Physical Development

From Montessori to today; the enduring learning value of wooden blocks

The first pre-schools and nurseries began to be established in the nineteenth century and all of the children’s toys and play equipment in the pre-schools and nurseries were made from natural materials.

Plastic toys began to be manufactured in the twentieth century and today our homes and nurseries contain a wealth of toys and play equipment made from a variety of man-made and recycled materials with toys made from natural materials often in the minority. 

Wooden toys have unique sensory qualities – to see, handle and even smell.  They’re environmentally friendly, durable and long lasting.  One wooden toy that has endured, unchanged from the nineteenth century to today and has retained it’s play value and enjoyment is the classic container full of wooden blocks.

A toddler sits on the floor of a room playing with a bucket of traditional wooden blocks

These blocks have a range of play values throughout early childhood.  Initially a toddler enjoys the process of placing one block on top of another.  This requires co-ordination and concentration, releasing that grip on the block as it’s placed into position on top of the other.  Daisy has practised this skill for several months now and is competent at stacking blocks on top of one another. 

She enjoys making a tall tower of blocks and also enjoys practising that other equally enjoyable skill of then knocking down the tower.

 Daisy has now extended her stacking skills to experiment with stacking blocks of different shapes and dimensions, investigating the physical properties of a wooden block tower.  Through repeated play with the wooden blocks it’s possible to see what Maria Montessori called the ‘self-correcting process’.  Without an adults’ help, a child develops their independence and problem solving by re-stacking and re-positioning the blocks. 

 Recently, Daisy has begun to use the blocks to create walls and bridges for her small cars and characters.  During this pretend play, we’ve begun to introduce ‘position’ words into the play – on, under, next to, in, behind.  On other occasions we’ve enjoyed counting with the blocks.

A toy Thomas the Tank Engine train sits atop a bridge constructed of traditional wooden bricks

Daisy’s play with the wooden blocks continues to evolve as she continues to explore their play potential. I don’t think it will be long before she is creating more complex structures with the blocks or starting to use the blocks together to play games of matching patterns and shapes. 

 Maria Montessori is said to have remarked that children only need two toys – a special teddy or doll and some stacking bricks.  That may not apply today but I think that the favourite teddy and the wooden blocks have already outlasted some of the plastic toys that were in Daisy’s toy boxes.

Granny Smith says

Years ago I had a student who created her own set of wooden blocks.  She collected offcuts of 2 x 2 timber, pieces of chunky dowelling and small sections of skirting board. These she rubbed and sanded down to create a unique set for her nursery group. 

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