This month, we'll dig into building play in a variety of ways. Learners will be invited to explore buildings around them, test materials for building, use a layered approach to make a painting, create a map of their community, and try different building challenges. Before you take a look at the calendar below, here is some background information that can help you make this play project as meaningful and impactful as possible with learners in your life!
Construction play leads to important learning. Whether you are building a work of art, a map, or a tower, there are lots of steps that can lead to creative problem-solving, opportunities to work through frustration, and chances to notice shapes and sizes. Research suggests that adult interaction as kiddos engage in building projects can boost spatial reasoning skills. Children become more aware of the sizes of what they are building, they may be able to identify the shapes or specific blocks that are in a tower, and they begin to create mental models of how far apart numbers are (a tower that is four blocks tall is double the size of a tower that is two blocks tall - four is bigger and farther down the number line than two). You can learn a bit more about this here (Verdine et al, 2015). As children build models, they learn more about the qualities of real world items. Building a toy house can help a child identify the shapes, materials, and components in a real house (Christakis et al, 2007). The dramatic ("I'm a dinosaur, I will smash this tower") and small world ("This is where the little rabbit toy lives in my castle") play that stems from construction play gives children an opportunity to tell stories that can then be shared, written, or drawn to boost literacy skills (learn more here and here). Creating art, towers, etc. also requires self-control and patience as these projects take time, planning, and redesign. As children carefully stack, paint, and stick things together, they work on fine motor skills. I can't wait to see how your kiddos grow as they play with these projects!
Use materials and ideas around you. A great set of building blocks is a wonderful tool to have around. LEGOs can lead to hours and hours of play. AND, we don't need to spend a lot of money to invite our children to build. Books can be stacked in numerous ways to build walls and weigh down blankets for forts. Recycled containers can make towers. Cardboard boxes make great mini forts, places to work in a less messy way when painting, and cars and houses for hours of imaginative play. If you choose to invest in blocks, I love our set of natural wood unit blocks. My partner and I enjoy building with them just as much as an 11yo, 4yo, and 2yo who have used them at our house :). Unit block sets usually come with a few really long blocks and then blocks that are 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 that size, as well as some arches, semi-circles, and cylinders. Block play can inspire discussions about shapes and parts and wholes. To launch play, remember to use what interests your kiddo. Maybe they are interested in forts or cars, tree houses or gardens. Maybe they would slide or swing all day if you'd let them. Bring those interests in to this project. Lay out some string and recycled yogurt cups, wonder, "Hmmmm, how could we build a swing?". Go outside with a few blocks or recycled containers. Look at the shapes of your car. Can you stack your materials to make something that looks kind of like a car?
Get outside! When we situate learning in our own environments, it is easier for learners to make sense of what they are learning. We all have mental maps and filing systems for learning in our head. The more ways we can connect one thing we know to another thing we've seen or experienced or a place we've been, the richer our new learnings will be AND the easier they will be to pull upon later. So, instead of talking about the Eiffel Tower first, notice the lamp post outside your house. Test the boats you build on a stream near you - that will help kiddos imagine their cucumber and aluminum creations as actual model boats, not a weird thing they made :).
Read stories, look at global pictures, and use words to boost learning. Block play can help kiddos develop early mathematics skills, and we can give them the words to use to talk about what they are seeing. Young learners may be used to the word "bigger", see if you can describe towers as "taller" and "shorter" - then maybe they will use those words. Count the blocks. Notice which towers seem to have "more" or "less" blocks. When we map out our communities and start adding new and improved features to them, we may spark conversations about needs and wants (Do we NEED a pizza place or WANT a pizza place on our doorstep?). When you build with different materials, children may notice that some materials are better to build with than others. An interesting question could be, "Well, why would we use a not good building material?". In impoverished areas, people are more likely to live in unsafe buildings in unsafe areas prone to flooding, storms, earthquakes, and more. We are moving into hurricane season and there are lots of examples of unequal impacts of storms on poor communities (Haiti after Matthew in 2016, New Orleans after Katrina in 2005). Where people live and the materials they have access to is a huge social and environmental justice issue. You may not want to dig into that TOOOO much with little ones, but simply noticing that we build with what we have and some people don't have things that are that great to build with could get kiddos thinking about improving the future. With older learners, they could be challenged to build models of earthquake safe houses or to look at a map and decide where people should evacuate to during a storm.
A slide kiddos helped me build, a first layer of art using acrylic paint sticks, a bridge from table to table using a shelf and blocks ^
Download a copy of the September '19 Month in Moments calendar here!
Here are some words to try to incorporate as you play with building supplies (It is not important for young children to use these, exposure is great!): Bigger, smaller, round, angular, taller, shorter, more, less, size, corners, edges, number and shape names, materials, need, want, stronger, weaker, resistant, breakable, fragile
Here are some words to try to incorporate as you play with art supplies (It is not important for young children to use these, exposure is great!): Lines, color, color names, shape names, darker, lighter, wet, dry, smooth, rough, texture, resist, painting, design, sketch, diagram, sculpture
Here are some discussion questions and wonderings to provoke meaningful conversations as you play and learn together:
Consider reading a version of the "The Three Little Pigs" in the first week as you experiment with different building materials. Discuss why the different pigs chose the materials they used. Wonder what materials you could use to build a strong house.
When you build your paintings, ask what kiddos are adding and why. Say, "I love that color! Why did you put it there?". Trace your finger along a tape line they added and ask what it is and if they want to add on. Ask what they think will happen if they paint over the crayon and tape.
As you move on to mapping your neighborhood, you might look at big hills for sledding and low areas where awesome puddles are found. Use this as a chance to talk about where it might be safest to live, in a high (but windy and steep) spot, a middle spot, or a spot at the bottom of a hill (with lots of water, maybe too much sometimes).
The story The Rabbit Listened is a wonderful resource as you move into more construction tasks. Building can be FRUSTRATING. Towers tumble, uneven surfaces make wobbly bridges, etc. This story reminds us that we can rebuild when we are ready. Taking time to pause while you build and plan or sketch the next step can help learners develop problem-solving, literacy, and spatial awareness skills.
Share pictures of what you build and paint this month using #watchwonderbloom and/or #monthinmoments. Make sure you are following me on Instagram at @watchwonderbloom. I'll have a small giveaway posted for local families :).