Expressive Arts & Design

Construction play: building a child’s creative skills

Construction play with bricks and blocks gives children an opportunity to handle, manipulate and examine 3D objects. Here are some ideas about how you can support those creative play sessions

As an early years educator, I’ve always felt that construction play can offer huge benefits to young children, especially when there are no time constraints involved. 

Working at their own pace, children investigate how they can use their bricks to construct things, and explore the possibilities in a creative way that engages them.

In recent years I’ve seen this first hand with my five-year-old granddaughter, Daisy. She’s always enjoyed creative construction play. 

A child surrounded by wooden building blocks, selecting which one to play with

I remember the first time that she used her newly acquired skills to carefully place one wooden brick on top of another, constructing a tower of wooden bricks and then knocking it down, repeatedly. 

She wasn’t yet two years old, and she was already engrossed!

Teetering towers

Daisy’s enjoyment of playing with the wooden bricks grew as she discovered what she could do with them. The activity, which began with Daisy developing her coordination skills, actually introduced some early ‘cause and effect’ science: she balanced another brick onto the tower and again knocked the towers down. 

A young child builds a tower from a stack of small wooden cubes

The wooden bricks provided hours of play, as Daisy discovered how she could use the bricks to construct scenes from her story books as well as enclosures for her small wooden trains. 

Having a tub of assorted wooden blocks nearby, Daisy regularly combined her imaginative play with construction play. One play session saw her investigate the 3D dimensions of the bricks. She discovered that by turning an arch-shaped piece over it could become a bed for one of her small-world characters.

A small plastic yellow duck rests on an arched green wooden building block

Construction play builds on and develops many skills. Daisy’s developing imaginative construction skills transferred easily to playing with Duplo bricks too. 

The Duplo bricks inspired more constructions, and the brick towers, tunnels and bridges became more complex.

There were no diagrams or plans to follow for these creations. Daisy trialled her own ideas, with support from her parents, and used her own imagination with the basic range of available Duplo bricks. 

Her ideas and constructions are frequently stimulated by her imaginative play, such as the garden she created with her daddy to reflect the one in her Moving Molly storybook by Shirley Hughes.

A garden made of Duplo, with a small Duplo girl surrounding by toy cats

From Duplo to Lego

We still have the Duplo tub of basic brick shapes and sizes ready for Daisy’s visits to our house. Each visit sees those bricks used in a different way. 

Construction play is a favourite activity that has developed as Daisy has matured and her imaginative play has evolved. 

On recent visits she has enjoyed using the Duplo to create large enclosures in a farm-cum-zoo environment for her various small-world animals. 

Now the Duplo bricks are also combined with some Lego bricks, which she uses to create her own creatures and vehicles. Some of the Lego that Daisy uses originally came with a set of instructions to create a particular structure. But Daisy prefers to construct her own vehicles, animals and monsters, without following any diagram or plan. 

Occasionally Grandpa or Daddy is invited to join in with the construction efforts. This is an opportunity for Daisy to talk about her creations and strengthen her vocabulary, including her made-up names for the constructions. 

Together they talk and build, following Daisy’s very clear ideas – long Duplo bricks become bodies, dome shaped bricks become wings and monster’s features, and so on.

Modelling and role-playing

Sitting on a rug, surrounded by her bricks and her constructions, Daisy is very happy to create and play with extremely abstract representations of animals and people. This has always been a feature of her play – if she only has a few simple objects to hand, then she can happily personify them and play for long periods.

But she’s also building her modelling skills, as you can see from these recent examples.

Sitting with a child and joining in with their construction play can stimulate their creativity. An adult’s skills, combined with a young child’s creative ideas, can produce some amazing creations and inspire the child’s future construction play.

Although we try to tidy up afterwards, we usually find that we have to keep some of the constructions – at least for a few days – for extended future play. Daisy will be sure to notice if her creations are missing!

This is an open-ended type of activity where a child has the opportunity to investigate and explore their own ideas, and it frequently links with their imaginary play. So, let them get carried away by their play and you might too!

Granny Smith says…

  • This construction play can be enjoyed with wooden, plastic and foam bricks, in a variety of shapes and sizes.
  • You don’t need to buy new bricks for this type of play. We have supplemented the Duplo and Lego that we have in our toy cupboard with some pre-owned bricks from local charity shops and online markets. Mixing these purchases in with the existing bricks can stimulate even more original construction play!

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