Constructive Play | A World Of Opportunities For Exploration


As your child engages in constructive play, they see the ideas they imagine come to life. Let's explore what construction play is all about! constructive play - 3 girls playing in a sandbox

What is Constructive Play?

A constructive play definition - Also known as construction play, is about manipulating, shaping, or constructing something. In other words, constructive play is creating and building with different types of materials. It involves a variety of methods such as putting together, taking apart, stacking, molding, sorting, and more. However, most important is that children are connecting and interacting with their environment.

Constructive play typically starts around the age of two, when children can focus on one activity for extended periods. Previously children have been through an exploratory play phase where they have used their senses for investigation and discovery. Usually, this involves simple and repetitive actions, like banging blocks or moving blocks from place to place. This exploratory phase helps prepare them to begin constructing. During construction play, their movements are more purposeful. They have moved from exploring the materials to creating something. Nowhere is this transition more evident than during the stages of block play, from simply knowing how a block feels to building a basic tower.

A key component of constructive play is that it is open-ended. That kids are using materials to creatively and intentionally build something. The open-ended materials can take many forms, for example, playdough, sand, water, recycled materials, and all types of blocks for kids. Through construction play, children engage their imagination and creativity while sparking their curiosity.

Construction play is a form of hands-on inquiry where children, by nature, discover and explore things for themselves. They gather information, experiment, and question while engaging in constructive play. They build, stack, construct, and draw as they test various materials. For example, they can make a sandcastle, compose a sidewalk chalk mural or build a city with blocks and loose parts. They learn through their interactions and experiences in the physical and social world.

Benefits of Constructive Play

Constructive play offers an unlimited world of opportunities for exploration and discovery. Children experience using a variety of materials and tools to put things together, to test ideas, to solve problems, and stretch their imaginations. As we have discussed in other articles about block play, construction play shares many of the same benefits. The encouragement of constructive play is valuable because it reinforces open-ended, free play, and allows children to be children. It will enable them to explore their own ideas and connect them to the world around them.

Here are some of the construction play benefits your child may experience:

Physical Development

Construction play requires the use of both fine and gross motor skills to build something. By strengthening these motor skills, with fine motor activities and gross motor activities, they can better shape and control their environment, thereby empowering themselves.

Social-emotional Development

Where the building happens, so will be the children. Whether inside or out, kids love to create and build. Constructive play encourages group interaction and strengthens social skills. There is something special about a group of kids working together to make something. This cooperative play is where they learn teamwork and collaboration. By working together, they learn to take turns, share, and take risks. They build self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment while learning to control their emotions.

Cognitive Development

Construction play is all about trial and error. Children engaged in constructive play both experiment with different materials and approach their building with persistence to overcome problems. Kids learn to regulate and control their thinking, as they plan and assess their actions. They try new methods and modify when needed if something doesn't work. This is problem-solving at its best.

Language Development

Constructive play helps kids become better communicators. They expand their vocabulary by using building words like "over," "under," and "on top." Placing signs around the construction play zone increases the connection between the written and spoken word. The encouragement of an adult that engages with open-ended questions supports language development.

Hand-on Exploration and Curiosity

Kids absorb information better by hands-on exploration rather than formal instruction. They learn to connect to their world and explore how materials can represent different objects (i.e., a stack of blocks becomes a skyscraper). Through constructive play, they get to see and feel things for themselves.

Imagination and Creativity

Construction play ignites your child's imagination and creativity. Children use their creativity for planning and designing their creations. While they use their imaginations to create imaginary worlds, which leads to pretend play.

Creative and Constructive Play Works Best When You...

So now that we know what constructive play is and why it is important let's look at how we can support and encourage it. Most importantly, we must understand and believe in the value of this type of play as well as ALL kinds of play. Play comes naturally, and we should advocate for children to be children as long as possible—enough time each day needs to be allotted for play, including construction play. Our children should be encouraged to enjoy, explore, and experience the thrill of constructive play.

Provide Adult Support

We can support constructive play by:

  • Providing spaces that are safe, accessible, and full of open-ended materials.
  • Encouraging construction play activities whether inside or outside.
  • Having interaction with children and asking open-ended questions.
  • Helping them document their discoveries and creations.
  • NOT directing it, but merely providing support to the play.
  • Getting down on their level models the importance of playtime for your child.

Add Inspiring Materials

Constructive play is essential for young children and should be encouraged by providing wooden building blocks and other construction toys for kids. What's important here is to supply a variety of materials that are open-ended with no specific outcome. Where the kids control and determine how they are used to create something. Continually adding new and stimulating elements while removing others keeps it fresh and exciting. Keep developmental stages and choking hazards in mind when sourcing your materials.

  • Wooden unit blocks
  • All types of blocks in varying shapes, sizes, and materials
  • Block props (i.e., vehicles, animals, people, signs, cogs, and wheels)
  • Train or car tracks.
  • Water and water toys
  • Sand and sand toys
  • Modeling materials (i.e., playdough or clay)
  • Loose materials (i.e., pieces of fabric, vinyl, ribbon or balls of wool)
  • Natural materials (i.e., shells, leaves, bark, sticks, and stones)
  • Art materials (i.e., easels, brushes, paint, markers, crayons, chalk, paper)
  • Craft materials (i.e., buttons, googly eyes, popsicle sticks, string, sequins)
  • Recycled materials (i.e., boxes, milk crates, mosaic tile pieces, clean PVC pipe pieces)
  • Wood pieces (i.e., clean in a variety of shapes and sizes) and strong glue
  • Tools (i.e., measuring tape, clipboard, pencils, stapler, scissors, tape)
  • Wagons or buckets to move the materials around
  • Camera and sketching materials for documenting their creations

Play Indoors or Outdoors

Constructive play should not be limited to just indoor block play. Again, the premise of construction play is about your child's interaction with their environment. Changing how the materials and your child interact encourages a variety of constructive play. For example, taking the blocks outside or bringing natural elements inside. Or mixing sectors like block play with science, math with language, or recycled materials with art. Using flexible materials like sand and water, whether inside or out, encourages constructive play. Taking the easels and paints outside adds an additional dimension to the play. Additionally, encouraging children to use traditional materials in new and innovative ways creates more opportunities for construction play. For example, painting on a fence or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.

Blend It with Imaginative Play

Children have a natural tendency to combine construction play with imaginative play. As they build and create, they begin to try on and test how they experience the world. For instance, they may stack a few blocks, add some animals, and call it a zoo. From there, pretending how they would spend their day at the zoo. Or they might make something entirely imaginary like an amusement park on mars. This is the time to entertain their fantasy and ask them about their amusement park and mars. What is important is that your child is using their imagination with no rules or expectations.

Create Time and Space

Constructive play requires time. Allowing enough time for your child to create without interruptions is essential. Creating a block center and outdoor space for other materials is beneficial. Adding, combining, and changing elements creates an environment inducive to constructive play.

Induct Their Creations Into The "HALL OF FAME"

While some of their constructions may be able to last for a while, most of them will be temporary in nature. However difficult this might be for some, it is an essential part of the learning experience. To help bridge the learning curve, you can take a picture or encourage your child to draw or sketch their creations. Also, making videos or recording what they say about their designs may help. Then they can enjoy the fun of knocking it all down just to build it again tomorrow.

Constructive Play Examples

When we think of construction play, we tend to go straight to block play and traditional building sets. Yet, constructive play activities also include many other options.

Expand construction play by inviting your child to experience one or more of the activities below.

  • Assemble an outside fort with tires, hay bales, milk crates, and other large boxes.
  • Build an inside hide-out from sheets, blankets, tables, and chairs.
  • Construct a tunnel from recycled boxes and other materials.
  • Create art from natural materials found on a nature walk.
  • Design and build a city with wooden building blocks, trains, and road tracks.
  • Engineer rivers and dams in the mud or sand with plastic pipe pieces.
  • Inspire children to draw building ideas with a clipboard, paper, and pencil.
  • Make something using scraps of wood and strong glue to introduce woodworking.
  • Organize and construct an obstacle course.
  • Sculpt sandcastles.
  • Set up construction challenges that encourage collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Shape something from playdough and craft materials.

Do you have a favorite memory of building or creating something? I do; I loved visiting my aunt's house, who had all the awesome wooden building toys. She had Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, something we did not have at our home. See, she had two boys, and I was a girl.

To this day, one of my favorite kids' activities is building with blocks. Whether it is giant blocks, magnetic blocks, or wooden unit blocks, I love seeing my ideas come to life.

Why not open the world of constructive play with some building sets of your own.

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