What Are the Stages of Block Play?

At different stages of development children will often play with the same toys, or the same type of toys, in different ways. This could be going from making marks with paint and their hands to drawing their first recognisable self-portrait, or from using play food to practise their cutting skills to creating elaborate restaurant menu and serving up 5-star wooden meals.

When it comes to block play there are a number of recognisable stages that your children are likely to go through.

1. Exploring Blocks

To begin with the only person likely to be building elaborate towers and creations is you. Your little one will delight in knocking these down, and learn valuable lessons about cause and effect, object permanence and spatial awareness in the process, but left to their own devices playing with building blocks is about exploring the building blocks themselves.

Toddlers love to carry building blocks around, even more so if they have a little cart to push them in, and they’ll quickly discover the sound their building blocks make when they knock them together.

2. Building Rows and Towers (Repetition)

The next stage is repetition and basic building. Toddlers will learn to stack their building blocks one on top of the other or lay them out in rows. This is a stage that sees a lot of repetition as children figure out how it is that one block will balance on top of the next, and why some will not.

If you are playing together this is a great stage to start counting the building blocks as they stack them and point out the colours.

3. Building Bridges and Passageways

This next stage is where children start to bridge the gap between two building blocks with a third block. Here they are exploring balance, distance and other basic maths concepts as they build.

This stage of block play usually occurs around age 3 or 4 and will then progress into making tunnels and passageways.

4. Building Enclosures

Building an enclosure requires children to start planning ahead, thinking about the shape they are wanting to create and the building blocks they will need to close the gaps.

Children will often also add a story at this time, incorporating block play into their emerging imaginary play.

5. Creating Patterns and Recognisable Structures

As the buildings and structures get more complex so do the concepts that children are learning. To create recognisable buildings they are using symmetry and decorative patterns and more complex balance.

Which building blocks they have becomes important at this stage and if they are playing with other children they will need to learn to share, collaborate and negotiate to create the structures they are imagining.

6. Imaginative Play

In this final stage of block play, the structures become more elaborate and are often either built as part of an imaginative game or as a probe within one. For example, children may be playing at being builders or engineers or they may build a castle or home for their toys using their building blocks.


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