High tech toys and gadgets are great fun, but here are my top five reasons to make sure kids have access to basic building blocks such as wooden blocks, house bricks, Lego, or even beach stones. Each skill has intrinsic value in itself, but I have also added how they help with other areas of education. Building with blocks is a great indoor activity, but as the boys showed this weekend, you can take it outdoors and get the benefit of a lungful of fresh air into the bargain.
1) Social and language skills. When you join in with kids building, there are a world of opportunities for learning to share ideas and materials. The language skills from answering questions such as ‘tell me about what you are building’ and being asked to, for example, ‘please pass me the long red brick’ are the foundations for later literacy skills.
2) Fine and gross motor skills. Small bricks require the use of a pincer grip, large blocks develop the strength of the whole arm, hand, even stomach and leg muscles if the blocks are weighty. This strength of hand and arm is necessary to hold a pen comfortably.
3) Hand-eye coordination and balancing. Picking up and placing objects builds the ease with which the hands, eyes and brain work together. These are important for diverse skills, from throwing a ball into a basketball hoop to being capable of learning to drive.
4) Creativity and good design. Designing and producing objects and buildings by trial and error helps to build connections between what the brain can dream of and what the physical properties of the materials to hand can be used to produce.
5) Perseverance and patience. In order to produce something they are happy with, kids need to persevere and carry on when things go wrong. Physically building things takes time, and the delay of gratification helps to prepare children to expect that things take time, and that it is often worth the wait. Building shows that the greater the effort and time put in, generally the better and bigger the outcome.
Finally, and not on the list because it is by far the most important and should be the top priority of any activity, building with bricks gives an opportunity for kids to feel good about themselves and have confidence in their abilities. The excitement and pride as they show you the thing they have lovingly created beats any other objective. This is where, for each strange new vehicle or building they have created we can try to stop what we’re doing for a moment, really look at the thing, point out bits we really like about it, ask them to tell us more about particular aspects – in summary just show them that we value the thing they made and think they are awesome little guys for making it. By paying attention to kids while they’re building, we’re building the kids up too.