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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 4, Lesson 5

Block Play and other Constructive Tasks

Some toys have greater potential than other toys to stimulate cognitive development in young children, infancy through the elementary years. Blocks are one of those toys. Why play with blocks?

Go to autism teaching tools to learn more about blocks. According to this site, "Blocks are special because they represent a chance to build symbolism, imagination and pretending skills. They also are excellent for developing fine motor skills including hand-eye coordination. Blocks always meet the classification as toys with multiple parts, so they make excellent tools for requesting by size, shape, and color."

Go to the National Association for the Education of Young Children article which provides additional support for block play in their resource, Early Years are Learning Years.

baby playing with blocksUnit blocks may not be as sophisticated as some toys we find in stores or on TV commercials, but they are ideal for learning because they involve the child as a whole - the way she moves her muscles, the way she discovers how different objects feel in her hands, the way she thinks about spaces and shapes, and the way she develops thoughts and interests of her own. Unit blocks vary in name and material by manufacturer, but they are all based on the proportions 1:2:4. Blocks must be sturdy and accurately cut so that children of all different ages and levels of learning may use them to create, solve problems, and challenge themselves.

Unit blocks are a good investment because children may continue to use them as they grow. Infants and toddlers enjoy simply touching and gripping larger, textured blocks. As toddlers, they develop more muscle control and are able to combine blocks, stack them, or line them up. Two-year-olds may demonstrate their first attempts at building structures, and show the beginnings of fantasy play.

  • Socially - Blocks encourage children to make friends and cooperate. Large block play may be a young child's first experience with playing in a group.
  • Physically - When children reach for, pick up, stack, or fit blocks together, they build strength in their fingers and hands, and increase eye-hand coordination. Around two, children begin to figure out which shapes will fit where, and get a head start on understanding different perspectives - skills that will help them to read maps and follow directions later on.
  • Intellectually - Young children develop their vocabularies as they learn to describe sizes, shapes, and positions.
  • Creatively - Blocks offer children the chance to make their own designs, and the satisfaction of creating structures that did not exist before. Beginning at the age of two, children may use a variety of blocks for pretend-play. Children may become life-sized actors in large block structures, or use figures to create dramas in miniature landscapes.

Children value their own block structures whether or not they represent specific things. Rather than asking a child, "What did you make?" say, "Tell me about what you made." This will encourage a dialog and offer the child new opportunities to explore.

Read what Jennifer Prescott says about Block play for all children: How to help children with special needs enjoy this wonderful learning area.

Consider what materials you could use as blocks from everyday items? What would be inexpensive blocks for parents with an infant/toddler with special needs? What kinds, sizes of blocks might be right for infants /toddlers?

Reflect on how you could use high and low tech adaptations to involve Samantha, a 2½ year old child with moderate cognitive impairments (Down syndrome) with other 2 - 2½ year old peers without disabilities in a pretend play block activity in which they are building streets and houses. How can you foster means-end behavior and trial and error exploration?


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