The Block Corner is a very important part of an early childhood learning environment. Block play aids in the development of math skills, spatial awareness, communication with others, cooperation with others, gross and fine motor skills and a host of other developmental areas. So, of course, this space should be well thought out and formulated for maximum learning.
A good block corner will be a loud space where children can talk to one another while building and knocking down structures. This space should not be by your quiet areas. I usually placed my block corners near the dramatic play areas. It should be a large space with room for several children to build and should also be a space where structures can hopefully stay up for more than one day so that children are able to return to their work and revisit and build upon their ideas and structures. Blocks should be accessible to children on low shelves and should be preferably labeled by type of block for easy clean up.
Use Pictures and Proper Language!
I like to have rotating photos of past structures on the walls as well as famous buildings or structures to expose to the children, hopefully also giving them ideas for their buildings. I also like to have the proper names of the unit blocks posted somewhere in the block corner. This is mainly so that teachers and caregivers who are interacting with the children while they build, can use the proper names for the unit blocks (for example, “I see you’re using the arch and triangle to build that house”). This gives the child an architectural and historical perspective when using blocks and starts them off with real geometric names and forms.
Types of Blocks and Other Materials
Many early childhood environment standards suggest having three different types of blocks out for children to explore, such as, foam blocks, wooden unit blocks and alphabet blocks. The block corner can also house materials to encourage different types of building and play. I liked having carpet squares out in a basket, little people, cars and trucks, recycled materials like toilet rolls and sometimes natural materials like shells or rocks. You can change out these materials depending on the interests of the children or by season.
Outside Blocks? Absolutely!
You don’t always have to house your block corner inside either. Bringing blocks outside and creating a firm, large surface area for them may lend to even more creative building. There are many wonderful block makers who have created full outdoor unit block sets. Although often very pricey, these unit blocks will last a very long time and will help the children in your care learn through the incredible play blocks of this nature provide. However, if money is tight in your program but you would still like your children to be able to build, you can make your own milk carton blocks easily.
Milk Carton Blocks
For a good set you will need about 36 blocks which means you will need 72 milk cartons. Start drinking your milk and collecting those cartons! Wash out the empty cartons and open the peaked tops of all of them. Take two cartons and fit one over the other so that the bottom shows at each end.You now have a durable rectangular block. You can cover them in colored contact paper or have the children paint them.
*here is a tutorial from a blog with pictures on how to make these blocks... http://buttonboxdesign.blogspot.com/2011/08/milk-carton-blocks-tutorial.htmlBlock
www.communityplaythings.com - check out their unit block sets and hollow block sets. Pricey yes, but they are some of the most well made blocks for early childhood out there.
www.eichild.com - they have great sets of blocks for infants and toddlers as well as pre k. Great additions to your block corner with people, cars etc.
My previous article about block play: Block Play and It's Importance in Early Education