Q&A: What the
Research Tells us About Block Play and STEM Learning
What do children learn
through block play?
Playing with blocks
provides the opportunity for children to learn elements of science and math,
like problem solving, counting, adding and subtracting, and helps them build
both gross and fine motor skills. Block play also supports other key aspects of
development, including language learning as children talk about the structures
they built with the adults and children around them, creativity, imagination,
self-esteem, and social and emotional growth.
How does it connect to
Block play provides
a natural context for exploring the physical world. Like little scientists,
children experiment with structures and observe the outcomes of their building
efforts. Through this process they learn about mass, weight, proportionality
and balance, and can use their new concepts to plan and predict outcomes.
Block play with an
18-month-old is different than block play for a five year old. What types of
block play and blocks work well for different aged children and why?
Children go through
various stages of block play. As they work through the learning of one stage
they are ready to move on to the next stage of play. As skills advance, it is
typical for children to combine several stages. The stages are
developmental—each one building on the last—but children advance at their own
rate regardless of their age.
Bridges or Arches
Enclosures and Bridges
7: Building with
Patterns and Symmetry
Block Structures that Represent Objects for Pretend Play
What is BLOCK Fest?
BLOCK Fest is a
research-based, family interactive event that uses five block play stations (of
five different sized blocks) to introduce children and their parents, through
guided play and conversation, to the foundational STEM value of blocks. Parents—and
communities using the exhibit—learn about early math and science concepts and
learn that, just as with early literacy, fluency in early math is a strong
predictor for school readiness. BLOCK Fest events are conducted by a trained
host to ensure they are an educational experience for parents, caregivers and
children. The training provides the STEM research background and tools to
facilitate parent and child engagement.
What do families learn
about children's learning and development as they observe their children
playing with blocks?
children form an emotional bond during block play. Block play has been shown to
actually increase parent knowledge of early development in the areas of math
and science education, while at the same time providing opportunities for young
children to increase their math, science, social and literacy skills. Parents
observe the following behaviors from their children during block play:
focusing, taking turns, listening, sorting, problem solving, predicting, observing
outcomes, making patterns, comparing, naming, counting, wondering and many
forms of mathematizing.
What kinds of family
interactions do you encourage and why?
BLOCK Fest was
developed to provide an interactive block building experience for young children
ages 8 months to 8 years and their parents. The family's role in block play
includes making time and space for blocks at home, saving household materials
for building, following the child’s lead, supporting their decision making and
remembering to ask open-ended questions about the building process which
invites children to talk about their understanding of the world around them.
opportunities for children’s social and emotional development as they build and
share with others, and manage the frustration that comes when structures
collapse. The characteristics of grit and perseverance are displayed and
developed for both children and adults participating in active block play. In
addition, children are challenged cognitively as they solve the problems that
arise in the construction process.
What does the research tell us about the value of block play?
Two decades of
research show that children build number and math skills from a very early age,
and that those who are strong in early math skills excel in math in the later
years. Research shows that children’s block play is related to later math
competence and particular interest in STEM careers.