Let's look at the stages of block play your child will advance through. As they move through the stages of block building, each one builds on the previous skills developed. This will lay the foundation for how to set up a block center or block play area. Offering the best blocks to support your child's current stage helps to ensure a successful block play experience.
In the previous post, we explained the benefits of block play. If you are reading this article, we hope those benefits resonated with you!
All children will advance through each of the stages of block play in early childhood as they engage in regular block building sessions. Even older children who have not had experience with block play will still move through the stages only faster. The exception is the first stage, which only applies to babies and young toddlers.
The familiarity of these stages will help you support your children's block play activities.
Stage 1: Carrying, Exploring or Prebuilding
As the first stage of block play, this is for young children, such as babies and toddlers. Also known as the carrying or exploring stage, blocks are not used for construction. Instead, they support sensorimotor development. Toddlers want to touch, carry, move, pile, or knock down the blocks. They love to use a mixture of containers to pack, repack, and haul around the blocks. You may find them knocking down a tower that you built together or an older child's creation. They may explore the sounds blocks make by dropping them or banging them together. This is the stage that they learn about the blocks and what they can do.
Stage 2: Stacking, Rows and Towers or Repetition
Around 2-3 years of age is when the building begins. This stage, known as the stacking, rows and towers or repetition stage, is when you will see them line up the blocks. They may stack them one on top of the other for a vertical tower. Or lay them out on the floor in rows, either vertical or horizontal. There will be many repetitions in their "building." As they repeat patterns until they determine the next step in the block play progression.
Stage 3: Bridges and Passageways
At this stage, 3-4-year olds activate experimentation. Children start by placing two blocks apart to support the third block. This creates a "bridge," also known as bridging. Sooner or later, children end up building rows and stacks, adding bridges and forming passageways. They learn by trial and error how to balance the block, so it does not fall off. Block building also improves their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. This is where we see their imagination start to unfold. For example, props such as trucks and cars turn blocks into "roads."
Stage 4: Enclosures
By around age 4, after a child begins to use blocks regularly, they move from building bridges into closing up spaces and creating enclosures. As children advance into this stage, you will see their block play expand to take up large areas of space like your entire living room. Among the first problems children have to solve when playing with blocks occurs during the bridging and enclosures stages. This is when they will first use their spatial awareness skills to discover how to close the areas. As they create these spaces, they will associate them with things such as a barn for the animals or a garage for their cars. This is the beginning stage of dramatic play with blocks. Enclosures and bridges become the scenery for imaginative play with props like dolls, animals, and toy cars.
Stage 5: Symmetry and Patterns
Symmetry and patterning show up in this stage. Sorting, matching, and creating balance develop as your child builds intricate designs. Symmetry and balance become increasingly important for your child. Children like to line up different shaped blocks in a pattern. They will use more blocks, as their block building becomes more imaginative. While you start to see imaginative play take shape in the previous stages, this is where their creativity emerges. Everything becomes a fair game as they add accessories to their structures. Whether it is vehicles, dolls, furniture, animals, or "loose parts" like scarves, rocks, or gems, it adds to the building dynamics.
Stage 6: Early Representational, Functional and Naming of Structures
At this stage, known as the early representational, functional, or naming structures stage, 4-5-year olds begin to create familiar structures. Their building becomes more detailed and intentional, requiring planning. Children may have named their structures in previous stages but not based on the function of the building. Dramatic play becomes an essential component of their block building. Children use it to understand the growing world around them. As they build upon previous block skills, they add a variety of blocks and more props. They may work together cooperatively or individually.
Stage 7: Later Representational, Complex and Symbolic
At about school age (5+ years), this stage takes on more complex buildings with elaborate details. With an increase in their dexterity and block play skills, you will see multilevel, curved buildings that sprawl over other toys and structures. Children will start to replicate a specific structure they have seen, like a school, garage, or post office. They will engage in symbolic play as they use the blocks to represent things such as planes, cars, and trains. Building with blocks stimulates imaginative play, and now their structures become part of the pretend play story. Their cooperative play is also developing, and you will often find them discussing what to build, how to build it, and who will play what role.
There you have the 7 stages of block play. Children often advance through these stages in order, but not always. Once they have mastered a stage, you may see them moving back and forth between the stages.
Remember, block play creates opportunities for you to get down on the floor with your child and explore all the various types of blocks for kids. Have some fun and encourage a kid's imagination through block play.