The Magic of Wooden Blocks
Toddlers love Wooden Blocks. They will use these classic toys for years, first building simple stacks (or content to bang them against each other, delighted by the clicking sounds) then creating more complex structures as they grow older—castles, bridges for their cars, and houses for their favorite dolls.
Children are usually ready for their first set of blocks when they are 16 months old, well past the instinct to gnaw on anything they hold. It’s far better to buy wooden blocks then plastic ones, even if they cost more. Plastic is far too light, and the surface can be too uneven—children will only become frustrated when their miniature towers slip and fall.
Child psychologists recommend wooden blocks as a way of developing a young toddler’s hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity. As they stack the blocks, balancing one on top of the other, they develop what’s called the “fine” motor skills—the foundation for more complicated tasks like holding a pencil and other small objects. Many young toddlers also enjoy “fill and dump” play, using wooden blocks and pails or small carts.
As children grow older, the wooden blocks help build imagination and creativity. They discover that they can create their own worlds: multi-colored cities, which they can populate with their toy animals and cars. Wooden blocks also work well with sandbox play.
Many wooden blocks are painted, or are emblazoned with letters and numbers. Parents can easily turn this into an opportunity to teach these concepts, lining up blocks to spell a word, or asking children to sort the blocks: “Let’s put all the red ones together.” In fact, at the age of two, it’s advisable to start teaching toddlers how to organize items according to category—which helps build important skills like abstract thinking and comparison/contrast. Children will enjoy doing this with wooden blocks, and will actually enjoy sorting them into small boxes (yes, clean-up time can be a game!)
Parents shouldn’t be discouraged if their toddlers would rather randomly stack the blocks instead of building something (or, as is often the case, seem to get their thrills out of knocking their structures down!). There is no right or wrong way to play with blocks. Follow their lead. If they like seeing the blocks fall down, then build several small towers and give them a ball—and you have toddler bowling! And if they really enjoy stacking several blocks, then turn it into a chance to teach colors or numbers. “Let’s count how many blocks you have.” “Let’s make a red tower. Can you give me a red block?”
Another advantage of wooden blocks is that they encourage social play. Several children can enjoy playing blocks together (unlike a doll, for example, where they have to take turns using it). Bring them out during playgroups, and let them discover how to share and cooperate.
Wooden blocks are also the ideal toy for a group of children of different ages. While a two-year-old child will enjoy stacking them, a four-year-old will create towers and bridges for cars. This is a great advantage for mothers who have several kids, and need to find a way to get all of them to play together.
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