Our “puzzle guide” article was so well received by our readers that we’ve put together a similar guide to help you choose the right BLOCKS for your child.
Whether you have a baby, toddler, or school-age son or daughter, we’ll explain the different features you should look for in block-related toys, games, and activities for each developmental stage to help “build” your child’s skills and independence.
So read on, “BLOCK OUT” some time in your busy schedule, and get ready to host your own “BLOCK PARTY” today!
Soft, plush blocks really are the best “starting blocks” for babies. There’s no worries if they end up being “baby-gummed” before being stacked — a good possibility.
Using brightly colored blocks with a variety of fabric textures, pictures, and noises (like jingling bells) can help hold attention and stimulate many of Baby’s senses during playtime.
- Roll soft blocks just out of reach during Tummy Time to help babies strengthen muscles in their necks (as they try to see where the blocks land) and in their legs (as they try to crawl toward the blocks).
- Hide blocks under a blanket and play a game of Peek-a-Boo with your baby to work on developing object permanence skills.
OLDER BABIES & TODDLERS
When choosing blocks for older babies and toddlers, make sure that they are LIGHT. Blocks made of cardboard are tough enough to hold up to “toddler play” but light enough to not be upsetting or scary should a tower topple over in their direction. (And topple they will, for that’s half the FUN!) Children this age are often still working on keeping themselves steady when standing in one spot, so blocks that can be stacked about 3 feet tall are a good way for toddlers to practice their balance skills, too!
To help little learners recognize and identify colors, shapes, and patterns, they can use pattern blocks to complete pictures — or even make their own geometric-shape picture creations! Fine motor and pre-writing skills (that is, practicing their pincer grasp, which is often mastered at 14 months) can be enhanced by having children trace around each pattern block on a sheet of paper.
TIP: To help very little ones understand how to turn and manipulate blocks (and introduce them to the concept of a 3D cube vs. a 2D square), try using sound blocks. This multi-sensory learning activity rewards children with a fun (animal or vehicle) sound when two blocks are properly placed in a wooden tray to make a complete picture of a farm animal or vehicle. The sound reward builds children’s independence as it helps them self-correct their choices until they make a proper match.
PRESCHOOLERS & SCHOOL-AGE KIDS
Unit blocks are a classic way to teach part-whole relationships (two triangles can make a square), spatial skills, math concepts, and (of course) building skills. Preschoolers might enjoy colored unit blocks that can become a pull toy. Older children will appreciate the uniformity in their creations constructed with natural-finish unit blocks. Remember: Children this age need LOTS of blocks to build bigger, taller, and more complex creations.
If you have a budding architect longing to build ever more intricate creations, you may want to try architectural unit blocks. They include such realistic features as hand-scrolled columns, doors, windows, and archways, to really take children’s buildings “to the next level.”
TIP: You can always add color and interest to a classic wooden block set by taking it outdoors to have children chalk-draw “scenery” to accompany their creations. Learn more in the article “Farm Blocks + Sidewalk Scenes.”
- Have children follow a “blueprint” you provide to see if they can recreate your drawn or traced building plan using unit blocks. Learn more in “Blueprint and Block Fun.”
- If you have a performer in the family, have your child role-play being a Construction Worker. See how to add tools, books, a packed lunch, and digging materials to any block activity to have your child act out a “Day in the Life of a Construction Worker” (minus the cat calls) in “Construction Worker Pretend Play Prompt.” (You can even download a FREE “Work Orders” Printable to help guide their day.)
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Basic wooden blocks are truly an engaging, timeless toy. Check out our Battery-Free board on Pinterest for some fresh takes on other classic toys and games that will help you “build in” creative play — every day.
And when you’re hosting your next “Block Party,” may we suggest you all rock out to songs like “BUILD Me Up, Buttercup” and “We BUILT This City”? We can almost picture you singing along into your air-microphone right now . . .
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Thanks for reading!