The Value of Block Play

Yes blocks can be noisy, tend to be put away haphazardly, and require a large junk of your classroom space.  Sometimes it seems like blocks can be more of a hassle than they are worth.  But blocks are the ultimate in open-ended learning and because there is no right way or wrong way to use them, they are a great place for a teacher to observe and make anecdotal records.

According to ECERS (the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale), there should be enough blocks and space for 3 children to be able to build sizable structures.  If the center is too small, children will never fully explore the creativity of blocks.  It is also stated that at least 3 types of blocks and several accessories are available to the children for the majority of the day.  So mix up wooden blocks with soft blocks and even homemade blocks (old food boxes stuffed with paper and sealed with packing tape

It is important to label your shelves so that children will learn through matching where to place each shape of blocks.  This not only helps with keeping your block center organized but it also helps children to begin to recognize, describe, and compare common shapes.   Add materials to enhance your block center a few at a time.  Enhancement materials include items such as farm animals, transportation vehicles, people, natural materials, writing materials, and any other interesting items you may have that help reinforce the building that the children are interested in or your unit theme.  You also want to make sure that you are allowing large segments of time for the children to build.  There is nothing more disappointing to a child then just starting to get into building and then being told after 15 minutes that it is time to cleanup.  Give them enough time to make it worth pulling the blocks off the shelf and experimenting with building.

Children must be introduced to blocks and allowed to experiment before they will begin to build grand structures.  Generally this begins with carrying them and stacking.  As the child becomes familiar with blocks they will begin to add more. They make simple bridges, enclosures, and constructions.  They will begin to add accessories to their constructions.  With time and experience, children will begin to show signs of patterns and symmetry in their creations.  And finally the child will begin to build structures that are used to carry out dramatic play scenarios.  But blocks are not just children’s play!  Universities use blocks to help teach architecture and Legos are used to teach robotics and engineering.

The block center can easily incorporate your theme and the early childhood domains through open-ended playful learning.  As a teacher, stop by the block center to check on the children’s structures.  Ask questions about what they are doing and expand upon (I see that you are building a garage for your cars, can you add a roof?).  Be a good observer and act interested in the children’s play.  Take pictures of their structures and hang these on the wall to encourage more construction play.

Ways to use blocks to reinforce concepts

  • I see you made 2 enclosures, which animals are you going to put in them?
  • You used the rectangles to build a road.
  • You filled the box to the top with blocks.
  • That block is called a cylinder.
  • Tell me about this structure that you have built.
  • I like the way you two have cooperated to build this roadway.
  • Why do you think your tower keeps falling down?
  • Could you please hand me a square block?
  • These two sides are exactly the same, you used symmetry!
  • I see you made a pattern for your fence.
  • You balanced 10 blocks, nice stacking.
  • Look on the shelf to know where to put the triangles when you are finished.
  • I like the fire you drew to put onto the fire station

How blocks fit into the Domains

Language Development

  • Begins to understand and use a more varied language.
  • Uses language to communicate information.
  • Understanding words like balance and stability.


  • Begins to act out/represent stories and life experiences.
  • Begins to add signs and print to structures.


  • Begins to make one-to-one correspondence in matching objects.
  • Begins to use language to compare numbers of objects.
  • Begins to recognize, name, and compare common shapes.
  • Puts shapes together.
  • Progresses in abilities to use blocks to match, sort, and put into series.
  • Begins to understand and use vocabulary that goes with directionality and position.
  • Begins to use patterns in block play.
  • Uses blocks as non-standard form of measurement.
  • Noticing angles and planes.
construction is not only for the block center


  • Uses blocks to investigate concepts such as ramps, balance, and stability.
  • Begins to understand cause and affect relationships.
  • Testing a hypothesis (How can you make the car roll further down a ramp?)

Creative Arts

  • Uses materials for representation.
  • Models and creations become more detailed or realistic.
  • Develops abilities to plan, work independently, and carry through projects.
  • Dramatic play becomes more extended and creative use of materials.
  • Ability to think creatively.

Social Emotional Development

  • Takes pride in building accomplishments.
  • Is able to work independently or in cooperation with others while building.
  • Uses words to express needs without harming others or their structures.
  • Uses materials purposefully.
  • Increases abilities to sustain interactions with others by helping and sharing.
  • Progresses in developing friendships through cooperation.
  • Begins to express and build concepts in context to classroom, home, and community.

Approaches to Learning

  • Making independent choices.
  • Develops abilities to build using imagination, flexibility, and inventiveness.
  • Persists and completes structures.  Sets goals and follows through.
  • Is able to find more than one solution to a problem.
  • Uses trial and error and discussions with peers and adults to solve problems.
  • Learns to contrast and compare structures.
  • Uses Problem-Solving to rethink how to build a structure that keeps falling.

Physical Health & Development

  • Growth in hand-eye coordination
  • Is able to follow basic block safety rules.
contact paper and foam blocks
A mirror behind adds new perspective to construction