Discovering the Magic of Block Play: Inspiring Young Architects

Llewella Ivins, Curriculum Consultant at Early Excellence
6th June 2023

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Step foot into any Early Years environment or outdoor space, and you’ll instantly notice a universal resource: blocks.

As a curriculum consultant, I visit many schools and nurseries and often get asked the question ‘Which areas would you say are a top priority?’ Not surprisingly, my answer is always blocks. Whether they are large, small, or combined with other resources to create an enchanting story setting, block play has long been an essential component of our learning environments.

But let’s delve deeper into the world of blocks and uncover their true potential…

In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons behind their presence in early years education, their connection to the curriculum, and how we can support children in unlocking their boundless capabilities.

We all know that young children possess an innate desire to construct and create. Every day, we witness their remarkable abilities as they take on the role of an architect and build new worlds, intricate structures, and collaborate on complex designs, breathing life into their own ideas. However, how aware are we as practitioners of the key benefits and the typical development of block play itself?

Embarking on the Journey of Block Play
To gain a better understanding, let’s reflect on the stages of block play based on Harriet Johnson’s work, “The Art of Block Building.” These stages provide us with insights into the types of play we may observe as children engage with these versatile resources:

1. Stage 1: Blocks are carried around, yet not used for construction.
2. Stage 2: Building commences, primarily with rows either horizontally or vertically, and stacking.
3. Stage 3: Bridging emerges, as children connect two blocks with a third block, leaving a space between them.
4. Stage 4: Enclosures take shape, with blocks being strategically placed to create enclosed spaces.
5. Stage 5: Designs, patterns, and elaborate structures emerge, showcasing children’s creativity.
6. Stage 6: Large-scale cooperation ensues as children plan with purpose and use what they have built.

Naturally, children will engage in exploring, experimenting, and investigating blocks in various ways and at different times. Nonetheless, these stages offer a valuable framework for development. By observing these stages as children play, we witness how children of different ages access block play, building their confidence and expertise as they invest more time with these open-ended resources.

Linking Blocks to the Curriculum
Block play is an incredible resource that promotes a wealth of learning opportunities across the curriculum. When consistently integrated into your continuous provision and combined with storytelling through small world or narrative, its potential becomes even more evident. Let’s take a closer look at the curriculum links that block play offers:

Firstly, there’s the development of physical skills. Children enhance their fine and gross motor skills, sharpen their hand-eye coordination, and develop a better understanding of spatial awareness through block play.
Next, block play fosters essential social and emotional skills. Children learn autonomy as they independently explore and create with blocks. They also develop initiative, taking charge of their own learning. Block play encourages cooperation as children collaborate and engage in shared building experiences.

Language and literacy skills also flourish during block play. As children interact with blocks, they expand their vocabulary and begin to recall and create stories. It’s a fantastic opportunity for language development and storytelling.

Mathematical skills are naturally intertwined with block play. Children learn about size and shape as they manipulate blocks, and they practise one-to-one correspondence when counting or comparing blocks. The hands-on nature of block play truly brings maths concepts to life.
Creativity thrives in the block play environment. Children engage in divergent thinking, exploring various possibilities and using their imagination to transform simple blocks into intricate structures. It’s a canvas for their creative expression.

Last but not least, block play has scientific elements too. Children observe similarities and differences between blocks, experiment with balance as they construct stable structures, and learn about cause and effect through their building experiences.

As practitioners, embracing block play in our classrooms allows us to tap into these diverse curriculum links and create engaging learning opportunities for our youngest children. It’s a powerful tool for holistic development.
It’s always worth reflecting upon and auditing your block play area to ensure you’re offering a wealth of learning possibilities for your children. Consider how your children currently use the blocks and how their skills are developing throughout the six stages and ask yourself the question: does our block area promote these aspects of the curriculum and inspire young architects?

For further guidance and support, please visit the Early Excellence website or visit our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Download a free copy of the Early Excellence indoor planning guide for your block area. 

To discover more about how construction play supports the development of mathematical thinking, social skills, abstract thinking, creativity and literacy join Llewella Ivins, Curriculum Consultant at Early Excellence at her seminar ‘Inspiring Young Architects through Block Play’ taking place at 11.45am on Friday 30th June at Childcare & education Expo North, register for the exhibition here.

Why attend Childcare & Education Expo?

Join over 2,500 like-minded individuals from the early years & primary sector who are dedicated to improving their practice and their education settings.

Attend educational seminars and panel discussions to credit your CPD

Meet the experts to have your questions answered

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Experience expert-led informative hands-on workshops

Network with peers and industry players

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And most of all, enjoy a great day out with your colleagues

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