Let's Play Blocks!

By Phelps, Pamela; Hanline, Mary Frances | Teaching Exceptional Children, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

Let's Play Blocks!


Phelps, Pamela, Hanline, Mary Frances, Teaching Exceptional Children


Creating Effective Learning Experiences for Young Children

Provide opportunities for the child to talk about what he or she is doing.

Provide assistance in obtaining and putting away blocks and props.

Provide tactual or high-contrast cues marking shelf location for blocks.

Let's get serious about playing blocks! Educators and caregivers-and anyone who works with young children-can enrich traditional block play, even if only by providing an environment that encourages creativity and communication. This article shows how-particularly in inclusive settings.

Playing with blocks is a common experience for children in early childhood programs. This activity holds the potential for promoting integrated learning across a variety of developmental areas (Piaget, 1967; Pickett, 1998; Reifel, 1984a; Stroud, 1995). If block play is to optimally facilitate children's development and to provide for the needs of young children with disabilities, the teacher must carefully arrange the environment. The physical arrangement in which children engage in block play and the interactions between the children and adults during the play are crucial. Accommodations for children with disabilities also may be necessary. Figure I provides suggestions for supporting children with disabilities in their block play.

Arranging the Physical Environment

The Space

A large area is required for block play. The block area should provide children ample space to build, as well as space for adults and children to move around. Because children should regularly engage in extended periods of block play (for at least 60 minutes per block experience), the block area should be a permanent play area. It may be separated from other areas by shelves or room dividers. The dividers may be decorated with posters or laminated pictures of different constructions. For example, one divider may hold pictures of bridges, another of Japanese buildings, and so forth.

Shelves and Storage

To support the learning of basic mathematical, geometric, and emergent literacy knowledge, you should carefully arrange the blocks on shelves according to shape (i.e., triangles together, cylinders together) and in descending size order from left to right. Such an arrangement supports basic concepts of literacy (e.g., left to right progression), as well as concepts of geometry, classification, and seriation.

Types of Blocks

Each child should have free access to approximately 200 natural-color unit blocks of varying sizes and shapes. You should also have blocks in shapes typical of certain cultures, such as sets that contain columns to build Egyptian buildings, domes for Russian buildings, and other types of architecture. These sets are now available from learning materials companies. The place on the shelves for each size and shape of block can be marked with a photograph of the block or a drawn outline. This encourages the development of symbolic representation and enables children to independently return blocks to their appropriate place. Shelves also may hold a collection of books about the construction process (e.g., a book about bulldozers) and about different types of constructions (e.g., books with pictures of skyscrapers).

Props

Shelves may also contain miniature props (e.g., people, animals) that encourage representational play. The props may be rotated to support a curricular theme (such as transportation vehicles) and to maintain child interest. Sets of props that include both adult and baby animals may minimize aggressive play, as children can pretend to have animal families sleep and eat together, not simply have dinosaurs fighting. Scraps of material to use as blankets, along with plastic foods, also may encourage less aggressive play. Collections of miniature people, representing people from a variety of ethnicities, of differing abilities, and of varying family constellations, encourage an understanding of human differences.

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