We live in a fast-paced society fueled by technology. Young children now have access to computers and other “screens” early in their lives. As preschoolers, many are adept at entertaining themselves with engaging, virtual characters who teach them letters, numbers, and even feelings. Children appear to be happy and having fun. But, as a teacher, wouldn’t you like to look deeper and gain a greater understanding into the budding character of the child? Would you like to help children develop the strength of personality needed to sustain them throughout their lives? The block corner is one place where this growth can unfold--and with a lot of fun in the process.How Block Play Can Develop Character
Block play provides experiences that foster emotional and social development as children work together in a respectful and cooperative way. They share a sense of joy in their communal accomplishments. While solving structural challenges, they learn to concentrate while gaining mastery in the arts of persistence, patience, and overcoming frustration. Children also have many opportunities to be rewarded with the sense of pride and satisfaction that come as they develop confidence and competency. They come to understand that their friends may have different perspectives on “construction” and they learn cooperation and tolerance along the way.
In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough offers a helpful perspective on the qualities that lead to success both in learning and in life. Tough recognizes that character--expressed through “grit,” curiosity, self-control, conscientiousness, optimism, and persistence--is even more important than cognitive skills in fostering success and satisfaction in life. Block play provides a structure and foundation for children to learn to persevere, develop self-control and delay gratification, expand curiosity, gain self-confidence, and learn to overcome failure. Through exploration with unit blocks children become competent learners in all areas of development: cognitive, physical, social and emotional. A teacher who is well versed in the use of unit blocks understands that block play can help strengthen a child’s developing character. She then finds opportunities to use the block corner to challenge and foster social and emotional growth.
Opportunities for Learning
Block play is fun and engaging. Unlike screen time, unit blocks offer children experiential learning in the real, physical world. The smooth, sensual feel of the wood is satisfying to the touch; the sturdiness of the blocks allows the child to use them freely without breakage; and the open-ended quality of block play provides an opportunity for creativity and cognitive development to soar. Children are drawn to unit blocks knowing that they are using real materials with weight, form and function.
Block play can also be challenging and frustrating--from the youngest child struggling to balance a tower, to the more experienced builder creating a complex structure. As children move through the various stages of building (stacking towers, spanning bridges, enclosing areas, creating designs, and re-enacting their world) they have many opportunities to experiment, make mistakes, problem solve, and find solutions. An intentional teacher will provide students with the support to persevere with a structural or social challenge. The teacher helps children have the “grit” to set goals, carry out plans, be resilient in the face of failure, and maintain a positive attitude.
Opportunities for Observation
Block corners also provide wonderful and varied opportunities for teachers to help the child to become a better learner. Teachers who are skilled and astute observers of children in the block corner can use this knowledge to develop character building skills. How does the child approach the block corner? Does he work consistently, need time to warm up, or lose interest? How does the child deal with challenges? Does she try different approaches, repeat ineffectual solutions, take risks, give up and/or show frustration, ask for help? How does the child verbalize while building? Can she articulate what she has created, describe without pointing or saying, “over there”? What stage of building is the child engaged in? Has it progressed during the year? Is imaginative play taking place, and is it a story line created by the child or mimicked from the media? Does the child work alone, with peers, or in small groups? Does the child tend to be a leader, follower, or a collaborator? The lens through which we observe children in the block corner will be a window into other learning areas--whether it be getting stuck on word attack skills or solving social issues.
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