In the ten years I taught preschool, the block corner was always a popular place in my classroom. All of my big kids loved block corner, and now my smallest also adores the fabulous block corner at the preschool he goes to. When I ask Noah what he has done at kinder (preschool) he always answers “bwocks and puzzles.”
We don’t have the space for a dedicated block corner at home, nor can we afford the fabulous big sets of unit blocks, hollow blocks and all the fabulous accessories they have at kinder, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy block play at home.
The Best Toys for Block Play at Home
Over the years we have bought some lovely commercially made blocks and construction toys, but we have also made or collected many other great items to include in block play. One of the priorities with the toys we select is that they have to be open-ended (they can be used in a variety of ways), good value for money (or better yet, free) and we have to be able to store them. All the items we use for block play fit these three ideals.
- Homemade Blocks from Scraps
I made some simple castle blocks a long time ago out of scraps of wood from a building site. Over the years we have added more scrap wooden blocks, including some we made into chalk board blocks. It’s easy to find soft pine off cuts at many house building sites and all you need is a little sand paper to round the edges and they make perfect blocks.
- Rainbow and Water Stackers
We gave our children a set of these small Grimm’s Rainbow and Water Stackers many many years ago and they have been played with in so many ways ever since.
- Natural Materials
There are so many natural materials that you can collect to add to your block play – pine cones, stones, acorns, gum nuts, seed pods, sticks, and much more. Keep your eye out when you are out and about and start a collection of interesting natural materials.
- Homemade Tree Blocks
If you are handy with a saw, then it is easy to make some homemade tree blocks. Just saw slices through branches and then sand smooth.
- Tree Slices and Slabs
You’ll need a bigger saw and some bigger pieces of wood to make these tree slices and slabs but if you know someone who has an open fire you could surely steal a log or two of fire wood to slice up.
This is the cheapest and easiest way to add all kinds of construction materials to your block play. There are so many recycled items that are fabulous for block play, we’ve only collected a few. Here’s some ideas – tin cans (make sure you use a tin opener that leaves a smooth safe edge on your cans), cardboard tubes, pieces of cardboard, small boxes, meat trays, plastic containers, old CDs.
- Small Wooden Block Set
We may not have the space or the budget for a big set of unit blocks but many of the same mathematical concepts of size and shape, can be experienced with a small set of wooden blocks that don’t cost the earth. We asked family for this set of blocks for our twins’ first birthday ten years ago, and they are still loved all these years later.
- Turned Wooden Blocks
We are very lucky to have a grandfather who makes these lovely turned wooden blocks for us. We also have lots of off-cuts and left overs from his wood turning that are fabulous to build with. If you know a wood turner or there is a local workshop near you, ask them if they can collect the scraps and mistakes for you.
- Loose Parts
You can add almost any loose parts to block play to make it really take off. All the little accessories and extras really spark a child’s imagination and often add extra opportunities for learning. We only added a handful of things that we had on hand – our free printable hexi cards, some glass gems, fabric scraps, plastic bottle caps and lids, and pompoms. Here is some more inspiration and ideas for loose parts from Learn With Play At Home.
- Animals and People
Because we love imaginative play, my kids often add animals or people to their play. At the moment we have an odd collection of animals and and even more odd collection of people including a prince, a wizard, some fairies and some animal warriors! You could also add cars and road signs, or even use some of our free printable space accessories.
Tips for Block Play At Home
- Find some storage that the kids can easily access and easily pack away.
We use two Ikea Trofast units in our family room, and the kids can easily drag the tubs to where they want to play. It is also easy to change the contents of tubs, so when we are ready to have a break from block play we can pack the blocks into storage and add something new.
- You need a BIG space for block play.
Our kids roll back the rug and build on our wood floors, or on our big dining room table. If you have carpet you might like to buy some big wooden boards for your kids to build on, or a train table also works well.
- Add some writing and drawing.
Adding some pencils or markers and paper opens up a whole world of literacy learning. Kids love to add signs for their block constructions, and even a child who is not writing yet can dictate a sign to you and see the power of words in action.
What They Are Learning.
Block play is lots of fun, but is it really so important? Is it worth going to such an effort to collect blocks and accessories?
I think it is and here are just some of the things kids learn when they play with blocks:
- Maths skills such as – number, shape, size, weight, volume, grouping, sorting, patterns, and measurements.
- Physical skills such as – eye-hand coordination, spatial awareness, large and small muscle movements, and visual perceptions.
- Science skills such as – experimentation, planning, cause and effect, balance, gravity, and symmetry.
- Literacy skills such as – expressive language, vocabulary, pre-writing skills, and seeing words in action.
- Creativity such as – representing ideas, using imagination, story telling, taking on roles.
- Social and emotional learning such as – problem solving, co-operating with others, negotiating, feeling successful, working through failure
And an added bonus – my almost four year old built blocks for more than an hour today. That was an hour that he didn’t ask what he could do, or for food, the only thing he needed from me was a few signs written up, so that was an hour I had pretty much to myself!
And don’t forget, block play is not only for toddlers and preschoolers – my school kids all still love creating elaborate block constructions and they are still learning and practicing all those skills listed above.
So after all that… have I convinced you that block play is not just for preschool? Have a go at some block play at your place and see where it takes you!