Should You Use Playskool Blocks in Your Classroom?

by Rick on May 15, 2016

“Do you use blocks in your classroom?” was an interview question we asked when searching for a lower elementary teacher. “Why?” was a follow up question. We didn’t hire someone until we heard a good answer.

Are there right and wrong answers to this question? Yes.  All right answers include something about “brain development.” Some examples:

“Blocks are very good for building brain-architecture. When kids are building something they are developing their scientific brains. They get an idea, set a goal, find it impossible, and then try something else. In one hour they probably test 50 hypotheses.”

“They are learning design principles, learning the relationships among quantities, how various ways shapes can go together…or not. They learn about stability and instability, cantilevers, gravity, so much more…, but most importantly they haven’t learned it just one small part of their brain, but all over it.”

“When children play with blocks millions of messages are ping-ponging all over the inside of their cranium. They are gaining knowledge of their relationship to their physical world–knowledge from all they senses, not just one modality.”

“Playing with blocks is a matter of engaging many parts of the brain to solve problems.”

“I learned mathematics playing with blocks. The basic playskool block was half as wide as it was long and half as thick as it was wide. The square block we called a ‘Half,’ and a foot-long rectangle we called a ‘Double.’ I knew in my bones that 4 halves = 1 double, so 4 x 1/2 = 2, of course!”

Don’t underestimate kids. They are scientists. When schools ignore this, they compromise brain development. Furthermore, when the adults ignore the marvelous complexity of the brains they are responsible for educating, they are being disrespectful, and this can cause all sorts of other kinds of behavior problems.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ray Erickson May 16, 2016 at 3:06 pm

As one who has rafted many a river, you see all along the banks, grown ups who are still playing with blocks. Only now they are river rocks and they create marvelous little towers of rocks. Try it the next time you are at a river and see how your brain lights up and your mood elevates with each carefully placed stone. Thanks Rick.

Rick May 17, 2016 at 1:42 pm

putting one stone on top of another, sure does seem like a very natural act.

Sally Morris May 17, 2016 at 4:50 pm

When our oldest son was a babe, we met with a La Leche group on a regular basis and we all decided to dedicate a morning to making our own wooden blocks together as a group project. Both our boys played endlessly with those blocks and I am in the process of getting the boxes down and passing them on to that oldest son for his sweet 7 month old daughter, my first grand girl! They are an essential in this house for sure! And BTW, Ray, I have made many a cairn on the shores of several Oregon rivers. Great fun and learning there!

Marty Dutcher May 18, 2016 at 7:58 am

Great post, thanks for the quotes on what is happening during block play. The block center was one of my favorite places when I first started preschool – I was 21 and came in to help out, and ended up making a career out of early childhood learning. One additional point to add: having adults playing with, engaged with, the classroom activities with the children – I mean as a player, not an observer – and inviting cooperation (but not pushing it) leads to a plethora of a positive experience of and exposure to (thus learning of) language use “on the court.” Of course I wasn’t thinking that at first, I was just having fun!

Rick May 18, 2016 at 4:21 pm

Thank you, Sally and Marty. Here’s a story from Larry:
one of the most important and treasured memories I have from kindergarten. Maybe it was first grade. All I remember is that there was an intimidatingly large class, and we were told to build something with blocks. I suppose I didn’t know a lot of the other children. In any event, everybody teamed up with friends, and I was left alone. But there was another child who was also left alone, so our teacher put us together. All the other children were building great high rise buildings, bridges, and hi-ways, but we didn’t know what to do.

So we took a few blocks and made a little house, and we found something to write on and a crayon to write with, and we called it “Sweet House,” because we imagined that it was a candy store. I don’t know how this project was received by our teachers or our classmates, but I do know this: we became best friends, and remained best friends until after high school. He has had an interesting career which I’ve been able to follow because it’s been in the news. But that’s not important. What was important was that I found a friend.
when we were trying to put the “Sweet House” sign on our modest little construction, (with thumb tacks for some reason,) the whole thing would collapse, which we found enormously funny. So we’d put it together again, and when we tried to put the sign on it, it would collapse again. We laughed and laughed, also a great way to start a friendship, at any age.

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