Some toys help children at every developmental stage. Blocks are examples of extremely valuable learning tools. Studies show that children who play with blocks are better in geometry and algebra in middle school.
Probably the first blocks are cloth for young toddlers who still chew on materials. These safe squishy blocks can be squeezed, thrown, and kicked.
Older toddlers get down to "serious" block play. They learn how to hold on to blocks. They feel how heavy they are, can learn to sort them by the bright colors, carry them around, or float them in the tub.
SABIN, DAVIS, HETRICK, ANDEREGG, MACALADY, WALKER, DARLING and KATERS
Toddlers can experiment with nesting, stacking, knocking down, and laying blocks side by side on the floor. Adults can get on the floor and stack and knock down towers with them. Children love the sound. They love to fill containers, dump, pick up, stack and compare towers. Carry on a conversation while playing so they will add words to their vocabulary.
Three-year-olds continue playing on the floor so that's where adults need to be. They will start pretending, constructing buildings for cars, small animals and figures. They will love to stack cans from the kitchen cupboard (carefully).
Young children can be introduced to snap together blocks like Mega Bloks (giant LEGO type blocks) or large cardboard blocks used for giant towers and houses big enough for family members.
Preschoolers can play games of sorting by colors, size, and shape. They can practice counting while they put away blocks and learn a one to one correspondence. Make a rectangle or square out of masking tape on the floor and help them fill it in with blocks like a puzzle.
Moving Toward Robots
Four and five year olds are ready for large LEGOS, Trio blocks, and others to make imaginative houses, robots, space ships, and dinosaurs. Their play is all about exploring, constructing more complex structures, and following picture instructions.
Once children become obsessed with LEGOS they will need help organizing the pieces. Construct on a bed sheet so all parts can be found, scooped up, and sorted in smaller sized bins.
Children will also need help learning it is normal for creations to fall apart. They learn by putting structures back together and making them better. Offer help. Talk about frustration and taking a break from a project. Children will learn to be resilient, persistent, and determined. They'll need a safe place for their partially constructed masterpieces away from younger children.
Whether building sets or their own creations children learn complex patterns, classifying, sequencing, counting, fractions, problem solving, and cooperation. They learn how to be structural engineers working with gravity, balance, stability, and beauty-all this from blocks. Third graders on up are reader for Lego robotics.
For more information see grandparentsteachtoo.org.
Editor's note: Grandparents Teach ,Too is a non profit organization of elementary and preschool teachers from Marquette, Michigan. Writers include: Jan Sabin, Mary Davis, Jean Hetrick, Cheryl Anderegg, Esther Macalady, Colleen Walker, Fran Darling, and Iris Katers.Their mission since 2009 is to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers of young children provide fun activities to help prepare young children for school and a life long love of learning. They are supported by Great Start, Parent Awareness of Michigan (PAM), Upper Peninsula Association for the Education of Young Children (UPAEYC), Northern Michigan School of Education, U.P. Children's Museum, and NMU Center for Economic Education.