learning library: block play studies

Effect Of Blocks On Language And Attention In Toddlers

Dimitri Christakis, MD; Fred Zimmerman, PhD; Michelle Garrison, PhD
American Medical Association

This study concluded that the distribution of blocks to children – and use of these blocks led to significantly higher language scores and language development. This was attributed to two factors:

  • Availability. Blocks were preferred play instruments by children, leading to more block playtime and less isolated time (television viewing, as an example).
  • Added block playtime resulted in more active interaction with others (caregivers, as an example) and more active interaction with their environment.

Early environmental exposures, including opportunities to be engaged in socially and cognitively enriched environments are critical factors in creating intellect and linguistic development.

Just as literacy programs such as “Reach Out & Read” have boosted literacy and learning – a Reach Out & Play program would promote healthy child development.

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Fostering Social Development Through Block Play

Dwight Rogers
University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), Day Care & Early Education Magazine
Date: 1987

Blocks – in pre-school, kindergarten and lower school have been described as the “most important’ material found in the classroom. Children’s play with blocks can help develop social skills and give children an opportunity to practice positive behavior.

It is suggested that both block types – small unit and large unit – be made available to children since each promotes learning and social interaction on different but complimentary levels (larger unit blocks result in more communal, social play).

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Problem Solving Knowledge of A Young Child During Block Construction

Juanita Copley, Motoko Oto
Department of Education, University of Houston

Early childhood educators have long emphasized the importance of block construction in early childhood classrooms and playgrounds). With special emphasis on the cognitive and social significance, theorists and educators alike have strongly advocated the importance of block play and its aid in developing problem-solving skills.

Children studied demonstrated Declarative Knowledge (verbalizations), Procedural Knowledge (process) and Metacognitive Knowledge (active control over thinking process). Offering children to act and think during play on this level certainly leads to higher order mental development.

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Block Play Performance Among Preschoolers (As A Predictor Of Later Achievement In Math)

Charles Wolfgang, Laura Stannard, Ithel Jones
Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Do preschool age children who have intense play experiences with blocks can develop to have increased aptitude for mathematics? The study draws correlation between block play in children ages 3-5 and math performance in high school as well as in standardized testing.

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Young Children’s Discourse Strategies During Block Play

Joanna Uhry
Journal of Research in Childhood Education

One of the most important jobs of a preschool and early learning program is to provide opportunities for language development, and for the underlying concepts expressed through language. In block play children manipulate different sized blocks using actions and language to represent realistic or imaginary situations.

  • Block play provides a social setting where children practice social roles and learn skills required to be social beings.
  • Teachers need to create a block area (place including storage area) and provide related accessories (pens, poster board, etc) to enhance the creative experience.
  • Significant oral language and vocabulary skills were learned during group oriented block play


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Play Can Be The Building Blocks Of Learning

Sally Cartwright
Young Children Magazine

“There’s nothing half so much worth doing as messing around with blocks.”
Ratty, main character and a River Mole in novel Wind and the Willows, 1908

The goals of block play among early learners includes physical development, social development, cognitive development, and emotional development :

  • Physical – small and large muscles - dimensional sense of space - mastery of motor control and balance.
  • Social – following group rules - cooperative work and play - understanding child deviation - building friendship and compassion - sensing accomplishment, self esteem, and community – understanding authority.
  • Cognitive – understanding cause and effect – use of counting – understanding colors – active learning and discovery – building micro-worlds symbolic of real worlds – pleasure in communication – experiencing ones own intuitive knowledge.
  • Emotional – integrating ones personality – positive self feelings – overcome new situations – sustain interest and overcome frustration – be open and sensitive.


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The Complete Block Book

Eugene Provenzo, Arlene Brett
Syracuse University Press

Blocks are among the most important toys of an inventive nature available to children. They allow children to create and structure a world that is their own.

The flexibility, variety, and inherently satisfying qualities of blocks make them among the finest toys available for children. The potential of blocks not only for learning, but also for the enjoyment makes them an ideal vehicle of both play and education.

It is the authors hope that the use of blocks in both formal and informal settings will increase and a more thorough understanding of their importance will develop among teachers and parents.

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The Block Book (3rd Edition)

Elizabeth Hirsch
National Association for the Education of Young Children


Big blocks, first invented in the 1920’s, tend to be large and light in weight because they are hollow. These blocks provided exercise for children’s arms and shoulders – developing their strength, coordination, balance and self esteem.

Children build creative structures with large blocks – houses, stores, barns, bridges, boats – all expressions of imagination and creativity. These builders not only built structures but they took on characters – those that built homes became Moms and Dads – those that built hospitals became Nurses and Doctors.

Blocks such as these can be used year round – indoors and outdoors. During their large block play children shape their own learning environment – due to the size and scale play is life size, compelling, dramatic, close and personal – it involves the whole child. In groups, large block play the children build with a shared purpose, with shared pain and laughter, with hard work and deep satisfaction.

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I Made A Unicorn (Open-ended Play With Blocks & Simple Materials)

Tina Bruce, Lynn McNair, Sian Wyn Siencyn
Community Products UK LTD

Open-ended play is intrinsic to childhood; children have an impetus to explorer and create. When free to experiment with the simplest materials, they find ways to express and develop their thoughts in imaginative play. Play for children is not just recreation – it’s their approach to life. Every action is undertaken with the whole being – mind, body and spirit. Children’s play must be respected.

Small unit blocks offer children an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the form – individually and then as stackable objects – repetition is an important feature of materials mastery. Experiment leads to many known forms – such as the creation of buildings, roads but imaginary ideas as well.

Whereas smaller forms enable children to create miniature worlds – larger form blocks empower children to create environments they can actually inhabit – construction and role play flow together, opening possibilities for total involvement. The optimal expression of large block play is the building of dens – personal places of play – places where adults cannot go (“I’m building a nest for me”).

Children are at risk of depravation through the junk food of entertainment, technology and commercialism. Families and educators must promote spontaneous creative play that is supported by materials [blocks] that invite hands-on exploration.

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jean's story

"They're learning a lot about math and science and physics and totally learning social skills as they have to work with other children to make the system of blocks do what they want it to do."

Jean Schreiber is an early childhood education consultant and block play expert.