Making the Most of Block Play – 3 Simple Steps to Enhancing STEM Learning

It’s not a challenge to get most kids to play with blocks – you put ‘em down, they pick ‘em up – and there are loads of benefits to both structured (replicating a pattern or design) and unstructured (open-ended, creative play) construction play. From enhancing gross and fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and hand/eye coordination to the more intangible creative problem solving and critical thinking to specific mathematic and scientific principles, construction toys are literally a building block to higher-level thinking. Working with blocks is really the beginning of algebra, says a nursery school director interviewed in a recent NPR story on block play. "Essentially they're solving for X," he says. "They've got one piece on one side and one piece on the other and a distance to fill. So what is that amount going to be, what does the length of that block have to be to bridge, to sit at both edges of the block. It's the beginning of mathematics, really."

From math concepts to the principles of physics, your child will reap most of the incredible benefits of building with blocks through the powerful osmosis of play, but there are some simple (and fun!) things you can do to enhance his or her experience and increase the amount of time spent unplugged and engaged in this classic, non-electronic, brain-building activity:

  • 1.Encourage Open-ended Toy Play – According to an article on open-ended play fosters the “happy talent” Betty Jones, PhD, extolls in her book Playing to Get Smart, giving children the freedom to succeed in a no-pressure, no-mistakes environment. So get down on the floor and play with your child! Build a tower, a house, or an abstract structure. Build together or separately. Ask about and applaud your child’s imaginative builds. Share and discuss your creations. Encourage total creativity with no rules and no judgement and you’ll create a play environment your child returns to again and again.
  • 2.Provide Challenges – Challenge your child to build the tallest tower she can, add three more blocks to his build, or construct a bridge between two builds. Can he build a house? Add a second story? See if your child can construct her school or pet. More advanced builds will require your child to come up with new and different solutions. Different building sets have different capabilities. When your child is ready to move beyond the basic block, consider a connectable set like Brackitz that allows for more complex creations.
  • 3.Talk About It – Talk as you build. Compare your structure to your child’s. How is it similar? Different? How many pieces did each of you use? What would you add to each other’s structures? Ask your child what he or she wants to build and talk about the different ways it could be done. Use specific vocabulary – bridge, frame, angle, corner. An article on confirms that playtime is the perfect time to introduce descriptive language and specific terminology/academic vocabulary in real-life, visual, hands-on, context.

Engaging in your child’s construction play, encouraging creative, imaginative building, and providing a few challenges when your child is ready are easy ways to maximize the STEM benefits of block play. And it’s fun!

If you’ve enjoyed this blog and think your friends, parents, co-workers, caregivers, teachers, dog-walkers, or baristas might, too, please don’t forget to share it. Also take a look at this video for bringing Brackitz into the outdoors! 

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