Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday SOL Let's play with blocks

This is a Tuesday "Slice of Life" for Two Writing Teachers. Check out their website for lots more reflections on teaching.


The block building begins quietly, with Mateo and Julian suggesting a wall around the edge of the table, "for the animals." Lately, block-building means animal homes, as well. The children are loving all the small, realistic toy animals we have.

Often they build by themselves, but today I have chosen to build alongside, to see what I can learn about these sweet children and what I can provoke.

I am in the midst of the play,
  • soaking in their happiness, energy, focus, and pursuit;
  • listening to what interests them, and storing these for future read-alouds and other lesson ideas, what excites them?
  • considering ways they might engage with a classmate rather than simply play alongside, fostering team work;
  • cultivating friendship skills, ready to offer guidance should conflicts arise, helping them to be together, to be aware of one another and not hurtful; 
  • repeating their ideas aloud, often paraphrasing with bigger vocabulary, trying to broaden and deepen their language skills;
  • posing questions for more details, building conversational skills, sometimes suggesting ways to build or extend on another's ideas, letting them see what tremendous resources they are to one another;
  • fostering their mathematical thinking - they do it instinctively, but I coach the terminology, such as above? behind? near? alongside? between? under? through? next to? and, similarly, there is lots of counting (how many blocks do we need to complete the wall?).
"The blocks go here, all the long way," suggests Mateo.

Me - "Another word for the edge of the table, is perimeter - we are building around the perimeter."

Malcolm, Simona, and Kaelyn join us. Katherine and Ella aren't far behind, and many small hands are at work. It seems as if no sooner than someone builds something, another knocks it down, usually with the expressed delight of the builder. When mistakes are made, the children work together to recreate the original design - or tweak it to be something all new.

"This fits here."
"This is a door."
"A wall will not fall down."
"I am making a house for the zebras."
"We need a house for the dinosaurs. And the sharks."
"Sharks need water."

Block building is fast, impulsive, ever-changing. Things exist for only a moment or two, intentions change, blocks morph from one idea to the next.

Making a wall around the table leads to finding groups of animals…several are searching for all the sea animals, others want the tigers, still others want a zebra area. Julian, Nicky, and Micah create Magna Tile airplanes and "hand-gliders" at a neighboring table, and they jump over to see if these can fly around the blocks. 

A big door is made in the wall, "opening for airplanes."  The next thing we know, many blocks have been hit by airplanes, tumbling to the floor.

"These are the forests," says Julian, standing many tall cylindrical blocks together. Almost immediately one falls over, toppling the others like dominoes, and this becomes the new goal - to build and see them fall over. "The forests are breaking!", he squeals with delight, needing to fix them again.

Wesley pops in, followed by Naima, James, and Dmitry. They set about building underneath the table (where many blocks had tumbled). This opens up new possibilities - purposefully getting things stuck in table legs and then trying to get them out. One thing leads to another.

"We need to make an animal hospital for hurt animals," suggests Wesley.

The children build together and by themselves, self-selecting their fun, building both on and under the table, and at a second table nearby. Some stay for many minutes, creating and re-creating, while others land only momentarily, wandering in and out of the area, doing things elsewhere in the room and returning to the block corner for additional fun. They are filled with curiosity and investigation, trial and error -
  • which blocks fit inside the arches?
  • which tall ones stand, making the best trees?
  • how to make a floor?
  • how tall can we make it?
  • what happens when you drive one block through the others?
  • how to make a continuous wall?
  • how to make it longer?
  • which is biggest?
  • how to make a seat or a bed?
  • will these balance on top?
  • what fits under?
  • why is this stuck here? 
  • how to get it out?
My note-taking cannot keep up with the story lines…so many snippets …

walls for our house, 
making homes for animals, 
the dinosaur is attacking, 
wind blowing through trees, 
hand glider flying on top of the buildings, 
making axes to chop things down, 
animals getting hurt, 
veterinarians taking care of animals in the hospital, 
a house for me over here, 
this is a city, 
people live here and animals live outside, 
train going through the station, 
this is the airport, 
these are big doors.

It seems as if everyone in the class stops by at one point or another, to check in, to play for a bit. Later, I'll consider who didn't visit and why that might be; but, in the midst of the play, there's no time for such reflection. The play is fast-paced, animated, and involved. I smile as their small bodies move in and around and over me, faster, faster, knock down, rebuild, re-think, new idea, try again, consider this, build, build, build...

They are playing,
they are working,
I am working,
I am playing.

I love the block corner.


  1. Blocks are a huge part of our primary classes, 5-7 year olds, Maureen. I love hearing what your younger students are doing, too. It's a bit more structured in the early classes. My granddaughter is in a five year old class, & is now working on an airport with one other students (she tells me). It's such a valuable learning time, I agree. Since many of our students did this, & then finished their 8th or 9th year with me, one year the primary teacher & I collaborated & she took my class through block building. They loved it, and of course were more sophisticated in the work, but there were parts that were the same, and there was needed collaboration. Thanks for sharing!

  2. They're doing so much great work with the blocks, Maureen. And you're doing so much good for them letting them discover in your room. Thanks for all of the pictures. It really brought this slice to life.