Blocks should be a staple material in almost every child care classroom. With a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures to choose from, blocks can provide hours of fun on their own, even before adding manipulatives and other items to them. Blocks are a great way for children to strengthen gross and fine motor skills, practice science concepts such as weight and balance, and work together to create increasingly complex structures.
As a general rule, 2-year-olds should have at least 200 blocks available to them, 3-year-olds should have at least 300, and children 4 years old and up should have at least 400. Ideally, each class should have a variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. Different blocks and building materials can be used for different purposes. If you are in a child care center that cannot afford several different types of blocks in each classroom, a great way to get variety is to supply each classroom with a different type and rotate them between classrooms on a regular schedule.
Below are some examples of the many types of blocks you can find for your child care classroom. Be aware of the age of the children in your classroom when choosing blocks. For example, toddlers may not be the best audience for large hollow wooden blocks because they may be too heavy for them to lift and carry. Be especially cautious with building bricks and other small building materials. Small pieces can be a choking hazard, especially for children under age 3. Toddlers and 2-year-olds may be better off with foam, cardboard, or cloth blocks.
Unit blocks: The most basic blocks are made from solid hardwood so they will last for years, if not a lifetime. They are called "unit blocks" because they are built on the same basic standard of measurement. Each block is a fraction of the standard unit (such as a quarter unit or half unit) or a multiple of the standard unit (such as a double unit or quadruple unit).
Large hollow blocks: These blocks are large enough that young children will need to carry them with two hands. The blocks are large enough for a child to stand on and can be used to build life-sized structures. They are hollow in order to reduce their weight. Large hollow blocks may have either open or closed edges.
Foam blocks: Foam blocks are soft and lightweight and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some sets of foam blocks use standard unit block measurements. Others are as large as hollow blocks.
In addition to unit blocks, these are some other common tools used for construction in child care settings.
One of the main challenges of adding blocks to a child care environment is that they can be expensive. If you cannot afford to buy a large set of blocks, you can start small and build gradually. Choose some basic unit or foam blocks, and add more as funds allow. You might also consider making your own blocks. Here are two easy options.
Still wondering how to incorporate blocks into your child care program? Read more in these eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles.