I had to think a bit to decide which center to focus on next. Then it hit me - blocks! I absolutely love my Block Center. One of my college professors gave me two very sage pieces of advice when it comes to Block Center - never put it by a doorway and make sure it's on a rug. Obviously if you put it by any sort of traffic towers will get knocked down and children will be upset, so try to make sure your Block Center is out of the way. The rug is more for sound proofing than anything else - those blocks will come tumbling down even away from traffic, so decide how loud you want them to be!
I have a class set of blocks from Lakeshore:
wooden vehicle set:
However, if your budget doesn't run that far (mine came from Donorschoose) don't worry. You can find the wooden vehicles at Walmart and the Dollar Store sometimes - just keep some wood glue on hand as they are not quite as sturdy as the Lakeshore ones. My kinders also love it when I bring out the bag of Duplos I bought during a Christmas sale (Walmart always has them as part of their Black Friday sales). I also bring out some of my math manipulatives sometimes - the linking gingerbread men are a favorite! I tried to figure out where to get them, but I can't find a link. They look like these though:
If you know what they're called or where to find them, please let me know!
One time I had a group of boys who created a series of "cages" with the blocks and put some of our jungle animals from Science Center in them. They created raised walkways for the gingerbread people and decided that it must be a Zoo. Then they started figuring out how much they would charge each person to view the animals. They got great math practice as they discussed that every gingerbread person was going to pay $5 and there were already 10 gingerbread people at their zoo. When they asked me how much that would be, I was able to lead them to the answer via skip counting by 5's! So you see, math skills are very naturally integrated into Block Center too!
Our school is Title I and we had a great coordinator who got me these:
Basically, any manipulatives and building materials are going to be enjoyed by your students, so don't get too caught up in making everything match or only using blocks - cardboard boxes and paper towel rolls are also a great Block Center addition!
Let's talk about the benefits of block play, something you can tell the parents or administration when they come and ask you why you're letting Jimmy Bob play with blocks when you're supposed to be teaching him!
1. Hand-Eye Coordination/Motor Skills. When a child is building a tower, he quickly learns that he has to be careful when he sets his block down - if his hand isn't steady or he doesn't place it precisely, the tower will fall down! Stacking those blocks is one of the best ways for children to practice their motor skills!
2. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills. When towers topple, children naturally puzzle out why they toppled and what could be done differently to prevent it next time. Children start to get a rudimentary grasp of how gravity affects their work - that they need to balance their blocks and provide a strong base. These are the basics of engineering! They also learn how to manipulate blocks in different ways to produce different shapes. You can pile the blocks on top of each other horizontally, but if you're trying to build a tall tower, it's much more effective to stack them vertically!
3. Spatial Awareness. This one is very important for my kinders! Many of my kiddos do not have a good grasp of spatial awareness. It's why they are forever falling out of their chairs or bumping into others. They don't realize that their bodies occupy space and so does everything else - blocks, people, furniture. When they get too close to their block tower and it tumbles they realize that they have to add that last block while making sure that they don't bump the rest of the tower with their body. They start to understand the concept of "personal space" and be aware of where they are in relationship to other things/people.
4. Socialization and Language Skills. While some children may choose to play by themselves, usually Block Center encourages cooperative play. Students have to discuss what they are building and the purpose behind it. If they decide to build a tower as tall as they are, they have to talk through it - choosing the right blocks and directing each other as to where to stack them. I have another anecdote that is a great example of the development of socialization and language skills:
One day, one of my little girls was playing at the Block Center and she really, really, really wanted the police car. The little boy who had the police car would not trade with her. She came over to inform me of this fact, obviously wanting me to intervene and make him trade with her. I told her that it was his right to keep the police car and she would have to figure out what to do about it so that they were both happy. She went back and offered the little boy the ambulance, the fire truck and the bus! The little guy still refused to trade.
She came to me again, clearly frustrated, almost in tears and asked what she should do. She just couldn't understand why he wouldn't trade with her when she was offering three vehicles for his one! So I told her to ask him why he wouldn't trade. This was a new concept for her. She had never considered asking him what his motivation was. So she trotted back over and asked him why he wanted the police car. He shrugged his shoulders and indicated the "police station" sign that was on top of the tower he was building. It seems that since he had the sign, he felt it only right that he have the police car too! Well, this changed everything! The little girl quickly brought over her fire truck sign and fire truck and swapped it for his police sign and car. The little boy happily continued playing - it had never really been a big deal in his mind. The little girl came back to me, clearly thrilled and said "We worked it out, it just took compromise!"
Of course, there are things you can add to make your Block Center even more engaging:
Paper and writing materials should also be kept handy in Block Center - so that students can practice writing signs, maps and blueprints!
Also, here's a fun idea for making your own people for block center - start saving toilet paper and paper towel rolls now! Just take a full length picture of each student and print it out so that it's roughly 2"x4" (I cheat and just put my document view at 100% and then hold up the roll to the screen to see if it fits!). Then use Mod Podge to glue it to the roll, adding another coat of Mod Podge over the picture to seal it from sweaty hands. I made some of my own kiddos as an example:
Recently Jeannie from Kindergarten Lifestyle shared a freebie for Block Center ideas, click here to find it in her TPT store! Another idea would be to take pictures of Block Center creations, print them on regular paper and display in a binder that can be kept in Block Center. In this way, you can record what your students are accomplishing at this center, giving them a sense of pride in their creations and providing ideas for future construction efforts!
I'll leave you with this freebie:
You can print these mini books out and leave them in your Block Center so your students can fill them out as they "play". Just click the picture to grab it for free! You might also want to take this freebie and cut it apart into individual cards that could also enhance block play:
I hope you've enjoyed this post and consider adding a Block Center to your room if you don't have one yet, or found some new ideas for enhancing your existing Block Center! I'd love to hear your thoughts, please Rustle Up a Comment below!