We LOVE blocks at our house…LOVE them! Hardly a day goes by when one of my two older kids doesn’t pull out the tub of wooden blocks. Back when I started my blog (in late August of 2010), a post about playing with blocks was one of the first ideas I had. I am so excited to finally be sharing it with you! Sometimes when our children are constantly going for the same toy, we can tire of playing with them…We lose the joy of using our creativity to invent new and interesting ways to play…and what a loss for our children and ourselves! I know I have been feeling convicted about the need to PLAY with my children more, and blocks are a terrific vehicle for good old imaginative play! I love blocks because they require that you bring something of yourself….you are actively engaged with the toy when you are playing….You aren’t staring at a screen or being entertained by lights and sounds of an electronic toy. You’re using your mind, your hands, your logic, your creativity….Blocks can inspire every type of learner, and there are SO many things you can do with them! Blocks are way more than just building and knocking down towers! Here are a few of our favorite ways to play with blocks!

1. Make a zoo! I showed my children this idea about a year ago, and they have been playing it ever since! We pull out our blocks, and start building enclosures for our various animal toys. Then, the kids love figuring out which animals go where…Who needs more room…Which animals should be grouped together, etc. etc. So much thinking and creativity goes into building a zoo out of blocks, and lots of teachable moments arise from this activity. You can talk about animals, habitats, how your child feels about the zoo….shapes of the enclosures…SO much learning and so much fun! (You can get an idea of what our “zoos” look like in these pictures.)

2. Build a train shed! If you have a little train enthusiast like I do, you can make a train shed for his trains! You could also make a large garage for their favorite cars and hot wheels!

3. Write! Use the blocks to form letters! This is a PHENOMENAL way to teach children their letters! This works great for kids who are bodily-kinesthetic learners, and kids who need to do hands-on learning. (Plus, it’s fun!) My son loves forming the letters with the blocks, and is really engaged as we try to learn them.

4. Make shapes! Use the blocks to form different shapes (good luck with a circle though!) Again, this is a fun new way to teach children to recognize their basic shapes. Henry loves trying to come up with tricky shapes for me to make as well! We make squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons, octagons, parallelograms, rhombus (diamonds)….it is a hands-on approach to shape recognition.

5.  Build a city/neighborhood/farm/hotel, etc, etc! Pull out any Little People toys or other small people and animal toys you might have and construct your own city! Let your kids take the lead and have them design buildings for the small toys to play in. Who needs dollhouses and plastic barns when you can make your own with blocks! My kids love doing this, and we have built a whole myriad of different things (coffee shops, airports, schools…)

6. Write words! Take the idea of using the blocks to create letters up a notch, and use the alphabet blocks we all have to actually write words! Challenge your child to see how many words they can form with a pile of the blocks. The letters are often limited, so it can be a fun challenge! Another fun idea with the alphabet blocks is to roll them like dice, and have your child think of words that start with the letters that come up. You can even give them a category..If they roll an S and a V, ask them to think of animals that start with those letters. Spell their name…write basic words…write out their spelling words…have fun with it! Getting a child to use their body to learn is a fabulous way to cement concepts for them.

7. Build a train! (Again, I have a serious train enthusiast) This idea can be used to build anything your children are into! Using the blocks to build vehicles gets their brains moving and thinking…Lots of logic and spatial awareness is happening when they are asked to make a model of something. This is a train my little man and I built this morning…I love his creativity and it was fun to see his brain working as he worked to construct his train. 8. Count! Use the blocks to help your child count! Children should be able to do one to one counting prior to kindergarten, so get them started early. Teach them to touch one block each time they say a number. Blocks can also help them recognize how many blocks are in a pile without having to count them individually (also a great skill!) If a child can look at four blocks and know that there are four without having to stop and count them, they are doing wonderfully! Have fun with this! You can use blocks to help your child with addition and subtraction too! (And multiplication!) As a classroom teacher, I always used manipulatives to help my students understand basic math functions. Let your kids play as they work out the problems. Let them move blocks around to help them get the answers (Trust me…this is not being lazy or cheating…they are LEARNING!) A few things to remember as you play…

Let your CHILD take the lead! Let them be in charge of what they want to build and construct. Will it look perfect? No. Will it look like you want it to? Nope. Is that okay? That is awesome! We shouldn’t want our children to have our vision…we want them to have theirs! Let them use their creativity and imagination to construct their buildings and vehicles they way they want to! Never tell them that something they made doesn’t look good, or right, etc….Ask them questions as they build…get them talking…use the teachable moments…Most importantly, just ENJOY the time with your kids…Get in there and PLAY! They won’t want you to play with them forever, so take advantage while you can! Have fun! I hope some of you will pull out YOUR blocks today!