Encouraging Block Play

In today’s post regular contributor Kate of An Everyday Story shares ideas for play and learning with blocks and construction toys.

Block play ideas

What’s the most popular toy at your house? Our is definitely blocks. My four year old son Jack builds with blocks everyday, many times a day. He’ll build bridges and houses and whole cities.

It wasn’t always this way though. For almost a year the blocks sat in a basket ignored, in favour of any and all other toys. I really loved blocks though and wanted so much for Jack to love them too. I loved the potential of blocks; the open-ended play, the problem-solving, the design and creativity, the potential for deep imaginative play.

Then one day Jack asked where Daddy worked,

Daddy works in an office building.

What’s an office building?

Here was my opportunity. Would you like to build one with some blocks? YES!

Jack’s buildings were very basic at first, just a few blocks stacked on top of each other but he was so interested in office buildings that he built and built. This was the key. He now had an interest and a material which helped him explore that interest more deeply.

From then on more little opportunities presented themselves for Jack to build with blocks; a building in a story, a building we passed in the car, ‘Let’s build that with blocks when we get home’ I would say which eventually turned into ‘Hey Mummy, can I build that with blocks?’

Over the next few months I was so happy to see Jack seeking out blocks. Over the next two years, Jack’s love of blocks has continued to grow.

Block PlayIdeas for Block Play

Throughout that time there have been a few quite deliberate things we have done to encourage and develop Jack’s block play:

  • Offered loose materials (based on his current interests) to incorporate into his play
  • Asked Jack about his buildings and sculptures ‘What is this here?’ to encourage him to think more about his designs
  • If he is having difficulty building something, I ask him to draw his ideas. This helps him to explain his thoughts and relieves some frustrations

Through blocks Jack is expressing his creativity, he’s learning to problem-solve and manage frustrations and he’s learning important concepts of balance, symmetry and design; all the things I had hoped for while the blocks sat ignored in a corner those years ago.

Do your children like to build with blocks? How do you encourage their interest and play?

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  1. this is a really wonderful post. a concept that can be applied to lots of various toys and interests. a wonderful picture of a tiny architect too!

  2. Great post and I used to work at a Reggio preschool and love the approach. We love blocks at our house, too! Love your suggestions. :)

  3. I find it interesting that you ask jack to draw what he is trying to build. With our son blocks have been a way to tap creativity because drawing does not interest him and he doesn’t yet have the fine motor skills to create a coherent picture. Goblin will often use blocks to create anything from the octopod to a racing car. I love that kids don’t see the same constraints as adults. It would never occur to me that a set of rectangular blocks were OK for building a car.

    • Jack has always loved drawing and so when he is trying to build something in a new way and having difficulty (which often results in frustrations) rather an him knocking down his structure I ask him to draw what he wants to build. Quite often he will talk it through himself or get enough confidence from drawing to have another go.

      And yes, I’ve stopped assuming I know what he is building, it really can be anything. :)

  4. The first paragraph made me read the whole thing. Aarya is not interested in his blocks. They are just lying around untouched… so is the playdough and so are many other **creative** things.
    When I sit with him, he does do some building, but the minute I leave him alone. He leaves the blocks and comes right behind me with his cars.

    I really like a lot of the points you mention here, and I will give them a try and see. I hope and pray something *clicks* and he starts liking his blocks and other stuff too :)

    • The blocks really started a lot of interest in other things too. I think it might have been one of those ‘A-ha’ moments on my behalf; yes, some toys and materials he will be drawn to but others need to be gently introduced (by following his interests) and shown their potential’. We had a similar experience with clay. On his own, Jack just wasn’t sure what to do with it, but through using his interests as motivation, I have been able to show him how to work with clay and what clay can do.

      I hope you pop back and let me know how things are going with Aarya. It seems he is quite interested in cars, maybe you could suggest building a garage for the cars, or lining the blocks up to build a road?

      • You know I just had that *a-ha* moment. You are right, a garage/road is definitely going to be a great idea :) Thank you. I will definitely let you know how it goes. And thank you for replying and for the suggestion.

  5. Blocks are definitely a favourite in our household! I love to see how their little imagination can come up with the most amazing block projects.

  6. Do you have the standard unit blocks at home? when I left my teaching job to be with my kids I ended up purchasing an expensive set of unit blocks. I remember my mother telling me I was crazy to spend so much money on them.
    I found that some of my kids liked playing with them a lot while others never looked at them.(I saw that in teaching as well)
    I also found that if I was there along with them, giving them pictures and just being there, it encouraged them to build more.
    It also helps if you can afford to add things like hollow blocks and other wonderful additions that encourage them to keep building.
    There’s no question that items you talk about offering “a la reggio” are also great additions to a block center

  7. Hi,
    My son aged 6 is too much into block making. he makes marvelous models out of it whether its an animal, a robot, a car, a garbage vehicle, a fish, a plane, a horse and gives fantastic touch to the same.
    any clue how I can more encourage him or which website can I post his creativity to encourage him. he really gets encouraged when I tell him that ppl liked his creativity.
    what more can I introduce for him to make him wonders for the block.


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