The Block Experiment

Julie and I were wondering what would happen if we took the Magna-Tiles out of classroom.  Would the children's innate desire to use their spatial reasoning skills need an outlet, thereby 'forcing' them to find another outlet?

Our theory was that if we took out the Magna-Tiles, the wooden blocks would make a big comeback.

Well, it wasn't quite that dramatic.

Every day since we took out the tiles (that was Tuesday), the kids have asked where they are.  I usually reply with, "We're taking a break from those for now".  Well today I suggested they use the blocks and what ensued was an hour of continuous block usage, with the internalization of mathematical concepts so apparent in their play that I had to document it here.

In the early childhood profession, we tend to really emphasize what children learn through various types of play.  For instance, in their dramatic play (ie. "make believe") they learn how to navigate through real-life scripts, processing information they receive in the world and contenxualizing it for themselves.  They practice social skills in the safety of an imaginary world.  And since they are having fun, the motivation to use and enhance these skills is amplified.  Leslie said it well in a friendly debate the other day that she believes children should be engaged in "purposeful play".

So, about the blocks.  Very purposeful play.

The most impressive part of the block play was the gender balance (well, we only had six kids today but it was still impressive!)

And the beautiful teamwork and conversation and planning seemed to go on and on.  They talked about "missing pieces" and which shape would work and they problem solved and used trial and error to complete their block path.

T was very excited when he realized that who half circles made a whole circle and what directions to put the blocks to complete the shape.  He said, "Look, Stephanie, a circle!".  It was like something he knew and had experienced suddenly made sense differently.

Using materials that offer geometry and equality between pieces and lengths creates pathways in the brain for math conceptualization.  Unit blocks use standard sizes so that two sides of a square is the length of a rectangle, and two right triangles equal one square.  Unit blocks allow children to use all basic arithmatic concepts because they are based on the same unit.  I'm a little frustrated that the diameter of the circle pieces are greater than the length of a square's edge, but they do fit the "bridge" pieces, the rectangular pieces with half the circumference of the circle cut out, making one side concave.  The perimeter of any shape can be enclosed by any other blocks. (Notice how much language we can use to bring math into our conversations?)

So here are some examples of these mathematical concepts at work:

The above photo is a great example...see how he not only organized them into shapes but also expressed an understanding of equal width.

Notice that one rectangle plus two squares equals the length of one long rectangle?  And the diagonal of two right triangles is the same as the diagonal of a square of equal height?

E's corn kernal tower (see the corn kernal?)  This one is about balance and physics.  Here's another view (phase one of this building project):
T pointed out empty space as well (working with negative values):
As he pointed out, "there's nothing there".

We'll bring the Magna-Tiles back out at some point.  It was one of those things we had to try, just to see. 



  1. I love Beansprouts! You all are amazing! We are doing a positive and negative space with our bodies in my dance class today - they have to make shapes like letters with a partner and the shape has to be found in the negative space. I start the lesson with donut holes - (I know- not healty) and tell them they are eatting negative space. Then we make a circle an d close and open the negative space. I totally love that these kids are getting this through guided play (we call it guided improvisation in dance)

  2. I love that you are experimenting to discover how our children learn.
    I wish more teachers would do the same. And THEN write about the results as eloquently as you did.

    What great information.


Post a Comment

Thank you for the comments! Always appreciated : )

Popular Posts