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Block building-extension: narrative play, perspective and mapping

You may think your child playing with blocks is 'just playing with blocks'. The information below shows the importance of block play. Block play ability in EYFS is directly linked to children's mathematical ability in later life. There is much research around this.

There is a clear developmental progression in block building. Understanding this progression and the learning potential of blocks allows practitioners and parents to guide children’s learning through play.

Communication and language – Countless opportunities are created for discussion and the development of new vocabulary as children encounter new experiences through block building. Timely interventions and questioning by adults can turn block building into a powerful learning medium. As children construct, they will want to verbalise what they are creating. This is a great opportunity for developing vocabulary and language because new concepts and words may come up. As you question children about what they are building, introduce new words to describe the building, such as levels, floors, ramp, stable, extension, taller, shorter, complex, etc. When children are building with friends, they will naturally be developing their language as they discuss the process with each other.

Personal, social and emotional development – Block building allows children to co-construct and negotiate. They take turns, share materials and cooperate with others, while developing new friendships. It also encourages self-reliance, and increases attention span and the ability to filter distractions while focusing on another task (executive function). Children can take risks in their block building, helping them to discover that they have independent ideas. Children experience a sense of achievement as they ‘have a go’, creating, demolishing and recreating something new and unique.

Mathematics – Due to the many shapes and sizes on offer, blocks provide many opportunities to practise important maths skills, such as length, measurement, number, comparison, symmetry, balance and estimation. A child may be able to recite the numbers to ten, but only through playing with objects like blocks do they develop an understanding of the value of one object, two objects, etc. They develop one-to-one correspondence. Children learn what it means to need ‘one more block' to match the towers, why one building is taller than another, how to 'take away' blocks from the construction or 'add' blocks to make a bridge longer.

Physical Development– Block building promotes the development of spatial awareness, gross and fine motor skills, and hand–eye coordination as children reach for, lift, move and build with blocks, strengthening their fingers, hands and arms.

Science – Through the exploration of cause and effect and experimentation, children are able to develop their problem-solving skills, test hypotheses and practise scientific reasoning. Blocks help them to become familiar with balance, weight, spatial awareness and gravity.





Usually toddlers Blocks are often carried around. They are not used for construction. Toddlers like to touch, move, hit them together and knock them down. They like to put them into containers. At this stage, they are learning about blocks and what they can do.


Usually age 2–3 Children begin to line up the blocks either horizontally (rows) or vertically (towers). There will be many repetitions as children consolidate learning before moving on to the next stage.


Usually age 3–4 Children place two blocks apart and try to bridge the gap between them with another block, creating a bridge. This develops into building rows and stacks with bridges and tunnels. They learn by trial and error.


Usually age 4 This stage occurs when children are using blocks regularly. They start with four blocks and use their spatial awareness to close the area. This eventually moves to circles and ovals. This is cognitively demanding as they need to think about orientation and how to place the blocks. This is when block building expands to take up a lot of space. The spaces they create become the basis for imaginative play, for example, garages for cars.


Usually age 4–5 Symmetry and pattern are evident at this stage. Designs become more intricate as children use their prior knowledge of blocks to be more intentional in their choices of blocks and their increased fine motor dexterity. Many different accessories are added to their structures, such as small world characters, pebbles or ribbons.


1 Usually age 4–5 Children begin to name the structures they are building, reflecting the purpose and function of the building. Block-building skills have been mastered and blocks are now used as a tool for dramatic play. They may work collaboratively or individually.


Usually age 5+ Children begin to replicate structures they know from real life or stories. Buildings are much more complex, with elaborate details. Block building stimulates their imaginations and structures become part of a pretend play story. Co-operative play is also developing and children will often be heard discussing what to build and how to build, and allocating roles.