Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A. | 4/30/2005 1:12:49 AM
Building blocks can serve as a major foundation in helping children to learn important skills, says LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.
Gioe explains that child-care and early childhood educational programs most often arrange their classrooms into a series of "learning centers," and she says the area involving blocks is one of the most important.
"Learning centers are similar to rooms in your house. For example, we cook in the kitchen, sleep in the bedroom and bathe in the bathroom," Gioe explains. "Typical early childhood classrooms may have five to eight learning centers that involve such things as dramatic play, art, science, home living, literacy, blocks and writing."
Put simply, the block center is an area of the classroom that is sectioned off for playing with building blocks.
"Blocks are an important part of the early learning environment, because when used by children, blocks help them to learn problem-solving skills and symbolic thinking," Gioe says, continuing, "Blocks also encourage social interactions; foster math concepts such as patterns, geometric shapes, part-whole relationships, fractions, adding, and dividing; enhance large and fine motor skills; and motivate creative thinking and planning."
Other benefits include that blocks also may help children learn to be responsible.
"For example, if the block center is organized appropriately, it is very easily cleaned up by the children using the area," Gioe explains. "That, in turn, helps them to learn how to be responsible for taking care of something."
Gioe says a block center usually is surrounded by shelving or furniture on three sides, has carpet or padding to absorb the sound of dropped blocks and often is located next to another noisy or active center in the classroom.
Such centers have a variety of blocks with which children can play each day, and Gioe says those should include wooden unit blocks (40-60 per child that can play in the area at one time), table blocks, hollow blocks, foam blocks, cardboard blocks, Duplos, Legos, bristle blocks, Lincoln logs and pattern blocks, as well as others.
As they grow and develop, children go through specific stages of block play, according to the expert.
"Very young children carry blocks around, put them in buckets and dump them," Gioe explains. "Then as they progress, they begin to make small horizontal or vertical structures with repeating patterns.
"Once children are confident in their ability to build, they begin to create bridges and enclosures with blocks, and, as children get older they begin to use blocks for imaginary play by naming their structures and providing props for their play. They also begin to use blocks to represent things they know such as cars, zoos and farms."
Gioe says caregivers and parents can facilitate block play by organizing the area, by providing other props, such as toy people and animals or paper and pencils, for children to incorporate in their play and by participating in block play with them.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.