I had written a pretty snarky post about “unitasker toys” (riffing off of Alton Brown‘s strong dislike of single purpose kitchen tools) You know the toys I mean, the ones that are only fun if you play with them the “right” way and soon end up in a heap on the playroom shelf.
As I re-read the post I realized I still stood by the concept, but not the tone. It just felt too negative and petty. Parents try so hard to do the right thing for their kids and these toys promise the moon in terms of fun and learning. Instead of bashing their efforts, we can celebrate awesome toys that are out there! Sound good?
If you told me that I was going to be stuck on a deserted island with a kid and could only bring three things I can tell you without hesitation what they would be
* Crayons/Paper (I know…technically two things but they go together!)
I love blocks, I think they are one of the best toys on the market and have the ability to engage kids from infant through…well…I still like them so there you go. They are versatile, they don’t have to be expensive, they can be used alone or with a group and they support all kinds of important development like planning, hand-eye coordination and resilience when things don’t work out like you planned.
Plus, for us parents who sometimes are stumped on how to play with our kids blocks have a low barrier of entry. (Side note, its ok to sometimes not know how to play, it is a learning curve for us grown-ups. Ask my younger sister about how my Barbies would always go take “naps” because I’d run out of ideas….)
I could go on and on, and I often do. My supervisor at the American History museum jokingly (I hope) called me a “block pusher” because I kept talking about how they should be included in our new kids exhibit.
So, what blocks do I like? Well, when my son was little he used these “squeeze blocks” to learn to grip (and of course chew!). They were what inspired him to crawl, we would stack them up and he would crawl over to knock them down!
Plain old “unit blocks” can’t be beat for sheer “scope for the imagination” (to quote Anne Shirley) and “stacking blocks” are a fun twist.
As kids get older, Duplos and Legos become more and more fun to use (use your judgement for when your child is old enough for the smaller Legos). A splurge in price are “Magna-Tiles” but they are amazingly fun and let kids build out and up in ways that regular blocks don’t. We got some for our friend’s little girl when she turned three and she and all the adults in the room couldn’t put them down!
You don’t have to give kids instructions on how to use blocks, another thing I love about them. However, if it starts to get a little stale you can make some small changes to keep it fresh. I have a whole Pinterest board about blocks that you are welcome to check out, but here are a few ideas to get you going
* Glue photos onto blocks. You can do animals, family photos, objects etc.
* Paint blocks with chalkboard paint so kids can create their own decorations
* Create blocks out of unusual materials like cut up pool noodles or cut up sponges. Bonus is these are quiet and light so they travel well!
* Add “props” to the box of blocks. Maybe one week it is trucks, animals or little people. Another week it could be natural materials like pine-cones and twigs
* Incorporate books into your block play! “Block City” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a great one. Or use favorite books and have them build things to help illustrate it.
* To create “life size” blocks I saved the diaper boxes as we finished with them. Not as pretty as the “brick” cardboard blocks but much less expensive!
*If you have space, let your child leave up their block creation for a while. They can go back and add to it and I bet they will love showing it off when people come by!
Yes, they may not be the fanciest or the most tech-forward toy on the market but there is a reason that there are five different kind of blocks in the “National Toy Hall of Fame!” I definitely encourage you to dig out the blocks buried in the toy bins (or look around your house for things you can use as blocks!) and see what your kids create with them.
Oh! Also, if you are in the D.C. area you should DEFINITELY go to the National Building Museum and check out their “Play Work Build” exhibit. Blocks on a whole different level!