Friday, August 24, 2007

Why Older Kids Should Still Play with Blocks

After four years of college, and two years of teaching middle school students, it took having my own children to realize that older children should still be playing with blocks! I don't know how many parents actually sit down with their children and build with blocks, but as an adult playing with blocks, I realize the many thinking processes that must occur in order to build anything. Many people recognize that if you stop drawing at a certain age, when you try to draw as an adult, you draw at the level you stopped drawing as a child. Building is the same way! I found it very difficult to build what I wanted to build and realized my brain was using muscles that it remembered using at one time, but hadn't exercised in a while. How enlightening this was!!

So then I began wondering why middle school students- or elementary school students for that matter- aren't given blocks with which to build. Some children are encouraged at home to graduate to more elaborate building materials like erector sets and Girder & Panel. But many children, once entering school, have so much homework and extra-curricular activities to do that they have little time left for simple play. And any time that's left over is often filled with video games and television- hardly the best brain enhancing activities! So if the schools are not incorporating building activities into the very busy day of schooled students, is there a reason? Unfortunately, it is NOT because there isn't enough time. It's because administrators and teachers do not sit down and play blocks with their children, realizing the many benefits of this activity.

The educational system makes changes to standards based on what they think they know. Right now, the trend is to get kids in earlier ("kindergarten"), make them spend more time in school, and cram as much into them as possible in order to pass standardized tests. And unfortunately, because these tests are on paper, most of the training ("learning") is done on paper. Educational researchers who feed their information ("crap") to administrators and teachers are too busy trying to change the wheel rather than stopping for a second and using common sense, or even getting down and playing with blocks now and again.

For similar reasons, art and music programs are disappearing from schools. They "can't afford" them, or so they say, but what they don't realize yet is that we can't NOT afford them. I have a friend who teaches early elementary who has a piano in her classroom. She notices a big difference in math abilities in the students who take piano lessons from her. This is not news, and people have been arguing for years just this point to keep the music and arts programs alive and well in public schools.

I wonder how many future architects did not meet their potential because they were stifled by those who are supposed to know better. How many children grew up without the ability to think in a certain way because their blocks were taken away in pre-school? Whether you use simple wooden blocks, Legos, Lincoln Logs, or Tinker Toys, at least one of these (and preferably a variety) should be available for both boys and girls. As parents, we should get down on the floor and play with these toys to demonstrate to our children that you are never too old to build! In addition, when children do play on the computer, incorporate some digital building programs that will help them envision three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional screen. This will be a necessity when they grow up and find technology in every field imaginable, including architecture, and perhaps your child with his incredibly astute thinking skills will be the next Frank Lloyd Wright!

No comments: