Why We Love the Simple Brick
(2021 • 05 • 06)
Can one toy help to teach a toddler almost anything? Possibly.
Records of toy blocks for children go all the way back to the 16th century - and there’s a reason they’re still popular today. Whether it’s simple wooden bricks, or those clever little plastic pieces from LEGO, block play has an incredibly wide range of benefits for children.
But before we get to our list of benefits, why exactly are blocks such a great learning tool for children?
Any artist will be able to tell you that constraints foster creativity. Think back to the incredible blockbuster films of the 1970 and 80s, such as the original Star Wars trilogy, Jaws and E.T.: those awe-inspiring practical effects and gripping scenes were the on-screen results of a sword made out of an old calculator and a mechanical shark that didn’t work.
Limitations force us to look at the things we have, and reconsider how they can be utilised or what they can represent. Give a child of 2 or 3 a box of blocks in varying shapes, sizes and colours and, usually, they will begin simply by picking up and moving the blocks, putting them together in seemingly random combinations. In time, however, these random combinations may spark a memory - ‘that line looks a like a road’ - and soon they will be building and creating with purpose, experimenting to see how they can translate the ideas in their heads into reality.
According to the LEGO Foundation’s report on systematic creativity, ‘systems are crucial for creativity. Systems of science channel creativity towards solving specific questions or problems, as in maths, physics and engineering. Systems of art channel creativity into many different and unique expressions, giving form to our imagination, feelings and identities, as in painting, music and sculpture.’
And that’s where blocks really come into their own: they are both a system of science and a system of art. By playing with blocks, children are given both the freedom and the tools to create, aesthetically, whatever they want, whilst also experimenting with problems of gravity, balance and symmetry.
Think of the child trying to balance something on a sloping surface. They may try, several times, before coming to the understanding that things will always fall off. So, with that realisation in mind, they have to reevaluate their plans, and consider how they can create their vision differently. This, in turn, could lead to the creation of a new, better sculpture. So, in that process, they have learned how to create new images, and have a working idea of slopes and gravity, long before they are ‘taught’ it in school.
So, let’s break it down. What are the benefits of block play for children?
Being able to count is more than just reciting numbers. For children to understand quantities, it’s really important for them to be able to physicalise those numbers. Blocks are perfect tools for this.
Add to that lessons about shapes, angles, measurements, symmetry and balance, blocks really are a brilliant tool for mathematical learning.
Science, Reasoning and Problem Solving
Playing with blocks gives children the opportunity to practise scientific reasoning, testing out hypotheses and problem-solving. They learn about gravity and develop spatial awareness, too!
According to this paper on learning through play, this process of experimentation also ‘engages brain networks related to taking alternative perspectives, flexible thinking and creativity’.
Creativity and Self Expression
A simple block can be anything: a phone, a baby, a plate, a spaceship… Blocks can support your little one’s imaginative play in manifold ways, as anything and everything can be translated onto these blank surfaces.
In building, too, blocks of varying shapes, sizes and colours can be combined to create anything at all. As of 2019, there were 950,103,765 possible combinations of LEGO bricks!
By grasping, moving and balancing blocks, little ones are developing their fine motor skills, spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.
Communication and Negotiation Skills
When creating with blocks, children will often talk to either the adult present or other children to explain what they are creating, thus practising their ability to communicate ideas. On top of this, when more than one child is playing, they will need to negotiate who gets which bricks, or which ideas are pursued.
Emotional and Social Development
As children go through these negotiations, they are learning to share, to be kind to others and to find compromises. Many children will come to learn how rewarding it can feel to let another child use their bricks, while others will get practice coping with the negative emotions spawned when their tower gets knocked over!
Blocks, thanks to their simplicity and ease of use, are perfect tools for translating children’s ideas into reality. Being able to see their ideas come to life is a great confidence boost for our little ones, and can give them a real sense of achievement.
Concentration, Goal-Setting and Planning
Once children get an idea of what they want to create, they have to go through a process of planning the steps they need to take to get there, and follow them through to the end. These are important skills for later life!
These are just a few of the many skills that can be learned through block play. Bricks can also be used to teach specific lessons, for example using lettered bricks to teach the alphabet, or adding marbles to learn about velocity.
There are so many reasons to pick up a box of blocks, and I hope your little one has many happy days playing with them!
Content Creator @MEplace