7 tips for playing as a family with building blocks and imagination

Great podcasts for parents and carers

Mon 29 August 2016

13 mins

It’s no secret that kids love building things and knocking them down, but if you don’t think it’s actually helpful, Karen Bevan, ex-CEO of Playgroup NSW will set you straight.

 ‘Building things and knocking them down’ is a part of what’s called ‘construction play’ where kids use different materials from wooden blocks, to Duplo, to sand in order to build something new in their environment. 

Karen says that you “don’t need to wait until kids are old enough to click LEGO together,” in fact, building starts well before that, when your child’s ready to sit up.

You should also know that construction play is not simply sticking a bunch of blocks in front of your kids. This form of play “ignites a child’s imagination,” says Karen, “and creates opportunities for parents, carers and kids to have conversations and to build their relationship.” 

Karen has some great tips for encouraging those little creators who revel in destruction. 

1. It’s not about fancy toys

While it’s great to have top quality toys for your kids, often children won’t play with those first. Let them enjoy stacking those every day items like saucepans, plastic containers and creating toilet roll towers. Kids create their own meaning as they go, so if they’re into playing with cereal boxes, let them go for it.

2. Let their imagination catch fire

Toys like wooden blocks, Mobilo, Duplo and LEGO engage both fine and gross motor skills where kids start to stack things and put them together, using their imagination. “Kids might pick up a block, put another block under it and push it along, and now we’ve got a car,” explains Karen. From 3-years of age on, kids might join imaginative forces with other children to build things together.

3. Building language

Karen says that parents and carers can build kids experience around language by naming shapes and colours, for example, “I used a triangle; I used an orange block.”

4. Identify patterns

Kids will also naturally begin to understand patterns, for example they might put all the square blocks together, or put the lid on a takeaway container and stack another one on top of it. It can be good to mention these patterns to kids when they recognise that certain things connect to each other. Karen points out that this is actually a codification skill, which means kids are starting to think mathematically.

5. Ask open questions

When parents and carers ask open questions like, ‘How many of the orange blocks can you find and put together? And what do you think you might make with them?,’ this helps kids to connect, to also engage more with the materials and with each other. Asking kids to tell you what that is and what they’ve put together is where they start to build thinking skills.

6. Reinforce and continue

Reinforce what a great job your child is doing and encourage them to continue by asking questions about what other ideas they have, ‘How are we going to put that together?’

7. Be relaxed and in the moment

Remember: “If you’re having fun, they’ll be having fun,” says Karen. Although there’s a secret tip to this one:even though it may be tempting to take over your kid’s building projects - don’t do it! - Build alongside them.

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