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7.3: Types of Blocks and Stages of Block Play

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    Course Competency 7. Examine strategies that teach engineering skills.

    CRITERIA 7.3. identify the stages of block play

    The Value of BLOCKS

    “Creative materials are, by definition, open-ended, divergent, abstract in design, freeform, and responsive to one’s actions on them – all characteristics that ensure that unit blocks are a most treasured type of creative play material” (Shipley, 2012, pg. 377)

    Blocks have been recognized as valuable play materials since Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) incorporated them into his kindergartens. Blocks provide opportunities for development in all domains for all ages of children. As a play material, they are particularly dynamic and responsive to the actions of the child.

    Types of Blocks

    Carolyn Pratt (1867-1954) is credited with creating the unit block system made up of solid wooden blocks. Unit blocks are standard proportions to promote mathematical concepts. A complete set of unit blocks (750 pieces) includes the following shapes:

    Table 1: Unit Block System

    Unit (14 cm x 7 cm x 3.5 cm)


    Square (½ unit)

    Small column

    Double unit

    Large column

    Quadruple unit

    Half arch


    Small buttress


    Large buttress (flat edge)

    Quarter circle

    Large buttress (curved edge)

    Gothic door


    Large switch

    Half circle

    Small switch

    Roof board

    Switch or intersection


    Small triangle

    Half pillar

    Large triangle


    Other types of blocks include hollow wooden blocks, smaller tabletop building blocks, foam rubber blocks, and cloth blocks, blocks made of more lightweight cardboard, and Cuisenaire Rods.

    Duplo, Mega Blocks, and Lego are often considered to be blocks, but they are distinct from traditional blocks because they have an interlocking mechanism to hold them together. The basic interlocking bricks of these products have some open-ended play value. However, the more complex sets of Lego that must be put together in a specific way to create a finished product are of limited value when the goal is to encourage creativity, representational thinking, and spatial skills. For these reasons, Lego should not be substituted for other types of blocks that encourage creative expression.

    Nor should unit blocks be combined with other play materials. According to Shipley (2012), “The key to play with unit blocks is to encourage children to use the blocks alone and not combine them with other play materials or detailed accessories, such as dump trucks or Fisher-Price items. The abstract nature of the unit blocks contributes to children’s ability to hold on to their inner vision and assign meaning to an abstract structure.” (Shipley, 2012, pg. 377)

    Stages of Block Play

    Carrying: A toddler’s first interactions with blocks usually involves just carrying them around or banging two blocks together.

    Sometimes this is called Discovery or Exploring with the Senses.

    young child sitting in a box holding two plastic block pieces

    Figure 7.2: Carrying stage of block play (Image by Stacy Brunner at Flickr)

    Stacking: During this stage, toddlers may attempt to stack three to four blocks to create a tower.

    child stacking blocks while sitting on the floor

    Figure 7.3: Stacking stage of block play (Image by Freepik)

    Bridging: Supporting a horizontal block on top of two vertical blocks is called “bridging.” Preschoolers are becoming more capable of the complex cognitive processes needed: planning which blocks to use, predicting what might happen, estimating how far apart to place the vertical blocks

    Sometimes this is called Balancing and Bridging. 

    two children building a bridge with blocks

    Figure 7.4: Bridging Stage of block play (Creazilla)

    Enclosures: Preschoolers will place blocks so they touch and create a space that is closed off on all sides. Typically, it is not until children are between 5 and 7 years of age that they use additional blocks inside of an enclosure to represent things; for example, furniture in a house or a car in a garage.

    preschool children building a block enclosure on the classroom floor

    Figure 7.5: Enclosures stage of block play (Image by Woodley Wonders at Flickr)

    Patterns: During this stage, block play remains horizontal (that is, on the floor) for the most part. The concept of symmetry is explored by creating elaborate patterns with assorted block shapes.

    This is also called Patterns and Symmetry.


    Figure 7.6: Patterns stage of block play (Play and Learn Everyday)

    Representation 1: Creations become three-dimensional representations of real-world structures. Constructions are named and have a purpose.

    This can also be called Early Representations or Early Representational--Symbolic Play.

    Representation 2: Complex constructions such as houses and castles. Children begin to plan what they are going to build, often replicating familiar structures.

    This can also be called Later Representational or Advanced Representational.

    a small community made out of lego

    Figure 7.7: Representation stage of block play (Image found on pxfuel)

    Supplemental Readings

    Using Blocks to Develop 21st Century Skills

    Building Bridges to Understanding in the Block Area

    The Benefits of Block Play for Infants and Toddlers

    Ten Things Children Learn From Block Play


    Expand Mathematical Thinking During Block and Pretend Play retrieved from

    Questions in Block Play can Support Scientific Learning retrieved from

    Questions in Block Play Can Support Social Development retrieved from

    Questions in Block Play can Increase Your Child’s Vocabulary retrieved from,understanding%20differences%20and%20understanding%20similarities.

    Self-Regulation by Dr. Stuart Shanker retrieved from

    7.3: Types of Blocks and Stages of Block Play is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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