Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Lots of Blocks

There are a few toys that I think every family should own. One is a good set of natural colored hardwood building block in a standard size like the ones made by GuideCraft or Melissa and Doug. The more you can afford, the better. Look for a set with proportional dimensions (for instance, the thickness of the blocks is half the width of the square).

Our family started out with a set of painted softwood blocks. The problem with them was twofold: first, they didn’t stack or balance well, and second, the colors meant anything you built had a patchwork look to it.
In contrast, we have built towers of hardwood blocks taller than an adult. Of course, when they fall, they leave little dings in the floor and occasionally painfully hit a toe or finger. Unpainted blocks are also versatile. They can make a building, a maze, a chair, a statue, a tree. An individual block can be a book, a car, a baseball bat, a phone, a carrot. You add the color in your head.

I love this picture of my son’s building, because it tells so much about things that he could do. To build the ramp, he had to do some thinking about stacking each pile one taller than the last. He had to notice that the ramp blocks have a “right” and “wrong” if you want to make a smooth incline. He had to figure out how to make the bridge built up to the right height to connect to the ramp.  You can see he has some sense of symmetry– the blocks coming out from under the bridge both have one long block and four triangles. But mostly I can see that he created something of his own that he was proud of.

We keep our set in the living room and have watched them be used by the toddlers through the grandparents. Unit blocks are a must-have for the hands on learning household.

Although I love unit blocks, there is another block set that I think children who love to build should have-- a good set of plank style blocks. Sold under the name Kapla and the more affordable Citiblocs, these one by five by 3/8 inch blocks stack and balance amazingly well.

We first discovered them at an exhibit at a children's museum where they had literally thousands of blocks to build with. We brought home our own set and found that kids and adults both were drawn to them. We've made many insanely tall structures and adults in particular seem to like to make strangely balanced shapes that seem to defy gravity. They've also been used by the younger set to make roads and fences during creative play. This simple, adaptable toy is one that is worth having in your home. Buy as many blocks as you can afford for more building options. 

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