Block Play for Preschoolers


Parents have endless opportunities to help their children learn with simple toys. Bring out the blocks, plop down on the floor and practice these activities to help foster pre-math skills with your preschooler.


Blocks have been one of the best early learning toys for generations. The variety of shapes, colors and textures make these toys suited for children to learn through their senses. Block play for preschoolers also helps kids learn to problem-solve. They are able to see their product (how they are doing) and make their own corrections, as well as develop independence and self-confidence.

During block play kids are able to practice concepts and skills they will use in math in the near future at school. Here’s a look:


Counting. Encourage children to count the blocks for practice in one-to-one correspondence. Ask, “How many more blocks do you need? How many blocks did you use to build _____? (name of project).”


Sorting/Classifying. Blocks can be sorted or put into groups. Sorting blocks by shape, color, or size allows children to practice classifying. Which blocks are round? Which ones are square? How are they alike? How are they different? Use this activity for an easy clean-up, as well, by putting them into a bin while sorting.


Patterning. Arrange a pattern of blocks on the floor. Place a long rectangle, a square, a cylinder and a triangle in a row. First, have children practice copying the pattern right below it. Then ask, “What comes next?” Later, have kids create a pattern of their own. While playing, use the terms “alike” and “different,” making sure children understand what you are trying to point out.


Measuring. Use blocks to measure children and other objects. For an example, discover “How many blocks tall is Emma?” And have kids and then measure “How many blocks long is the table?”


Comparing. Put blocks into two piles. Guess which pile has “more” blocks and which pile has “less.” And then count the piles to see if they were correct. You can show children real examples of shorter, longer, equal, and same as, with blocks. Use your bathroom scale to find out which blocks are “heavier” or “lighter.”


Learning Shape and Space. Point out the shapes of blocks — squares, rectangles, triangles, cylinders, curves, arches and angles. Note the position of the blocks as the children place other blocks over, under, above, below, and between the first set. Children discover distance as they put blocks near, far and close by. Space is made and changed by placing blocks in ways that fit a space and enclose it. This is the beginning of geometry.


Ordering. Blocks can be arranged in sequence in many ways. They can be arranged by size, from long to short, thin to fat, or large to small. Make groups of blocks counting each group and arrange them from least to most, and vice versa. Finally, put the blocks in a row and talk about the first block, the second block and so on.


Problem Solving. Through active play with blocks, children can relate math to the real world. They can use real objects to discover solutions to problems, such as, “If we build a tower, should we use the big blocks or the small blocks on the bottom?” And then, “Why did the tower fall over?” This prepares them for the many math problems they will solve later in their school years.


Invest in good equipment when planning your block play for preschoolers at home. There are many different kinds of blocks available at local toys stores and early childhood catalogs. From small table blocks to interlocking blocks to large hollow floor blocks, these toys will provide hours of fun and learning. Solid wood construction blocks may have a higher price tag initially, but with proper care and handling, these blocks will last for decades.


Tania K. Cowling is a mother, grandmother, former teacher and the author of three teacher resource books. She lives in Florida.