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Building/Blocks

block-centre

Often we found that we needed to stimulate some conversation within the centres and to change things up from the typical blocks in our building centre, we brought in recylced materials.  We collected a variety of boxes, toilet paper rolls, and added some tape, crayons, and scissors.  We got some logs from the forest about 8 pieces that they would be able to carry easily.  We bought some reflective vests, PVC piping from the plumbing section of the hardware store and pylons from the gym. 

The look on their faces the very next day was priceless!  As the day progressed they creativity was truly coming to live and the oral conversations were great!  Later on we added some inspirational pictures and books of firefighters, buildings, and different modes of transportation.  This also lead us into creating moving vehicles in our art centre.  We created modes of transportation using recycled materials, straws, dowels, spools, etc.

block-play

 Last night I read an article on how much children can learn from simple block play.  Hand to eye co-ordination, spatial awareness, sharing and other social skills, problem-solving skills, creativity and language skills are just a few of the benefits to children who are given a bucket of blocks and some uninterrupted free time to play. 
    
So, in our Full Day Kindergarten class today, my teaching partner and I set aside a minimum of 45 minutes and gave our students buckets of blocks (and only blocks) to create and play with.  There were large wooden blocks, small wooden blocks, Lego, and soft foam blocks. We both sat on the carpets in our room with the children to interact and play with them, but also to observe the skills they use while creating with the blocks. 
    
In the group that gathered to sit by me, the children made a community, demonstrating they have an awareness of what a community can look like.  It began with two children building a house.  Another child suggested building on a garage to the house.  Then a child suggested a driveway, which led to more children building roads.  We added a few small plastic cars and people.  Suddenly, a student who was sitting quietly by herself a few feet away from us came over and said she had built a school.  The children added blocks to their roads to get to the school.  By the time I looked at the clock, 55 minutes had passed!  I looked around the classroom and each child was engaged in co-operative group play.  Some of the other small groups created castles, airports, planes, rocket ships and vehicles. 
    
During this time, my teaching partner and I both had the opportunity to see children sharing, freely creating, co-operating, working as teams, verbalizing their knowledge of the community they live in, saying colours and counting blocks.  It was amazing to watch the students demonstrate some of the knowledge we have been teaching them this year through their play.
    
And one of the best things about block play is that it can be free.  You don’t need to buy blocks, if you don’t want to.  You can use things from your own home.  You can use washed out milk cartons, shoe boxes, kleenex boxes, cereal boxes, canisters, and any other item you can safely build with.  If you want to add weight, place items inside and tape the boxes shut.
    
So the next time you need a quick idea to occupy your child(ren), or students, grab some blocks or items and let them build and create.

One student, S1, started his learning centre time building on his own. He spent about 10 minutes of focused time on building his base.

S2: I can make it higher.

S2 and S3 joined S1 and they continued to build. S1 moved on to another centre.

S3: Hand me that block. I’ll put it here.

S2: I’ll get some more.

S3: I can’t reach any higher.

E: Can I help?

S3: We are trying to build but can’t reach any higher.

E: I can help. Tell me what I should do.

It was interesting to watch this interchange. S1 was very focused for a period of time. I was surprised that S1 walked away once the others joined him. I will have to watch more closely to see if he is uncomfortable working with others, and if we need to work on his ability to expand his play to include others. Also, I really want to interact more with S2 and determine his understanding of stability and structures. I couldn’t tell from my observations on this day.

Shan 

Building Bridges in the Block Centre- April 10th

Teacher: “How did you know this bridge would be strong enough to hold all of you?”

Cheriyu: ”Because we put something under there. In the middle.”

Kris:  “Because it looks like a real bridge.  Look at the picture.”  (He pointed to a  photograph of a bridge on the cover of a book called, ‘Structures’.)

Teacher:  “Is that what makes it strong?”

Kris:  “Yes.”

Ved:  “Feel this.” (He put one of the wooden blocks they were using in my hands.)

Ved: “Is it heavy?”

Teacher:  “Yes, it is.”

Ved:  “Well, real bridges are made of wood and these blocks are wood, so it (our bridge) is strong like a real bridge.”

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Ved- “We’re making a bridge.”

Bridge image 1

Teacher- “Are you going to make it strong enough to stand on, like the other day?”

Ved- “We’re going to make it bigger!”

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Ved- “It’s got lots of balance.”

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The boys built the bridge and tried to stand on it, but it collapsed.

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They re-built it, and sat on the edge of it so I could take their picture.  However, it collapsed again.

Teacher- “Let’s try to build it a different way to make it stronger.”

All- “YEAH!”

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The boys gathered more students and combined building projects to have more materials.

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Student- “Try it!”

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First 2, and then 3 boys successfully stood on the bridge.

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Teacher- “Is it strong enough for you all to stand on?”

Ved- “No!  We need more people on it!”

T- “How can you do that?”

Vineet- “Make it longer!”

All- “YEAH! Longer!”

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They tried again.  First 1 boy, then 2, then 3 stepped onto the bridge.  A 4th boy stood on the bridge, and the end collapsed.

Student- “Can we fit more?”

Kris- “No.”

Teacher- “Can you build it so more people can fit on?”

All- “YEAH!”

T-  “How can we do it?”

Kris- “We have brains!”

T- “I know you do!”

Kris- “We need more bricks to put it up.”

The goal became to make the bridge longer to fit more people on.

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Kris- “I know what I’m thinking!  We need more blocks.”

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The boys figured out to take the pile of blocks from the end of their bridge to add to the surface.

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“Let’s try it!”

The boys successfully had 6 people standing on their bridge.

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Teacher- “Let’s try to get 7 people on!”

It worked!

Ved- “I think we can have 10!”

T- “You can?”

All- “Yeah!”

The boys started to build the bridge higher.

Bridge image 15

Teacher- “If you want to fit 10 people on your bridge, do you need to make it taller or longer?”

All- “Longer!”

Ved- “We’re going to fit 12!”

Kris- “We’re going to make it for 12 tomorrow!”

The boys continued building…

Ved and Kris started to construct ‘steps’ at the sides, which would allow 1 more person to fit on their structure.

Bridge image 16

Kris- “We are tired of building.”

Suddenly, one student rolled a wooden ball across the bridge.

Bridge image 17

Kris- “Wow!  How did you do that?”

Suddenly, all of the boys were rolling wooden spheres and lego cars across the bridge.

Kris- “Hey, we made a ramp.”

Bridge image 18

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All of the children had used thin dowling, mini-marshmallows, popsicle sticks, and modeling clay to build structures. They were now displayed on special tables, with plastic tablecloths, and the children were taking a gallery walk. Strict instructions were given not to touch someone else’s structure and suggestions were offered on how to ask questions of the designer. The children took this very seriously and most had their hands behind their back.

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Ved told me that he knew how he had built his structure. He noted that if the building falls down this arm will make it stand. He was using a complex design principle of support in his building and knew how it worked.

He was using contextualized language to talk about his structure I got this and I put this in it. When asked how he would explain it to someone who was not in the classroom to see his structure he suggested he would just show them the picture I had just taken. A good strategy, actually.

He did go on to explain how he had built the structure from the bottom (he used gestures for the bottom rather than using the words) by linking the marshmallows with the sharp things (toothpicks) and that the bar that comes out of the top would make sure the building would not fall down. It also allowed him to pick the building up. Surprisingly, when he grabbed the handle and swung it to show how it worked, he had built a very strong structure that did not fall apart. Interesting that he found two practical functions for the handle – stability and portability.

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Other observations and discussions went as follows:

  • I made a tower where the dinosaurs live. I like watching the Flintstones. They lived a long time ago. Then I watch The Jetsons. They didn’t live then.
  • Another student came along at this point and said he needed to measure this. He has a clipboard and he recorded the height on the chart by recording how many toothpicks high it was. He was working completely on his own at his own activity.

Today a large group of children were very interested in building structures in the blocks.  They worked in very small groups but it got to the point were the structures were so big they had to work together to integrate them.  You can see where this happened in the bottom right corner of the photograph.

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The attention to detail, the length of their attention span, and their ability to work together and co-operate on this project was really remarkable.  When young children are interested and challenged in their thinking they are very willing to put out the effort.

Looking at the stages of block play, I could see many of the developmental stages represented here.  There were examples of:

  • horizontal towers and vertical rows (stage 2),
  • bridging where the child uses a block to span a space (stage 3)
  • enclosures (stage 4)
  • representation, where the structure is named in relation to its function (stage 6)

It is not enough to simply observe children. The teacher should be able to clearly identify what is being observed and the significance of this observation on the child’s developmental profile.  What does this observation tell me about how this child is thinking?  What skills are demonstrated through this observation?  What should I do to move the thinking and the skill level forward?

Two girls were playing together in the blocks building a brick wall. A little boy was playing in the space on his own, building a complex building with small wooden blocks.

 

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The other class was told they could go to work at the centres. No restrictions are placed on the number of children in the centres so suddenly a group of new boys entered the block area. They used the 2 brick height of the girls’ wall to jump over and the girls’ role became one of trying to keep the wall in place and repairing it when the boys knocked a brick off. Their teacher was working with a group of children and did not see what was going on so the girls had to problem solve.

After a few minutes the girls gave up on their original plan and began building a platform with the long wooden blocks. Even the boys abandoned the wall for other activities. One of the girls told the little boy, who was by now building a town, that she would help him write about it if he wanted. He did not take her up on her offer so she continued to add a complex building on her platform.

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