Building the Brain with Blocks

October 25, 2017
October 25, 2017

Building the Brain with Blocks

Simple blocks build more than just teetering towers… They build the brain.

Stroll down the Grymes hallway past the Junior Kindergarten classroom at the start of any school day, and you’ll often notice the happy buzz and chatter of students interrupted by the crash and clatter of a block tower collapsing. In fact, most days in JK begin with free-play using open-ended construction-type toys – train tracks are scattered like latticework across the floor, blocks are piled high in precarious towers (or in a just-tumbled-over mess on the floor), and students are shoulder-to-shoulder at the Lego table, completely engrossed in the task of building.

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What may appear to be some of the most basic activity is actually serious brain work for early learners.

What may appear to be some of the most basic activity is actually serious brain work for early learners, and, in a digital world where technology is foisted upon students earlier and earlier in schools, we find incredible value in this kind of old fashioned “analogue” play. Open-ended materials represent what we believe to be the best kind of materials for children to learn with; they do not announce how they should be used, they can be played with any number of different ways, and these toys give children the opportunity for critical brain development.

So, what are they actually learning?

Problem Solving

Combining, removing, and reconfiguring blocks in infinite ways equips children with the skills needed to handle the kinds of divergent problems we see in life every day.

“I want to build x. How do I do that?” Thinking through the basic questions of how to do what I want to do, what can I use, and how to overcome the obstacles in the execution are critical problem-solving skills. As children think through how to build towers that are sturdier or which LEGO piece would work best to link two pieces together, they’re developing proficiency with divergent problems, or the kinds of problems that can be solved many different ways. Combining, removing, and reconfiguring blocks in infinite ways equips children with the skills needed to handle the kinds of divergent problems we see in life every day, and this practice is incredibly stimulating to a young brain.

Science, Spatial Reasoning & Math

Studies show that students who played with blocks in complex ways as preschoolers showed greater proficiency in math class in later years.

Young designers learn to manipulate space and objects through block play.  Will this fit here?  Will this fall down? Will this make the shape I want? Children engaged in building are thinking through basic scientific and mathematical concepts such as cause and effect, shape, length, measurement, comparison, number, estimation, symmetry, balance — most certainly gravity! — and even the basics of addition when they discover that two short blocks will be the same size as another block. Indeed, a 2011 study tracked a groups of students from preschool through high school. Students who played with blocks in complex ways as preschoolers scored higher on standardized tests and showed greater proficiency in math class — in particular, Algebra in middle school.

Reading, Writing and Language:

Through block play, children understand the importance of sequence, an important early reading skill, during the construction process and as they retell their experiences with the blocks. When teachers encourage children to describe their construction, to reason through a problem or to test a hypothesis during building process (“What do you think will happen if you put that block here?”) children practice expressing their complex thoughts.

Social & Emotional Growth:

When children engage their friends in discussion or negotiate for a favorite piece, complex social skills are in practice.

Not only do little builders discover that they have ideas and that they can bring their ideas to life by creating, transforming, demolishing, and re-creating something unique through block play, but they also learn cooperation, teamwork, sharing and responsibility through the process. When other children are playing close by and they engage their friends in discussion or negotiate for a favorite piece that is a “must-have” part of a structure, complex social skills are in practice.

… And so much more. Those blocks – the traditional old wooden ones that you may remember playing with as a child – are building fundamental skills and essential neural pathways in the brain that will help early learners become active learners as they grow.

So the next time you hear the clash and clatter of blocks crashing to the floor (often followed by a surprised shriek of delight), remember that there is serious brain work happening! At Grymes Memorial School, blocks are one of many ways that we fire up the engines in those critical first stages of launching learners.

 

Interested in exploring a Grymes education for your child?
Inquire for your early learner today by clicking here!

 

 

 

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