Gwen Dewar PhD, anthropologist and blogger on parenting science states ‘Toy blocks-—and other construction toys-—are among the best developmental toys that money can buy.
A set of blocks can
help a child develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, creative problem solving skills, social skills and language skills
Moreover, children can integrate their own constructions into pretend play scenarios. And there is evidence that complex block-play is linked with advanced math skills in later life.’ She goes on to say in another blog on baby centre ‘Some of the evidence is due to correlation, children who build more complex structures out of blocks tend to score better on IQ tests and math tests. Is that because smarter children are better builders? Per haps, but there are also a few experimental studies supporting the idea that block play helps children develop all sorts of other skills as well such as spatial skills, which seems like a no-brainer, but also verbal skills (perhaps because builders “talk through” their plans) and social skills (when children collaborate).
Building blocks have been around for a very long time, in fact prehistoric man probably had a version of them! One of the most notable educational theorists to actively use them was Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), a renowned German educator. His radical insight was (even more so at that time) that the first learning experiences of the very young are crucially important in influencing not only their later academic achievements but also the general wellbeing, health and development of society as a whole. He devised a set of principles and practices which would form part of an interactive educational process to take place in institutions which in 1840 he named ‘kindergarten’. (The Froebel educational institution.)
Kindergarten can be translated as ‘child’s garden’ or ‘garden of children’ both meanings were used by him and reflect his philosophy on children; he valued gardens and notions of mutual respect. Froebel developed a set of what were essentially basic toys and called them ‘gifts’. He wrote a book called the education of man and discussed the use of large sets of blocks (+/-500 in all) He doesn’t mention these in later work but rather emphasises the ‘gifts’
The gifts consisted of:
1 A box of 6 small soft spheres
2 A wooden Cube, a wooden cylinder and a wooden sphere
3 8x1” wooden cubes which stacked together to make a 2” cube
4-6 3x8 inch cubes cut in different ways to give cubes & cuboids and triangles & prisms
The gifts were presented in a structured way and Froebel developed graduated exercises which he based around the games he had observed children playing.
Froebel used the phrase ‘at every stage be that stage’ i.e. children should be allowed to be children, and live in the moment without having to worry about what comes next. Froebel also urged other educators to ‘begin where the learner is’..I think we call this child lead play now.
As Froebel gained experience his theory evolved and ultimately he valued play as the most spiritual (he was a clergy man’s son) and highest form of activity in which people (not just children) engage!
Wood you play?
29/09/2011 The Froebel Educational institute
Linda Pound 2009 How Children Learn Practical preschool book.pgs 14-16