Last week a friend of mine told me her 5 year old son doesn’t like the toys we have at home because he finds them “too childish”. 6 months back I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, but NOW after having vested so much in toys, damn I needed to explore this! Also because both our boys are of the same age.
I immediately back tracked and recalled my son parading his latest addition: a unique Play in a Box by The Bombay Toy Company around the house that day. It’s basically a box with wooden blocks, planks, and sticks. What immediately captivated me was the endless possibilities of play that could be created with the simple addition of planks and sticks. Plus it was made of superb sturdy quality!
Looking at the box once again, I instantly realized why it appeared “childish”. It’s essentially a bunch of squares and rectangles in different shapes and sizes. What is one supposed to do with it? How does a 5 year old play with it? There is no ON/OFF button, nor is there a manual! Unfortunately our brain has been conditioned to think that blocks are only for stacking and that too for babies.
I want to scream out loud and tell everyone: BLOCKS ARE NOT JUST FOR STACKING!!
Just like an age group is mentioned on a book or a toy; blocks too change with age. The only difference being, it is not explicitly mentioned because open-ended toys are inherently child-led. You as a parent, identify his/her potential and accordingly add more items. Think open-ended Waldorf inspired play.
Why should we encourage kids to play with blocks?
Children who play with blocks show significant development mentally and physically. Explaining it better with the help of this structure my son made:
- Helps to understand weight: for ex. heavier ones go at the bottom, lighter ones come on top
- Balance: most children get frustrated when their structure falls down, however Build, Grow, Fall, Repeat- is the mantra. The child is learning patience and perseverance (and so are the parents!!)
- Block Play unfolds countless possibilities , promoting creative thinking (in this image, my son recreated his house: Grandparents are watching tv; parents, sister and himself are eating on the dining table, he even added a car park below!)
- Ability to solve problems: Building scenarios pose problems, and soon they will learn to solve it, thus enhancing their foundational mathematical understanding. (he realized there wasn’t a way to reach the top rooms and immediately added stairs).
This kind of learning goes a long way in developing Spatial Reasoning: when the child knows which structure, shape, weight and size goes where, thus adapting to basic concepts of physics and geometry relatively faster.
How to Encourage Block Play
- Using the right blocks for the right age: please do not give small Lego bricks to children under 3 years! (see my detailed recommendations below)
- Get on the damn floor! And build your own structure. Kids love that parents are involved. Show them initially and walk out after a few minutes to enjoy that glass of wine without any disturbance 😉
- Challenge them. When you notice they are getting bored, don’t just pack off the toy, show them a tougher arrangement to replicate (hello google images).
- Appreciate their creations.
- Laugh out loud when a structure falls down.
- Invite friends and family for building and constructing together (Block Play Date 😉 )
Block Play for Different Age Groups:
Pick any natural/wooden teether toy, show it to the baby, cover it with a blanket and pull it off to introduce objects.
Magnetic Block Puzzle will introduce them to shapes, sizes, joining, etc
Invest in the Early Stacker, which is an ideal introduction to banging, dropping, stacking and knocking out blocks.
Ages 18 months-3 years
By now most children can easily stack and build high. Now is the time to introduce formations and get their brain working. “Can you build a castle?” or “Lets try making a car park!” Consider adding different shapes, sizes and weights over time.
Ages 4-8 year olds
Go Big! Add more numbers and variants to the existing blocks to make challenging creations.
Additionally one can strengthen their maths skills. For ex “you just made a car park using 4 blocks, if you were to make it a really tall car park of 10 blocks, how many more would you add?” “Wow you just showed me 4+6=10?”
Introducing STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics) based toys at this stage engages children in a unique manner. I’ve recently discovered a couple of great Indian brands like Smartivity and Funvetion, but have not yet personally tried them.
Again, the child will adapt to STEAM toys better if their brain has been conditioned to creativity and exploring, so don’t just throw out those “childish blocks” yet!