Back to building and this time with add-ons to make things more exciting as well.
[Look inside this post for the benefits of this type of play].
Props add a different dimension to building with blocks. A mix of texture, shape, size, volume and amount bring more variables to this play scenario than we can possibly talk about. This variety also exposes children to challenges and problems that range from not being able to balance a tiger on top of a wooden bridge to making a circle with square-shaped blocks. There is something really powerful in the learning process that comes from solving problems. They are great opportunities for learning! And this experience is even more powerful when the decisions that derive from these interactions involve others and their perspectives as well.
Two kids wanted to build a zoo but had very different ideas about how to design spaces for the animals. One child chimed in with, “but this is too small for the tigers because they need to run to exercise their legs.” Well, the first child didn’t take this into consideration and quickly adjusted his architecture while expanding on his “tiger facts” repertoire. Another child worked hard on a different area but realized that there wasn’t enough space for the elephants (nor were there enough of the same blocks left over). In this case, a third child suggested that they use different blocks. They decided to build a new space and recycled the smaller space with a substitution: they put two “old” hyenas there instead.
Adding props/materials to block play teaches children to compromise, get along and, biggest yet, add strategies that they can use in future experiences. These strategies will transfer into all areas of their development.
For example, so much of what is happening here is directly related to the process of learning to read. There will be times when children need to make use of substitutions, or change the spelling of a word altogether. Either way, it is the playful practice of solving problems, or changing paradigms with blocks, paint, or popping bubbles outside that will equip our children with the skills that they need to learn something new, answer their own questions or approach new learning from multiple entry points and not wait until the solution falls on their laps.
Every time children engage in play to learn something new, they are also involved in mathematical and scientific thinking. They invariably go from certainty to uncertainty, or from familiarity to unknown. They hypothesize, test, compare and contrast and come up with new ways of using and applying knowledge. These are the skills, not facts alone, that they will need in order to develop understanding of the facts and create new ones. Understanding from first hand experiences is what helps children (and adults!) keep their wonder and curiosity alive!
When children use observational drawings to document their work-in-progress, they are also paying more attention to details than when they first build their structures. They might have to count the number of blocks that are stacked onto each other, or they might decide to change the design because they spot a flaw while drawing pictures of their buildings. Either way, the combination of using cameras to document the process or drawing sketches of their structures are great ways to make learning visible for themselves and others. They can also make a “blueprint” book later to honor their original ideas. The other benefit of taking pictures or saving sketches is that you can free up the materials for later use (i.e.: new buildings) and make “clean-up” a bit more enticing. They will know that their efforts will stay up for eternity! When I counted seven “save signs,” I knew it was time to pull out the camera!
Set-Up for Episode #20:
- Wooden blocks of any kind that you can find
- Props of any kinds (i.e.: play people, cars, tree trunks, pebbles, paper, anything that adds to the wooden block scenario)
- Markers and paper for documentation or observational drawings – the more children do this, the better they become at noticing details
- Clip boards (we used cardboard and paper clips because they are lighter to travel)
- “Save” signs (that can be safely stored in plastic picture frames)
The king and the rescuer, from diverse backgrounds, reached to the top. The rescuer is a female character who came to “save the king.” For safety reasons, we enforce the “chin-high” vertical limit at our house.
Different shapes that resemble castles, but a flat surface to balance the duke.
Flat bed wheels to carry food into the castle.
When extra props are within reach, it becomes easier for children to integrate them into their play.
Table top wooden blocks and small counting bears. Yes, there was a clear hierarchy in this scenario!
The semi circular pieces had been used as tunnels before and for the first time, a girl used them as walls to secure private spaces for the animals.
Have fun and come back next week for more! We will be exploring the use of non-commercial, homemade cardboard blocks, with and without props. Great stuff!
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