“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.