Open Discussion Forum

Topic: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

  • Interest Forum Tags
  • Kindergarten Interest Forum
  • Age Group
  • Kindergarten
  • Audience
  • Administrator
  • Faculty
  • Other Topics
  • Play
  • Educational settings

1.  Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 17 days ago
I want to add more hands-on exploration and play to my kindergarten classroom. I am having some success adding center based work but when it comes to adding blocks I am getting some pushback from the principle. Have any of you successfully added blocks into a kindergarten classroom? How did you do it?

Cody Summerville
Austin, TX

2.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 16 days ago
Have you read Creative Block Play: A Comprehensive Guide to Learning through Building by Rosanne Hansel? It is by Red Leaf Press but it is available on Amazon. It is the best block book out there and it will give you all sorts of ideas and background research you will need to add blocks to any K classroom. 

Dr. Pam Brillante
Assistant Professor of Special Education
William Paterson University of NJ
Wayne, NJ

3.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 16 days ago
Your principal may be concerned with the acoustics.  Bring a rug in and maybe you will be allowed.  If it is a budget concern, milk cartons an contact paper will do wonders.

Patricia Jack
Boulder City NV

4.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 16 days ago
With all of the focus today on early childhood STEM, using research that supports STEM learning through unit block play should carry some weight. The resource (block book) mentioned earlier most likely contains solid evidence to support the argument that unit blocks not only align with standards in math (geometry, simple addition/subtraction, problem-solving, spatial relationships), science/engineering (gravity, physics), but the opportunities for language and peer-to-peer conversation, negotiation, collaboration and shared ideas in order to complete a task (executive function) are also very important at the Kindergarten level.

It has been my experience that most administrators come to their positions not having an understanding of what best practice in early childhood education looks like, so as much as we are educating parents on what play-based learning involves, we are also having to professionally/appropriately educate our administrators. The term "research-based" is thrown around a lot, but because we know that developmentally appropriate practice is grounded in sound child development, we can use that.

Are you able to gather a few like-minded Kindergarten teachers in your school to assist you? Maybe develop a nice Prezi or Power Point presentation (with photos and videos) demonstrating how the research supports the practice. If you are getting administrative "push-back", that means he/she hasn't completely said no. :-)

This is a topic close to my heart. I am a firm believer in the power of unit blocks in early childhood classrooms. I hope that you are successful in this endeavor.

Good Luck!

Leslie Oppenheimer, M.Ed.
The Center for Young Children Laboratory School
University of Maryland - College Park MD

5.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 15 days ago
NAEYC had an old video of block play and how children's develop skills in playing with blocks that mirror engineering and physics knowledge. It is a must see if NAEYC still sells it.

Nora Krieger
Highland Park NJ

6.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 14 days ago
Community Playthings has a DVD called Foundations  - The Value of Unit Block Play which is also very good.

Michelle Barnea
Innovations in Early Learning
Millburn NJ

7.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 12 days ago
I was also going to comment about STEM (science, technology. engineering, math) or better still, the "newer" version STEAM (science, technology, engineering ART/design, math) but saw that someone already did. I would provide the principle. or if you are really ambitious -the Board of Ed with research about the absolute necessity of incorporating these elements into our schools (all the way up through High School).

Education in the USA is falling behind other countries. This is simply unacceptable. My family hosted foreign exchange students (high schoolers) each for 1 year. We hosted young people from all over the world and their comments concerning American High School were something to take note of.Each and everyone of them (and they weren't all "top" students in their home country) were rather shocked at how different and how "far behind" the American High schools are.

One of the main observations was "In America, you don't have to think, all you have to do is memorize and pass the tests" "In America, no one cares if you can use the information that you are learning"

Rather frightening isn't it....

Please gather your research and present it to your school. If this doesn't work, discretely find a couple of parents who will hop on the band wagon and do it for you....

Karin King
Trumbull CT

8.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 16 days ago
Blocks are wonderful in the previous school had blocks and we use blocks in our kindergarten classroom here.............they are a high energy activity that does require monitoring(or at least your presence known).............we often regulate the blocks alternating from girl day or boy day or invited guests........suggestions might be to limit the number of children in the block area and to encourage creative building and not the destruction..........we love to highlight the architecturial engineers in our room regarding balance and structure they are just lots of fun!!!
j kegelman
Cooperstown, New York

9.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 15 days ago
I can't remember where I found this, but I remember reading somewhere that one of the Ivy league colleges had ended up adding a block area in the basement of their engineering program because they found that as K programs changed they were getting young adult students who had never played with blocks and without any block play background they were unable to successfully work with some key engineering principles.

[Meg] [Thomas]
[Early childhood program manager]
[St Paul ] [MN]

10.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 13 days ago
Dear Cody,
   It is great that you know to include blocks in your kindergarten environment.  I would suggest that you put props in the block area that encourage physics (wooden ramps, for example), math, social studies, and literacy (example: card stock, markers, and tape (to make signs and instructions: Community Hospital, Emergency Entrance, Visitors Only; leave this building until Thursday, etc.).  And then explain to the principal that children learn best when they are involved in the construction of their own knowledge.  Demonstrate that children are learning 3-syllable "site words" because they needed them to interpret their work and that they are learning basic principles of physics by determining how elevating the ramp increases the speed of cars - just as two examples.  You might point out that children make mathematical estimation when building with blocks - building structures with foundations, how high can a building go before it is destabilizes and falls?  What has to happen to create balance?  The math and science questions are endless.  Over the years I've found I can teach almost every kindergarten concept in the block area.  The efficiency of mastery there is next to none.  And the last thing I'll say for now is that, for some children who are not ready for more traditional ( and perhaps inappropriate) practices - the block corner is where you can make the connection - so they don't fall behind or get branded.

Sherry Cleary
NY Early Childhood Professional Dev Institute
Brooklyn NY

11.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 13 days ago

Hello Cody:

Let me begin by applauding your desire to add more hands-on exploration and play to your kindergarten classroom. Are you part of a kindergarten team at your school? Have the kindergarten classrooms used block centers in the past? Are there any sets of blocks in storage at your school?

The notion that you are experiencing some "pushback" from your school principal when it comes to adding blocks to your classroom environment harkens me back to the words spoken by a pre-kindergarten teacher I interviewed at one urban elementary school in a large school district in Florida during my dissertation study examining the unforeseen consequences of high-stakes testing. The pre-kindergarten had formerly taught 32 years in kindergarten. She left kindergarten "in protest" because she refused to take down centers like blocks and housekeeping in favor of academic mandates like a 90-minute reading block.

A few years later, a kindergarten teacher in southeast Idaho, who was a graduate student in my early childhood courses at a local university, wanted to participate in the field-testing of the Ramps and Pathways project. I was an R&P site facilitator working with teacher participants. Her principal responded that in essence, the direct instruction models employed by the district seemed to be working (this kindergarten teacher taught as a Reading First school) and she was asked to decline the opportunity to participate.

Another teacher who formerly taught 2nd grade and was new to kindergarten the year of field-testing, participated in the R&P pilot study in Southeast Idaho. When this kindergarten teacher went to set up her centers prior to the initial R&P training workshop, she couldn't find the classroom blocks. She approached the school principal who told her that all the blocks had been placed on the "auction block" in an effort to replace developmental centers with academic centers. The school custodian learned through the grapevine that the kindergarten teacher was looking for the blocks. He brought her to a storage room where he had placed them in a garbage can for "safe keeping" and he helped her return them to the kindergarten classroom.

As you can see, your dilemma is not new or unfamiliar to many kindergarten teachers nationwide. However, the learning and developmental benefits and opportunities that can be achieved in the block center are numerous and well supported by research. All developmental domains and academic content areas can be addressed during block play, as noted extensively in the other blog responses. A block center does not take away from academic learning. Block play provides a meaningful context for academic learning as children actively use and apply mathematical thinking, scientific reasoning, engineering design, not to mention, language, cognitive, social, and fine motor skills.

Many important resources have been recommended. I would also urge you to read Miller and Almon's (2009) article, "Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school" that was published by the Alliance for Childhood. Beth Van Meeteren, the Director at UNI's Regent's Center for Early Developmental Education has also authored a professional STEM Math Module, "Exploring Geometry through Blocks" that would be equally helpful to you. For more information on Ramps & Pathways, see Ramps and Pathways: A constructivist approach to physics with young children, published by NAEYC and STEM learning with young children: Inquiry teaching with Ramps and Pathways that is published by TCP.

To avoid being adversarial or confrontational, be sure to frame your conversation(s) with your principal using a proactive stance as much as possible. Remind your principal that you are both on the same side and you desire the same thing - that is, to maximize children's learning and development. Hopefully, your principal will not only appreciate your courage and conviction, but in the end, your principal will value and respect your knowledge and expertise with regard to using best practices to promote young children's learning and development. Utilize the many recommended resources and research available to help enlighten (and educate) your principal. Keep a running record that chronicles your conversations and overall experience. Your reflections and gained insights may serve as the substance for a published article someday!

Shelly Counsell
University of Memphis
Memphis TN

12.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 12 days ago
Hi, Cody!
There have been excellent suggestions from the others who preceded me. I would like to add a few more. Think of labeling the block shelves using the High Scope labeling system. On each shelf place a piece of construction paper that completely covers the shelf. Outline each shape putting the blocks in ascending or descending order. Then laminate the paper. When children clean up, the clean up is a learning activity in itself because they are matching the object with the shape. When I was still in the classroom, I had a child who had been with me as a three year old and again as a four year old. Right triangle blocks were put together on the diagonal.One day as she was cleaning up in the block area she said, "Mrs. Kielty, two triangle blocks (right triangles) make a square." The other children who were around her became interested in her discovery. This was sophisticated knowledge based on her seeing relationships, which is Piaget's logical knowledge.
The principal who wants Direct Instruction is probably unaware of High Scope's research on three curriculum models - a traditional curriculum, the High Scope curriculum, and Direct Instruction. The research followed children until their mid-twenties. Children in Direct Instruction had three times the others with felony arrests. The arrests were assault with a deadly weapon. Piaget's three kinds of knowledge is helpful. Physical knowledge is experience. What experiences to children need in each content area? What experiences do adults (teachers and parents) need to understand what young children are learning? Piaget's third kind of knowledge is social knowledge. This is acquired by being told. It is a matter of remembering. Vocabulary is social knowledge. We learn it by someone telling us.  Research is social knowledge. We will not know it without being told or reading about it.
Another suggestion is to take a long piece of construction paper and label each of the areas in the room - Reading Area, Writing Area, Art Area, Block Area, Table Games Area, etc. Table Games is the word I use for manipulatives. Use different colors for each area. Then write "Children learn .......". My last suggestion is take photos of children playing and put them on a hall bulletin board. Label each photo with the Standard children are learning. This is effective for other teachers and principals and administrators to see. One day the district superintendent visited my school.He came to my room as children and parents were arriving. I needed to greet them. So I said to him, "Each area of the room is labeled with the learning that is occurring. You might want to take a look and I will get back to you in a minute. When I returned to him, I asked him if he had any questions. He responded, "No, carry on." And he left my room.

Marie Kielty
Chicago, IL


13.  RE: Adding blocks to a kindergarten classroom?

Posted 12 days ago
Cody, I am so glad you asked that question!  I have been encouraging kindergarten teachers to reintroduce blocks to their classrooms for over six years now.  I realized that often it was their principals who were resistant to the idea, so I wrote the article "Bringing Blocks Back to the Kindergarten Classroom" published in the March 2015 issue of Young Children.  In the article, it explains why blocks are important in each of the subject areas and domains, and provides tips for talking to administrators about requesting blocks for the classroom.  The entire issue is devoted to excellent articles on the importance of blocks that you could share with your principal.

Since I wrote that article, I have been involved at the state level with math teachers who are making recommendations to the state regarding best teaching practices for math.  As I read through the literature they have shared, I am excited to see overwhelming support for blocks in building so many skills, but especially visual spatial literacy, which is critical to building STE(A)M skills, as many of the other responders to your question also pointed out.

I hope you feel encouraged to get those blocks into the hands of the children in your classroom!

Rosanne Regan Hansel
Education Program Development Specialist
New Jersey Department of Education
Division of Early Childhood Education and Family Development

Rosanne Hansel
New Hope PA