The toy stores are filled with action figures, fancy robots and battery-operated gizmos, but experts agree that the best toy for your child is still…the classic blocks set.
Wooden blocks became popular in 17th century England, and even then the experts were raving about them. In 1693, the philosopher John Locke said that they ‘would teach children the alphabet by playing’ and in 1798, Maria and R. L. Edgeworth (who wrote ‘Practical Education’) said they could teach gravity and physics.
Today’s child development experts wholeheartedly agree—and have even found many other ways the classic blocks help a child’s cognitive, emotional and social development.
1. Blocks teach dexterity.
Each time your child balances one block on top of the other, he uses the same muscles in the hand required for handwriting, sports, and even holding a spoon full of food without making a sticky mess.
The advantage, of course, is he can practice those skills all he wants without you freaking out that he’ll break the toy. Blocks can take a surprising amount of abuse— and the fact that your child doesn’t hear an endless litany of ‘be careful!’ ‘stop!’ ‘you’ll hurt yourself!’ also nurtures his confidence in his abilities.
2. Blocks teach creativity.
In one afternoon, your child can create a castle, a bridge, a spaceship, or a tunnel for fire-breathing dragons. Blocks encourage him to use his imagination—especially if parents are supportive. Praise him for his efforts (‘That’s a beautiful castle!’) and join him in play. Your child will love making things with you, and your enthusiasm will fuel his and motivate him to make bigger buildings and wilder creations. Who knows, he may grow up to be an engineer!
3. Blocks teach language.
Use the blocks to teach numbers and colors (‘let’s count the red blocks!’), shapes, and even concepts (‘big, bigger, biggest.’) It also paves the way for fascinating conversations. Ask your child about who lives in the castle, or where his space ship is going and what kind of aliens it will attack. This encourages self-expression and, more importantly, shows your child that you’re interested in getting to know him and his ideas.
4. Blocks teach social skills.
Blocks are one of the few toys that are more fun when shared. Bring them out during a playdate, or teach important skills like sharing, taking turns and teamwork. Saying things like ‘Let’s make a really tall tower together!’ or ‘Can I borrow the red block, please?’ also helps him practice good manners and polite behavior.
5. Blocks teach EQ.
A lot of educational toys will teach the alphabet, numbers, and other ‘cognitive’ skills—and blocks can, too. Many of them have letters, numbers or pictures painted on the side.
However, blocks give a far more important edge in academic excellence. Studies show that the kids who succeed in school, and in life, have high emotional quotient. They have perseverance, critical thinking, curiosity, and a willingness to examine a problem from all sides. Each time a block tower falls, they have to think of a way to build it better. Each time they create a castle, they must analyze the shapes to find a way for the pieces to ‘fit’—or adjust their original ‘design’ to accommodate whatever they have.
6. Blocks build self-esteem.
Blocks give your child total control. He decides what to build and how to build it. He makes the rules, and then gets full credit for putting it together. This can be very empowering for a child, who often feels helpless: ‘Dad, can you put together the Transformer?’ or ‘Mom, the toy’s not working!’ Blocks allow him to do it all by himself. That’s a big boost for his self-esteem.
7. Blocks are great bonding tools.
Blocks are one of the few toys that appeal to all ages. Toddlers will love stacking, banging and piling them in and out of boxes. Pre-schoolers and even big kids will enjoy building complex bridges and towers. That’s why they’re great for play dates or for siblings of different ages. Your older son may not enjoy watching Barney videos with his little sister, but he may find it fun to help her make little castles (even if he uses his plastic dinosaurs to ‘invade’ her city).