Kathy: Hello, everyone. We are once again, talking with child psychologist, Dr. Connie Eslinger about the importance of fostering creativity in our children. Welcome back to part three of our chat Connie.
Connie: It is so good to be back Kathy.
Kathy: Today we are discussing some creative ways to engage your child, especially your preschool child, through block play.
Now, today I just finished cleaning out our toys and believe it or not, the one set of toys that my youngest daughter did not want to get rid of was all of her blocks. She has shape blocks and alphabet blocks and long blocks and she wanted to keep all of them. And I think today’s episode is really going to kind of explain why.
So let’s go ahead and get started. How does block play facilitate creative thinking in children?
Connie: Let me start by saying that preschool children need lots of time for free play. Free play is any type of play that’s of course, free, and it just allows your child to express himself or herself. We all know that play is such an essential part of learning and opportunities for creative play should be a part of your child’s daily routine, especially when they’re in preschool.
They just need time to experiment and that’s how they learn. A great way to encourage creative thinking is with construction toys. There are a lot of different types of construction toys like bristle blocks or Legos or Lincoln Logs. And you might have them in your house. But early childhood educators, myself included, believe that every child really needs an opportunity for creative play with blocks, especially wooden blocks.
In fact, kids of all ages really like to play with blocks. And if you only buy one or two construction toys, I really recommend blocks. I personally believe that blocks are the essence of open-ended materials. There’s no right or wrong way to use them. Your child can express their own creativity while they’re experimenting with different sculptures or different constructions.
Because there’s no right or wrong way or prescripted way to use them, blocks really require children to think creatively and to problem solve while trying out new ways to use blocks. In addition, they’re also going to learn about concepts of balance and like spatial reasoning and just stability as they build with blocks.
Kathy: So what are five things parents should consider when setting up a block area?
Setting Up a Block Play Area
Connie: Okay. First, let’s consider the types of blocks that you might want to have. There are a lot of different types of wooden blocks for kids. You can get colorful blocks. You can get natural wood blocks. You can get blocks that are perfectly square or oblong or irregular shapes.
Choose Different Types of Blocks
You can even find wooden blocks that have different colored plastic centers, which are so much fun. There even sponge blocks and cardboard blocks. I used cardboard blocks a lot when I was teaching school. And even when I was working in the preschool. Cardboard blocks are fun because you can fill them with different objects like rice or beans and tape them up and they’re heavy. You can even make your own blocks out of things like cereal boxes, or tea boxes, or just cardboard boxes, oatmeal boxes, pasta boxes. You don’t even have to buy blocks and don’t forget. Check out your garage. You might have some leftover wood planks that you can just cut up, but whatever you choose, I really think a good set of wooden blocks is one of the most essential toys for open ended creative play.
In fact, I would really encourage you to have several different types and sizes of blocks so that your child can really experiment, just develop their creative ideas through block play.
Kathy: We have cardboard blocks, and the girls love building castles with them. They like to make the cardboard blocks look like a castle and then wad up a whole bunch of old paper and then hide behind it.
When dad comes home, they pummel him with snowballs from behind the castle. It’s so much fun. All right. So what’s another way that we could work on setting up our block area.
Create a Dedicated Block Play Area
Connie: Next, I think it’s really important to set aside a dedicated place or a space for your child to play with blocks.
It doesn’t have to be a big space because I realize that not all homes are conducive to a large place to play with blocks, but just a place that you can set aside to devote to different types of blocks where your child can play uninterrupted, they can come back and finish building what they’ve started later.
And even if you only have a small space or a small amount of blocks, you can always enhance the block, play in a number of different ways which is our next point.
Kathy: Ooh. And what is that?
Add Props to Block Play
Connie: That is just adding props and accessories to your block play. Look around your house. You might have some of these things that you could add to the block area. Things like clothes pins, small plastic animals and figures, of course, toy cars. Get those colored glass stones that your child loves to play with. Shells, rubber tubing, paper towel, or toilet paper rolls. All these things will help extend your child’s creative play. And they really inspire new ideas for block play. Don’t forget some natural materials like those old fabric scraps that you have. Add them to the block play. Mirrors are really fantastic to add, to block play. And don’t forget, snap photos of your child’s block building, and just hang them around the area where they’re building with blocks, or you can print them out and put them together in a book.
Kathy: I think one of my favorite things that I remember the girls having that “ahh” moment was whenever we got two pieces of mirror, and we taped them together so that it was a two-sided mirror. And we put the blocks in there and that looked like the blocks are never ending and the pattern kept going. And so they thought that was really cool. Another thing we like to do, because I have girls, is they like to get out their little dolls that they play with her dollhouse. And when they set up their shape blocks, they make it look like a playground and the dolls go down the playground and, and things like that. So props are great. Okay. So what’s another thing that we can do with our block area?
Add Design Tools to Block Play
Connie: This is what I like to call “design tools.” Adding design tools to the block play is a great way to stimulate creative thinking in your child.
Just start by adding some simple art materials like butcher paper that they can put down on the floor and draw with the markers or oil pastels or chalk. Don’t forget, clipboards are great. Even just copy paper where they can make some road signs or other signs, or even draw pictures of buildings. Other types of design tools are things like measuring tape or rulers and even just plain scissors and tape are great design tools you can add to the block play. And don’t forget, you can always add some books that have pictures of things like buildings, roads, and bridges. All these things will help to encourage creative thinking as your child tries new and different ways of playing with blocks.
Kathy: I think is so much fun when you just take a single sheet of paper and they tear it up in little bits and then they have used their blocks to make a town, and they sprinkle the little bits of paper and pretend that it’s snowing. So that’s so much fun. All right, well, we have one more tip left and what’s that last tip?
Get Involved in Block Play
Connie: This last tip is ways you can support your child’s learning during block play. You can really help to encourage them by just spending some time in the block area and taking an interest in what your child is doing. You don’t have to take over the play. You really don’t even have to interfere with their play and you don’t have to stay very long, but you know how much your preschooler loves your attention. And just spending a few moments in the area where they’re playing with blocks really encourages them to continue with the activity that they’re doing.
While you’re doing this another way that you can help to support their creative thinking during block play is to just pretend to be a sports announcer. Dads are really good at this. You can start by just echoing or rephrasing some things that your child is saying while they’re playing, or you can just describe what they’re doing and expand on it like a sports announcer would do.
And sometimes all that’s needed to encourage their creative thinking is just a comment or an open ended question. Like, ” I noticed,” or “I wonder what would happen if,” or perhaps “tell me about this” or “What else could you try?” Or, “I wonder what is another way to,” and then elaborate on what you’re seeing that they’re doing, or “hum, let’s think a minute. How could you change?” And then describe something that you’re seeing all these open-ended questions and discussion of what you’re observing really helps to stimulate their thinking and their problem solving.
But in summary, I think the bottom line is just get down on the floor with your child and just have fun while you inspire some creative thinking and problem solving through playing with blocks.
Kathy: I think those are all great Connie and really this last tip really kind of ties in with our discussion in the last episode, because they could use those blocks to actually do storytelling.
So if you guys miss that last episode, check that out. That was a great episode with lots of tips for making storytelling fun. Thank you so much, Connie, for joining us for this mini series, you are giving us some great ideas and resources to add to our tool belt.
Just to reminder, again, if you are planning to homeschool your preschooler next year, I encourage you to check out my Encompass Preschool Curriculum. It is one fat notebook filled with everything you need to teach preschool. Book lists, reinforcement, worksheets, and lots and lots of enrichment activity ideas like the ones we have been talking about today. You can find it at my store at CornerstoneConfessions.Com or on Amazon. And tune in next time, as we continue talking about fostering creativity and our children. We are going to be talking about the concept of loose parts play. See you then.