Block Play

Let’s look at block play as another example of how play supports math learning. An infant learns about shape and size as she explores blocks with her hands and mouth. A circle-shaped block has round edges whereas a square block has pointy corners. Some blocks are big and other blocks are little. Toddlers stack blocks, first one on top of another, and then more sophisticated structures over time. They explore spatial concepts such as on/off, next to, or underneath. In time, children count blocks. Or they make comparisons like “my tower is bigger than your tower.” Preschoolers also explore patterns – yellow, blue, blue, green, yellow, blue, blue, green – as they build with blocks. These are only a few examples of the many ways children include math in block play.

Free play can help children learn a great deal about math. But this doesn’t discount the importance of guided play. Between 2 and 5 years of age, children begin to express and understand relational concepts such as big/little, high/low and in/on. When adults play alongside children, they naturally use the kinds of math language children need to hear. Words like, over, under, and through, and more or less, help children learn math concepts. Block play with adults helps children to learn these mathematical concepts. Children can see what “on top of” means when you place the block as you say that. Practice with spatial concepts prepares children for later math skills such as geometry.

  • Free play
    is spontaneous, unstructured play that is child-directed
    Guided play
    is like free play, in that it's focused on what the child is interested in. But unlike free play, an adult facilitates a playful learning experience