Summer. It’s a word that holds so much adventure and opportunity, fun and play, new friendships and fresh challenges. Yet, as parents and caregivers of young children, it can also be a time of confusion and anxiety. For many children at Livingston Street, the summer months are the last months before they enter Kindergarten or begin a new journey in a Universal Pre-K classroom. Standards for academic performance in schools are high, and sometimes out-of-touch with developmental ability. As parents and caregivers, we wonder if our children will be ready to meet the established criteria. Is my child ready for an academic program? Will she sit at a table and do a worksheet? Can she follow the directions of the teacher? Will he learn how to write his name? Is she ever going to start reading? Is Livingston Street preparing my child for school? These questions and many others churn inside our heads, and create stress and concern about our children’s future school performance.
While we are a play-based program, we are also aware of the challenges we face guiding and teaching young children preparation for curriculum standards. An understanding of child development from birth to 5 years old helps us as teachers to meet children where they are developmentally and create learning opportunities (like early literacy, math, science, and social studies) through play. The play-based model of teaching is not unlike what happens in more academic settings, but the early learning that takes place is done with hands-on experience rather than more abstract reasoning. Through carefully crafted routines, materials, activities, and play opportunities, children at Livingston Street develop the foundational knowledge needed to achieve new challenges in Kindergarten and other academic settings.
One of the most useful tools in a classroom designed for play-based learning is a block set. And, if you haven’t already noticed, we have many types of blocks in the room. With the understanding of the importance of block play, we are sure to make them available each day. When you see your child building a long train or a high castle, the learning that occurs is so much more than what the structure appears. As children build, they are faced with complications that require theorizing, experimentation, and eventual problem solving. Some aspects of block building necessitate a child to use basic math or engineering principles. For very young children, stacking blocks is a pre-cursor to manipulating blocks to balance against each other.
Discoveries are made about the limits of materials, how shapes relate to each other, and the notion of cause and effect. Cognitive learning opportunities abound while building with blocks. Counting, shape recognition, understanding width and height, or volume and size relationships are just some of the things children learn while manipulating blocks. Even a basic outline of a square requires finding the blocks of the right shape and size to fit together. When the square is filled with smaller blocks, a child comes to realize that twelve small square blocks fit into the original large square outline. With concrete, hands-on experience and experimentation (called play), a child will get the foundational skills that are required for success in a more academic setting like Kindergarten. A quote from Albert Einstein says it all, “Experience is knowledge, all the rest is information.”
Here’s an idea for a block activity you can do at home with your child. Set out some blocks and try to build the tallest tower you can. Encourage your child to talk about the structure. Why are you putting that large block on the bottom? What would happen if I put two blocks together on this small ledge? Listen for your child’s answers and try not to correct them. Let them discover why the tower topples over and listen for the creative ideas that arise from building. Your block tower may come out looking very different than you imagined depending on how your child problem solves a situation.