Blocks have been standard equipment in early childhood education for over one hundred years. Blocks are appealing to children and invite open-ended exploration. When children build with blocks, they progress in each area of development.
Social-emotional – During block play, opportunities for collaboration are abundant. Children negotiate the use of materials, share ideas, and learn how to play together safely. The conflicts that arise during block play allow children to learn to consider the points of view of others and appreciate the value of working together.
Physical – Blocks are made for moving. Large hollow blocks provide opportunities for building large motor strength. Small muscles and coordination is strengthened as children place blocks together carefully as they create intricate designs. Hand-eye coordination is improved as children balance blocks so that they will not tumble.
Language and Literacy – The social aspect of block play creates many opportunities for children to talk about their constructions as play scenarios unfold. Adults can show genuine interest in children’s building and model listening skills. Adults can share new words as children describe what they are doing. Making signs for buildings are ways to practice emerging writing skills.
Cognitive – Children construct new knowledge when children connect new experiences to what they already know about the world. Children “play about” what they know about. Reenacting scenarios and creating structures allows abstract thinking to develop. Essential concepts in math, physics, and other science concepts are learned in the block area. Selecting, building, organizing, and putting away blocks promotes understanding of size, shape, number, order, area, length, patterns, weight, balance, and cause and effect.
When children engage in dramatic play, they deepen their understanding of the world and develop social skills that will aid them throughout their lives. When children engage in dramatic play, they progress in each area of development.
Social-Emotional – During dramatic play children have to negotiate and compromise with others. Children recreate life experiences and explore the different social roles and emotions that go along with them. Children learn to work with others, control impulses, and empathize.
Physical – Children develop fine motor skills when using costumes and props (buttoning, snapping, etc.) Dramatic play helps develop eye-hand coordination and visual discrimination.
Language and Literacy – During dramatic play children use language to explain what they are doing and to ask and answer questions. They must use the appropriate vocabulary that fits the roles they are playing. Children use reading and writing skills when literacy props are included.
Cognitive – When children are pretending, they create pictures in their minds. These images are a form of abstract thinking. Children learn from one another as they share ideas and solve problems together. The dramatic play area is one of the best ways to find out what children know and how they are thinking. Activities like setting a table or using play money to purchase food helps children form initial math concepts.
Toys and Games
Toys and games include manipulatives, puzzles, collections, and other games that children can play at a table, on the floor, or on a dividing shelf. Loose parts also provide opportunities to create games and play scenarios. Toys and games may be played alone, with another child, with a teacher, or in a small group. Toys and games provide opportunities for following rules, manipulating small materials, and practicing early academic skills.
Social-Emotional – When children engage in toys and games they learn to cooperate with others by sharing and taking turns. Children develop confidence when they successfully use self-correcting toys (puzzles, sorting boards, stacking rings, etc.). Playing games also allows children to understand what rules are and how rules relate to fairness.
Physical – Children practice eye-hand coordination when playing toys and games. Children also have the opportunity to refine small-muscle skills when stringing beads or building with interlocking pieces.
Language and Literacy – Children use words to explain what they’re doing when putting a puzzle together or sorting a collection of objects. They compare, develop reading skills, and explore letters and words while using toys and games.
Cognitive – Play with loose parts helps children experiment with construction, visual discrimination, and sorting and classifying. Counting, matching, patterning and important early math skills supported through this play.
Art is an area filled with materials that children can enjoy on a purely sensory level. Children can create and represent their ideas in a visual form. Children can choose what they’d like to do (draw, paint, knead, cut, etc.) Sometimes, children simply explore the materials and other times they create designs or make something to represent something real. Art is another language children use to express their feelings and what they know. When children engage in art, they deepen their understanding of the world and develop skills that will aid them throughout their lives.
Social-Emotional – Art allows children to express their ideas and feelings. Children can reflect their thoughts, emotions, originality, and individuality in their art by choosing their color, texture, and media.
Physical – Art involves fine-motor skills such as tearing paper or using scissors. These fine-motor skills help develop the skill and control they need for writing. Working at an easel supports large motor development and spatial awareness.
Language and Literacy – Children can talk about what they’re doing and respond to questions about their creations. Teachers can write down what the children say about their art. Art fosters vocabulary development as children learn technical words like sculpture, palette, clamp, etc.
Cognitive – Children can translate their ideas and feelings into art by using thinking skills to plan, organize, select media, and represent their impressions. Children experiment with colors, lines, shape, sizes, etc. Children participate in making choices, trying ideas, planning, experimenting, cause and effect, and trial and error. Children paint, draw, and sculpt what they know – so art is a great way for teachers to better understand their thinking and learning.
The library area is an important support for literacy and social emotional development. It should be an attractive area with soft furniture, picture books, and writing materials. Choosing favorite books to read and re-read instills motivation for ongoing reading and writing. When children engage in library time, they deepen their understanding of the world and develop skills that will aid them throughout their lives.
Social-Emotional – Children can learn about people who are similar and different from them. They are comforted by knowing others have similar experiences and fears similar to their own. Children develop empathy for those who have challenges that make life difficult. Children learn other social skills as they share books, reenact stories, and write messages.
Physical – Children strengthen their hand muscles when they use tools for writing and illustrating. They use eye muscles as they follow the pictures and words in books.
Language and Literacy – All aspects of language can be strengthened in the Library area. When children experience new stories, they learn new words, and their comprehension grows. Children develop phonological awareness when they hear and explore sounds. Children learn how to follow the directions of print on a page. Children use language in a meaningful way when they dictate or scribble messages.
Cognitive – Books help children develop a better understanding of the world around them. Children begin to interpret symbols, make predictions, and think about cause and effect. Children make connections between the story and what they already know. Children learn to relate story events in a particular sequence. Through books, children develop understanding about counting, numeral recognition, color, size, and shape.
Children wonder about the world around them. The Discovery area is a place to find the answers to their questions. It’s a place to spark children’s curiosity. Children use their senses to touch, feel, taste, smell, and see. Children act on objects and observe what happens. Teachers can help nurture children’s excitement by joining them in the Discovery area, posing questions, and wondering aloud.
Social-Emotional – Children learn to work together as they explore, make discoveries, and solve problems. Children take care of living things and learn classroom rules for using materials safely and responsibly.
Physical – Children develop fine-motor skills when using eyedroppers or tweezers. They develop dexterity and eye-hand coordination when as they turn, take apart, and pick up items. Children develop other fine-motor skills by measuring, squeezing, rolling and stretching playdough. They strengthen their gross-motor skills by pulling the rope on a pulley, creating shadows on the wall with their bodies, or running in place before checking their pulses.
Language and Literacy – When children make discoveries they want to share their findings with others, talk about their investigations, ask questions, and share their experiences. They use new words to describe things. Using books and other texts, children find out about topics that interest them.
Cognitive – Children use process skills when they observe and ask questions. Observing plants and animals allows children to make predictions about how they change, move, and react to different conditions. Children organize information when they classify, compare, measure, count, and graph objects. They represent their findings by drawing, writing, and creating models.
Sand and Water
Playing with sand and water involves sensory experiences that are very appealing to children. Children need little introduction to these materials. Sand and water can both delight and challenge children’s minds. When children engage with sand and water, they access new information and progress within all the domains of development.
Social-Emotional – Sand and water inspire children to work together. These materials can calm a child who is agitated or upset. When children play with sand and water they often express their thoughts and feelings.
Physical – Children strengthen their small muscles as they mold and scoop. They develop fine-motor skills and eye-hand coordination while working with props (funnel, sieve, etc.) They build gross-motor skills as they carry buckets of sand or water outdoors.
Language and Literacy – Children expand their vocabularies as they learn new words such as “grainy” and “sprinkle.” They build emerging literacy skills as they write letters or use alphabet molds. Children ask and answer questions while performing experiments.
Cognitive – Sand and water are natural companions in scientific explorations. They engage children in observing, classifying, comparing, measuring, and solving problems. Children learn about volume, capacity, and cause and effect while playing with sand and water.
Music and Movement
Music naturally delights and interests children. Music provides an outlet for children’s high spirits and creative energy. Music and movement help develop both sides of the brain. When children engage in music and movement, they deepen their understanding of the world and develop skills that will aid them throughout their lives.
Social-Emotional – Music and movement allows children to think of themselves as part of a group. Different kinds of music evoke different feelings and actions. Children use their bodies to express different kinds of emotions. Sharing a song or dance learned at home helps children feel good about themselves and their cultures. They develop social skills by playing musical games that require simple cooperation.
Physical – Children build their gross-motor development and explore the many ways their bodies can move. Children can improve their large-muscle skills, balance, and coordination through movement activities. Small- muscle skills strengthen as they learn fingerplays and play musical instruments.
Language and Literacy – Children develop and refine their listening skills as they notice changes in the music and have to adapt their dancing or clapping accordingly. They learn new words and concepts through songs and movement. They practice following directions by responding to chants and songs. They develop phonological awareness by playing with the sounds and rhythms of language. They learn concepts of print as they look at words of their favorite songs on charts and in books.
Cognitive – Children solve problems while engaged in music and movement. They use logic and reasoning skills. Children create patterns, learn about number concepts, and think symbolically.