Look, Mom! I’m a builder.

Some of you may have noticed that the kiddos in our classes love to build.  Many of the toddlers in Our Time start lining up their egg shakers, stacking their sandblocks, or building with the rhythm sticks.  Even our preschoolers in Imagine That! love when we pull out the legos for building as we did this last week when we made statues.  All that building is good for the brain.  In fact, some great early childhood experts like Dr. Jane Healy suggest that the best classrooms include blocks or similar building toys well into elementary school because they are such great teaching tools.

Believe or not, playing with blocks, train tracks, and other building supplies encourages creativity, problem solving, and pretend play.  As your child plays he learns about basic science and math principles.  He learns about shapes.  He studies what pieces make a structure that is sturdy.  “Children playing with blocks also enlarge and change their schemas of relative space (‘How do I get this block to bridge these other two?’), numerosity (each block is some multiple of the basic unit), symmetry and proportion, balance, stability, and gravity.  One child, attempting to construct a roof to bridge four walls [might discover] that the walls are too far apart and [try out] a number of hypotheses before mastering the relationships involved.” (from Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane Healy, Ph. D., p. 67)

Knowing building toys are not only beneficial but beloved, here are a few I can highly recommend:

  • Unit Blocks – the example cited above from Healy’s book is referring to these standard sized blocks you may remember from your own childhood days of play at preschool or elsewhere.  In fact, unit blocks are cited over and over again by early childhood professionals as one of the best toys for learning for young kids.  These beautiful wooden blocks are perfect for making towns, zoos, castles, or whatever else strikes your fancy.  In fact, if your kiddo is into trains, they are perfect for making “stations” to go with train tracks and can even in some instances work to elevate track.
  • Train Tracks – Speaking of trains, those delightful wooden train tracks for toddlers and preschoolers make great toys for problem solving, creativity, and a good bit of puzzling.  The trick is to use them without a train table.  Once you spread the track out on the floor a whole world of possibilities opens up for tunnels and curves and tracks that cross over and back, all options that often get limited by the smaller table.  Soon your child is trying to figure out why certain tracks won’t connect or how to create a track that will cross under a bridge and still connect back to the main layout.  Plus, when you’re on the floor it’s easier to weave in building blocks or other toys.
  • Magnatiles – I am in love with these building toys, which one Kindermusik parent recommended to me a year or more ago.  The magnets are firmly encased inside each tile, keeping them safe for use with older children (though not recommended for babies or very young toddlers).  These amazing tiles encourage your child to move from more two-dimensional building to more three-dimensional building.  Using the various sizes of triangles and squares, she can combine tiles to build cubes, rectangular shapes, or even pyramids.  These are unlike any other building toy I have seen and are highly addictive for grown-ups as well.
  • Constructive Playthings Blocks – Here’s another set I remember playing with as a child.  These bigger blocks are large enough for you to build structures you can climb inside, adding a whole different element to the play.  Soon you’ve made a puppet stage, a pirate ship, or a house.  (By the way, this is the only company that makes them this size to my knowledge.  Most other brands make ones that are much smaller and in my estimation not nearly as fun.)

And a few that look intriguing which have been recommended by various sources or that are also well-loved and offer other modes of exploration and play:

As you’re looking for fun toys that teach, these are great ones to keep in mind and can make for varied gifts over the years as different sets teach different skills.  In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for all those delightful “buildings” in class, whether they are made of legos or sandblocks!

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