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Using Building Blocks in Preschool: Activities and Ideas

written by: Kara Bietz • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/9/2012

Explore the different types of building blocks available for use in a preschool classroom. Also learn the skills to be gained by your students when blocks are added into your preschool curriculum.

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    Choosing Your Blocks

    There are many different types of blocks available for use in preschool classrooms. Skill development is often dependent on your choice of building blocks. Preschool age children should be exposed to several different types for optimum skill development.

    • Unit Blocks: A basic unit block is 5.5 inches long, 2.75 inches wide, and 1.375 inches thick. Larger pieces include the double (11 inches long) and quadruple (22 inches long) sizes. Smaller sizes are made in various fractions of the basic unit block. Unit blocks are most often natural, uncolored maple or birch wood. They should be the basic foundation of your preschool building block center. Unit blocks also come in cylinder, cone, arch, ramp, and Y shapes. Include several of these special shapes in your unit block collection.
    • Large Hollow Blocks: Also wooden, these blocks are ideal for building large structures. Often, due to space constraints, these blocks are best used outdoors.
    • Put-Together Blocks: Legos and Bristle Blocks are included in this category. A large selection of colors and shapes are available for classroom use as well as accessories such as trees, animals and people.
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    Skill Development

    Playing in the block area can increase a child's awareness of spatial relationships as well as develop important pre-math concepts. Simple science concepts can also be explored in the block center. When creating structures with building blocks, preschool children often have to make plans, start building, adjust their thinking if a structure doesn't stand up or fit together correctly, and rebuild.

    If a child is building with a partner, this can exercise their interpersonal skills and create an opportunity for sharing ideas and collaboration. Use unit blocks to introduce math concepts such as 'whole', 'half', and 'quarter'. Two basic unit blocks equal one double-sized block. Half of one basic unit block is one quarter of the double sized length. Invite children to explore these concepts on their own, but use the words 'half', 'quarter', and 'whole' as they experiment with the blocks.

    Introduce small cars to the block center and encourage the children to build roads, ramps, and tunnels. Ask open-ended questions such as "How can we make a ramp?" or "How can we make this car go faster down the ramp?" Doing so will introduce simple physics concepts to preschoolers.

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    Activities for the Block Center

    • Sorting: By tracing each block shape on a piece of colored construction paper and using clear contact paper to attach it to your block shelves, you will create an easy way for children to clean up the block section. Help the children clean up the block center, mentioning the shapes of the blocks as you put them away. "The square blocks go on the shelf with the red square."
    • Block-copying: When the children begin building with blocks, ask if you can do what they are doing. Talk about the shapes and where they are being placed. "Look, Lauren! I put my rectangle shape on top of the cylinder just like you!" Make a game of copying, and encourage the children to play the block-copying game with each other.
    • Additional Materials: Introduce vehicles, toy people, animals, and other props to the block center. Ask the children what kind of structures they can build to house the people. Encourage them to build roads for the vehicles, or a zoo for the animals.
    • Patterns: This is similar to the block-copying activity. Show the children a pattern you have made. Talk with them as you make the pattern. "I put a square, a cylinder, a square, a cylinder. What do you think comes next?" Encourage them to create their own patterns.
    • Modeling: Take photographs of the buildings the children have created. Hang them in the block center for the children to copy if they wish. Try hanging pictures of real buildings and other architectural details.

    You can increase the understanding of important math and science concepts with the addition of building blocks. Preschool children enjoy building alone and in groups, which may also increase interpersonal communication and social skills between the children.


Douglas