they can reach just to see what will happen. As they continue to challenge themselves, they also develop theories and test their theories, thus learning the scientific method and stimulating their learning even more.

Playing with a variety of building and creative construction resources can also encourage independent learning. In addition to well know construction brands such as Lego, Polydron, and K’Nex, children should use a wide variety of construction resources ranging from simple wooden bricks and hollow blocks to more complex construction toys, such as magnetic construction toys, construction sets, gears and pulleys, woodworking, playdough, Styrofoam cups and craft sticks, and even toothpicks or spaghetti pasta and marshmallows.

As children expand the materials and resources they use, it is also important for them to play on a more expansive scale. At first, for example, children might build a tall tower on a mat. However, later they can work in small-world construction zones, add construction vehicles and rocks to their outdoor sand play area to create a rock quarry, and learn how to build houses with blocks from ‘blueprints’ drawn with shape stencils on A3 paper.

Construction play can be vast. Simple tasks such as counting bricks, measuring weight, and moving objects all contribute to making a child think outside the box. What about, if, as they grow and develop, they are able to use their imaginations to create whole construction worlds where they can build, lift, measure, and knock down? Before long, they will be able to build the box, and then think their way out of it time and time again

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