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Spacial awareness is the ability to organize objects, including oneself, in a given space. When children play with blocks, they plan how to organise their blocks within the available space and use and understand spatial vocabulary such as ‘above’, ‘under’, ‘over’, which are fundamental to later mathematical skills. They learn how wide or high they can build, how large the block structure is in relation to their own bodies and how much space it takes up on the living room floor.
The ‘midline’ is an imaginary line that runs from the head to the toes, dividing the body in a left and right side. While babies tend to reach out and grab an item on their left with their left hands and vice versa, it is developmentally crucial that children between 4 and 9 years old learn to cross the midline by reaching with their left hand for items on their right side. By crossing the midline, children need to rotate their trunks, which leads to improved core strength – a crucial requirement for balance, coordination and later skills like handwriting. Crossing the midline helps children to better interact with their environment and it also assist with developing a strong dominant hand. Playing on the floor with blocks provide ample opportunity for midline crossing when children reach and stack.
Dexterity is also often referred to as fine motor strength and refers to the development of small muscles in the fingers. These muscles develop during early childhood through playing and manipulating toys that encourage the fingers to grasp, pinch and hold with the fingers touching each other while extended. Dexterity helps a child with crucial skills like handwriting, buttoning, pulling up a zipper and feeding herself. Block play provides fantastic exercise for developing the fine muscles in the fingers!
Problem-solving is a natural consequence of playing with well-made, open-ended toys like wooden blocks.
Research proves over and over again that growing up in a sensory rich environment with access to quality open-ended toys, is a great indicator for a child’s later mathematical success. Playing with blocks can lay a solid foundation for exploring and understanding mathematical concepts like
- Seriation (arranging from smallest to largest and vice versa)
- Fractions (these two Plankies together form one large, whole rectangle, and if I pull them apart I have two halves!)
Blocks are the perfect toys for learning the scientific principles of gravity, balance and cause-and-effect. Through building block structures your child automatically practices scientific reasoning and gets to test hypotheses in a playful way!
Self-esteem and growth mindset
When block play is free and fun it provides the young child with the perfect opportunity to take risks in a playful, non-threatening way. She can test her own independent ideas and if they do not work out, she can try something new and so develop the growth mindset habits of building her abilities, exercising effort to achieve success, perseverance and embracing challenges. If she is successful, she is rewarded with a wonderful sense of achievement, the joy of discovery and confidence in her abilities.
At Thornewood Treasures we are wary of giving children copy cards and adult-created ideas on how to play. While copying patterns have definite benefits for intellectual development, they should be an occasional side dish to the more scrumptious feast of child-lead, open-ended free play. For creativity to flourish in block play, JUST ADD CHILDREN!
When children engage in creative block play, a world of vocabulary opens up! We mentioned spatial words earlier, but the child also describes his creation, listens to his sibling’s or friend’s ideas and hears new words from mom and dad as they make a suggestion or shows a clever new thing like a ‘ramp’ or a ‘maze’ that can be built with blocks! Even in playing out imaginary scenes with their blocks, children are immersed in the richness of language as they act our their stories.
You never outgrow blocks!
There is no age limit on well-made wooden blocks. If you want to test this, leave your beautiful Thornewood Treasures blocks or Plankies out where your spouse can also have access to it. Place it near the coffee table when you have friends over. Take it with you to the grandparents’ house. Then stand back and observe as different generations play together! Block play provides joy and play opportunities at any age and will grow with your child as she moves through her developmental milestones.