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Go Ask Mom

Block Fest teaches parents why block play is so important

Posted December 1, 2011

Block Fest returned to Project Enlightenment, Wake County's early childhood education and intervention program, this week.

The free program, an award-winning early childhood math and science event created by the University of Idaho Parents as Teachers Program, aims to teach parents about why it is so valuable for kids to play with blocks. It's designed for kids ages 6 and under.

After I wrote about the program last month when it was time to register for slots, I decided to take my two-year-old. We went Thursday morning and had a great time playing with all kinds of different blocks. (It was great to meet some Go Ask Mom readers there too!).

For about an hour, we moved with a small group to five different stations. Each station featured a different block type - large and small foam blocks; small, thin wooden planks; small, colorful cubes; big cardboard brick blocks; and wooden or "unit" blocks. Signs at each station had information about ways to play with the blocks and tips to help your child as she builds and creates.

My daughter created towers, counting as she stacked each block and calling out the colors or shapes. She also loved knocking her creations down and getting involved in a big group build where kids made a circle with the large cardboard blocks.

According to North Carolina Parents as Teachers, which brought the program to Project Enlightenment, research shows that playing with blocks enhances all areas of development, especially math and science.

"It is an open-ended activity that enhances learning, sorting, matching, counting, measuring, balancing, estimating, adding, subtracting, problem solving and critical thinking," according to a handout from the group. "Block building stimulates children's imagination and creativity as they try out an idea and see what happens ... Blocks should be introduced to the youngest learners and made available to children throughout the early childhood years."

We have a lot of blocks. My kids play with them a lot, especially with my husband. As babies, my kids would just bang them together. Now, at two, my younger daughter enjoys making towers and watching them fall. My six-year-old will build entire cities with them.

And while we have a sizeable collection, Santa may be bringing some of those large foam blocks to our house later this month.

If you missed Block Fest this time around, Project Enlightenment staff tell me that it will return. So stay tuned.

Here are some more tips for block play from N.C. Parents as Teachers:

  • Provide a space for block play. Use a flat rug or masking tape to define an area.
  • Provide a good supply of blocks, including blocks in different shapes such as ramps, curves, cylinders, as well as squares and rectangles. Wooden or foam blocks are a good investment as children will play with them for years.
  • Store blocks, if possible, on shelves at your child's eye level, and group blocks by size and shape. Label the shelf with a cut-out or picture of blocks. This helps with clean up and teaches matching.
  • Add props and other accessories such as cars, trucks, plastic people and animals to encourage kids to extend their play.
  • Look at and talk about the child's creation. Use math words like "You used two square blocks to make a rectangle" or "Let's count how many blocks you used in your tower."
  • Expand math vocabulary by talking about circles, squares, triangles, cubes, spheres and in, out, above, under, more, add, etc.
  • Ask open-ended questions, "How did you get the big block on top of the other blocks?" Avoid asking "What is it?" Instead, say "Tell me about ..."
  • Follow the child's lead during block play. Remember that your child needs to experiment and create using his own ideas.
  • Offer support and help children problem solve by asking leading questions, "Do you think another shape might work better here?"
  • Show genuine interest and comment on construction details. "Your castle has more rooms than the one you built before" or "look how tall your tower is." Specific comments let kids know that their play is important and that their hard work is appreciated.

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