Imagining Stories with Blocks
Hard blocks. Soft blocks. Nature blocks. Cardboard blocks. Window blocks. The possibilities and options are endless! Even though there are many different kinds of blocks you can include in your block makerspace the one thing that is certain is that blocks are a powerful tool for children to use when playing and making their own stories.
Several years ago, we had the great privilege of hosting Dr. Walter Drew, creator of Dr. Drew’s blocks, to our school district to train our PreK teachers on the benefits of block play. Our teachers engaged in collaborative and independent play sessions and after given time to play and make a structure, what was really fascinating to us was what happened when the teachers began to share. They began describing relaxing scenes of beach cruise getaways and even wizards flying in a game of Quidditch just to name of few. What was fascinating was that every one in the room shared a STORY! Some were fictional and some were based on their own memories, but a narrative was attached to each making experience.
A collaborative story made by teachers about an exciting game of Quidditch
When reflecting on observing both children and adults engage in the making process with blocks, it always reminds me of a quote I heard from one of Adam Savage’s annual talks at the Maker Faire. He said, “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals; we use tools and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.”
Allowing children to imagine possibilities using blocks, giving them time to play and explore the material unleashes the child’s creativity to make a story. This takes away the fear of writing and the fear of facing a blank page.
Many of our teachers were already aware of the mathematics and scientific reasoning benefits that are introduced to children through block play. They had established block centers in each of their classrooms and had a variety of materials. Therefore, most of our teachers began StoryMaking using this material they were comfortable with in their classrooms.
At the beginning of the year, children were playing and making in the block area with cardboard blocks and soft blocks. This teacher decided to place these types of blocks first in the space for safe block play.
If you listen carefully, children already narrate what is happening in their imaginations when they play. However, when you introduce a new purpose to their play such as, “Did you know that you could make stories when you play with your blocks?” their play becomes more intentional. Stories emerge and stories begin to blossom in all their play experiences.
Anabel makes a park and bounce house out of wood blocks to tell her story about going to a recent birthday party.
Throughout the year, we change the materials and type of blocks in the makerspace to match the topic of study and to keep the space engaging to the children. For example, when children are studying about nature, we will include log blocks, sticks and window specimen blocks to place objects found in nature inside to inspire their StoryMaking.
Sticks and wood pieces are a nice free material to include in your building makerspace to inspire stories about nature.
When children transition into studying about water, we might include water window blocks or tape pictures of water scenes onto the wood blocks.
A story about a kayaking experience inspired by a water picture on the block and colored window blocks newly placed in the building makerspace.
Later in the year, children explore structures and buildings. Therefore, depending on the interest of the children in the classroom many teachers transform this space and establish other building makerspaces to include cardboard boxes, Dr. Drew’s blocks, and Kapla blocks for making.
Lailah makes a story about a castle using Dr. Drew blocks
Adding cardboard materials introduces a new type of building material for children to play and make stories.
The final unit that our PreK children studied is light and shadows. Translucent blocks on light tables, hard blocks covered in foil and adding reflective loose parts have inspired a variety of stories ranging from events that occur during a specific time of day to match the light that they used to creating robots inspired by their new reflective materials.
Building on light tables is another way to inspire StoryMaking and keep building opportunities engaging throughout the year.
One important thing to make block play a successful StoryMaking experience is to observe the engagement in the area. If you see that interest is waning than it might be time to change up the area by adding a new material or loose part to spark new interest and curiosity in the area. You can even go vertical or introduce a completely different kind of building material!
Changing the makerspace to include vertical building opportunities can reengage children to come back and play and make stories.
Fernando makes a story about a new game he created and how to play.
Whatever type of blocks you choose to begin with is up to you! There is no wrong in what material you choose to begin StoryMaking with your children. It is a natural process for us as humans to share stories when we make something meaningful to us. Blocks are just one simple, but powerful material that allows our children’s imagination to come to life. They can see their character, the setting and even specific events they imagined in their mind represented in the blocks they made. The physical representation helps the child to remember the story and then can more confidently take that story to paper when they are ready.
Children use their documentation of what they made in blocks to help them recall their story and write.
When we provide open-ended materials such as blocks to our children and introduce a new purpose to their play, they begin to make the stories of the lives they live and the stories of their imaginations.
After a year of StoryMaking, El’Rey gathers materials around the room to make a story about using a catapult out of blocks, wood slices and other loose parts.
Happy StoryMaking with blocks!