Sometimes the best toys are the ones you already own, just reinvented. Blocks are a classic toy, offering many open-ended play opportunities. Open-ended toys are toys you can play with in a number of a ways. The thing I love most about blocks is they offer opportunities for everyone to play, young and old.
When children play with blocks they are learning volume, size, shape, spatial relationships, cause and effect, weight, creativity and aesthetics. Blocks help children build fine motor skills as they arrange, balance, and pick up blocks to create structures. They also provide opportunities for social and language learning. As you build with your children you can enhance their language using position words: "Put the square block on top, under, over, next to, behind or inside."
Although wooden blocks can be found in different price ranges, you also can use cardboard boxes, empty food containers such as cereal boxes, plastic containers, clean and empty juice containers, plastic cups and paper towel tubes.
Although wooden blocks are amazing on their own, sometimes adding new interest to old toys can help encourage children to play with them again. We enhanced our blocks by decorating warm blocks with melted crayon and fabric. So easy and as long as you supervise them, any child who can hold a crayon can participate!
Unpainted unvarnished blocks
Fabric or paper
Foil or parchment
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees
2. Line baking sheet with foil
3. Set up newspaper in working area
4. Place blocks on baking sheet and heat for 5-10 minutes so they are just warm to the touch.
5. While you wait, talk to your child about decorating blocks. You may want to talk about adding patterns, shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and drawing animals.
6. Place your warm blocks on newspaper and use a crayon to decorate. You may want to talk about the melting crayon. Discuss the changes as the block gets cooler. As the block cools the crayon will be harder to draw with. You may need to put your block back in the oven.
7. Let your blocks cool.
8. Cut fabric or picture the same size as your block.
9. Paint glue on one side of your block and push fabric down. Paint a layer of glue over fabric. Leave to dry.
10. Build and enjoy.
To further enhance your child's block play, you can add books, create ramps and pulleys, add colored construction paper, make background pictures or just encourage your children to use their imagination. The possibilities are endless with block play.
Laura Elson is a Westerly-based preschool teacher, artist and mother of two. Her column, "Wonder Years," appears monthly online.