Sunday, July 21, 2013
Building blocks - creative play at any age.
My husband and I were talking about blocks recently. I can’t say I remember playing with them, except on one or two occasions when my older brother allowed me. Blocks used to be considered boy toys, as much as dolls were for girls.
Fortunately, we’ve seen major cultural evolution since then, and most parents now realize the value of encouraging kids of both genders to expand their imaginations by building with blocks.
But, my husband had some interesting personal recollections and observations about blocks, and I asked him to share them in his own words.
“One of the first toys I ever was given was a set of wooden unit blocks. These are the same basic wooden blocks based on Frobel’s original unit blocks from the 1830’s. I’m told that these smooth, cool, wooden shapes kept me busy for hours throughout my early years.
“One of the last toys I got, just a couple of years ago, was a set of stone building blocks. Smooth, cool pieces of limestone cut into precision shapes. Now, the stone blocks are considered an adult toy, because one is expected to recreate the castles and cathedrals that come pictured on the enclosed brochure. But the concept behind all of these building blocks is the same: position them together and let imagination take over.”
“Because of my own fondness for building blocks, I presented age-appropriate building block sets to my children as they were growing up. And with that came a clearer understanding of what developmental processes are involved at different ages.
“The earliest block sets, intended for infants, were made of colorful foam or plastic. but oversized, colorful shapes designed for babies. The play at the first exposure to blocks consisted of my stacking and them knocking them down, which was fun for both of us.
“Before long, I noticed a phase two of the building block process. Working alone, the child would lay them end to end on the floor, all in a straight-ish line. Eventually, the child would progress to putting a curve or intersection in the line and would then roll a wheeled toy on this newly created roadway.
“In the next phase of development, the child would start stacking the blocks themselves. Yes, they would still knock it down, but they could stack it back up by themselves. Later the stacks became walls. And as they developed a little more, the walls because fences and then houses.
“And then the child learned that a children’s book makes a great roof on the house. I don’t remember if I showed them this, or they figured it out on their own, but eventually this let them realize, they could build a house with a second story, or more. At this point, they’d get frustrated, because multi-level structures required more blocks than we had…so we got more and more. The house-building phase led to wooden unit blocks like I’d had. We also gave them interlocking plastic blocks and Lincoln logs, which let them build structures that were a little more stable.
“One day I cleaned out a closet and, believe it or not, found 30 shoeboxes to discard. The children immediately discovered the building potential of empty shoeboxes. It introduced them to a whole new aspect of play, scale. The scale of those big rectangular shapes was magical. They were able to build structures they could play in.”
Gwynn here again. I must pause to celebrate my husband’s appreciation for creative play. Like myself, his career was focused on the creative side of advertising, and he spent years working with artists, writers and photographers to produce memorable work. In addition, his mother had a knack for making every endeavor a game, and my husband has inherited the ability. What a gift that is!
Because of his childrens’ wonderful experience with the shoeboxes, my husband likes to recommend the sets of large blocks we carry at The Creativity Institute. Like those shoeboxes, these blocks are so large that children can make structures they can climb into. Edushape makes large blocks of solid foam, but the largest are the foam shapes covered in vinyl made by Children’s Factory and Wesco Some of the individual pieces measure as long as three or four feet!
I’m pretty sure that block-play helped to nurture my husband’s creative spirit, ultimately leading him toward a successful and fulfilling career in the creative arena. Now, each time I fill an order for a set of blocks, I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing these simple shapes offer exciting creative potential for a young boy or girl with a growing imagination.
Chief Imagination Officer