Classic Wooden Blocks for Children
Wooden building blocks are the
premier educational toy. Few playthings come close. Their
long pedigree, according to Witold Rybczynski, can be dated to
(at least) the end of the 18th century:
mention of building bricks for children that I have come across
is in Maria and R.L. Edgeworth's 'Practical Education',
published in 1798. It is no coincidence that this is a
pedagogical text, since building toys were, from the beginning,
not merely for fun. Building bricks were called "rational" toys,
and they were intended to teach children about assembling many
small different parts into a whole, about gravity and physics,
and about how buildings were made. John Ruskin, referring to the
Edgeworths, wrote that thanks to his wooden toy bricks - 'my
constant companions' - by the time he was seven or eight years
old he had mastered 'the laws of practical stability in towers
and arches". That would have been about 1825. Twenty years
later, Henry Cole's famous series of Victorian children's books,
'The Home Treasury', included a box of terra-cotta toy bricks
that was accompanied by actual building plans contained in a
pamphlet titled 'Architectural Pastime'.
(Witold Rybczynski in
"Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture," Penguin (1992)
Simon Schama also mentions Henry Cole,
the inventor of the Christmas Card, as an early promoter of
building blocks made of ceramic. Others credit Caroline
Pratt, who encouraged the development of kindergarten in the
early part of the 20th century. Ms. Pratt's wooden blocks were
the precursor of those in current use in Kindergarten and
Preschool. Finally, there is also a loose connection to
Fredrick Froebel, a mid 19th century German educator who
developed simple sets of
wooden blocks for research purposes. (Still, children love
to play with cut-offs and other fall. The evolution of
Unit Blocks is probably more prosaic, the true inventor a
nameless zimmerman, and there is little doubt that children have
been playing with these bits since time immemorial).
"unit" concept continued to evolve into such famous
offshoots as Erector Sets, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, and
K'NEX. These are the survivors among hundreds of other
innovative, though less successful unit construction toys that
have passed from the scene. This scaling idea is ubiquitous:
addition and multiplication objectified, and the term
"building blocks" has become a cliché for the modular
concept in general . . . there are "building
blocks" for computer programs, mental health,
school programs, lesson plans, nutrition, . . . whenever
someone wishes to impart the idea of an organizational
"building blocks" concept is invoked.
Ours are the
wooden building blocks of legend. Kids love them and they
teach a basic idea of life. You can't buy a
wooden blocks are hard and stout and made to the customary
school size blocks from a heavy, fine-grained hardwood.
But the term hardwood isn't very informative - it refers to the tree
being an angiosperm. Many hardwoods are soft (like Aspen or Balsa)
and many softwoods (gymnosperms - like Fir and Pine) are quite hard.
It isn't a question of blocks being made of hardwood, but of a
hard hardwood. The
premium choice is the American Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) which
has been used for years for floors, bowling alleys, and countertops.
The downside is that Hard Maple is a premium hardwood and this kind
of quality comes at a price. Other "hardwoods" are much
cheaper. The term hardwood by itself is meaningless and does
not mean that the wood is "hard."
An additional virtue of Rock
Maple is that the blocks are fine grained. For example, Oak and
Walnut are very hard hardwoods, but they tend to have large
pores which result in very rough blocks. The Soft Maples (Red
Maple, Silver Maple, Big leaf Maple. Western Maple) have a
similar color and texture to Hard Maple, but these woods are
materially lighter and softer than Hard maple.
Wood blocks take a terrible pounding over a lifetime and
there is no substitute for quality. Hard Maple is the best. Hard
Maple blocks get the job done and they last. That's
why Rock Maple has been the
woodworker's choice for
Unit Blocks for 100 years.
Sugar Maple (Hard maple) is
a uniquely North American tree - it only grows in the eastern US
and Canada. It is noted for its spectacular colors in the fall
so familiar to the residents of Vermont and New Hampshire. The
Canadians put it on their flag. Europeans substitute European
Beech which is a little lighter and a little softer. Asian
Blocks tend to be significantly lighter and softer.
Our blocks are all
the same scale, regardless of the material.
Blocks should be softened (rounded) on the edges and corners
in order to avoid splinters and a good kit has a wide range of
shapes, all carefully cut to a single scale. There should be a sufficient
rectangles for walls and foundations, but there should also
block shapes -
arches, wedges, and square and round columns. You can't
build anything interesting with rectangles alone.
blocks are completely uncoated. In times past, manufacturers
painted their "seconds" bright colors and made a virtue out of
necessity, but these days painted and colored blocks are viewed
by many people with suspicion. Most of these painted toys come
with little assurance that the paint is safe, and under the best
of circumstances this means only that they are absent lead or
heavy metals - not that the paint is edible.
Other chemicals may be used to treat imported blocks.
Rubberwood, for example, is soaked in Borates during the logging
stage, a family of relatively benign insecticides that easily
dissolve in water or perspiration. Though Borates occur in
many domestic products including detergent, eye wash, and cockroach
powder, and this is not considered harmful by the government - we
think that giving children blocks soaked in bug poison is stretching
the envelope. Our Hard Maple Unit blocks
aren't soaked in, painted, or coated with anything. Nada.
If you are buying our Rubberwood economy blocks from Melissa and
Doug, however, you might want to consider these facts about
Rubberwood or other imported products on this site and elsewhere.
Children enjoy these classic toys for years. They will
begin to play with blocks at an early age and they will continue
playing with them until the age of 9 or 10. Around the age of
4, kids are introduced to
big blocks in school. Teachers like them because
blocks encourage imagination, eliciting it from inside
rather than supplying it from outside. The stores are full of
brightly colored plastic toys that are imaginative for your
child . . . trying to stuff them full of ideas like intellectual
sausages. But it's the child that needs the imagination, not
the toy. Allowed to play freely, children spontaneously create
things ranging from profound to hilarious. Blocks
are a medium for this kind of expression. Kids' engagement
wooden blocks goes through a number of stages. At the
youngest ages, children turn the different
shapes in their hands and look at them. They also show them
to their parents, learn the names, and evidence interest in how
they fit together. After a time, children will begin to sit on
the floor and stack them into small towers. During this period,
learning the ideas of balancing, bridging, and bracing is a key
accomplishment. Next, children begin to make walls, and
following this, four walls with a roof. By the age of 3-1/2,
children will be able to make taller towers, balance a wider
block on top of a narrow one, and can make vaguely
identifiable structures like skyscrapers. They also like to
make roads and drive small cars on them. Maybe more important,
kids from the earliest age are attracted by blocks and their
play evolves over the years so that blocks evince an
extraordinary range of appeal across age groups.
The peak age
toy unit blocks is 4-8. Children will often come across
these large blocks at quality
pre-schools and kindergartens and will yearn for some at
home. Unfortunately, the small
wooden blocks available in
toy stores are nearly useless as they are too light and too
small to be stable. Children can build amazing structures if
given a wide range of
shapes and sizes, but the shapes must be substantial enough
to stand firmly. Interest in them may taper off a bit after the
age of about 9, but many children will haul out their
wooden blocks on a rainy day, and will frequently help
younger siblings accomplish tasks that they have mastered at an
This range of play is important. If you will
look at your youngster's toys, you will realize that there are
very few of them that show this extended span of interest - a
toy that will engage a child's interest for eight or ten years.
We like all kinds of toys here, but we notice that they tend to get a few months
of play and then they break or disappear.
If you ask yourself how much play time you get for your dollar,
children's building blocks begin to look economical
indeed. Building block toys and kids construction toys can
survive generations of use.
The best storage for
wooden blocks is a small bookcase. Simple bookshelves from
Wal-Mart and elsewhere are excellent for storage and your blocks
won't become mixed with other toys. Even the smallest bookcase
will store a lot of
blocks as they stack together tightly. Rolling plastic
carts from Wal-Mart and elsewhere will also serve, but there are
important lessons to be learned in putting the blocks away by
shape, it is far easier to use the blocks when they don't all
have to be dumped out on the floor, and a simple bookcase is the
We also make and sell a variety of
wooden craft parts for artists and schools including
squares, disks, and other items designed for craft
craft cubes and other craft parts are especially useful for
making cube puzzles and other picture puzzles.
Take the time
to explore our web site. It has over 165 pages showing pictures
famous buildings in general,
how to order, details and frequently asked questions, a page
for school officials, a page for ordering our free catalog, a
page of links to
architecture sites, school sites, and other
toy stores, a page explaining
how to make your own blocks, and pages for
block kits, and even recipes. We know you are impatient . .
. everybody on the internet is impatient. But even if you're
not ready to buy
blocks, we think you'll find our site informative.
Copyright 2010 Barclay Wood Toys and Blocks,
207 N Main St.
Hebron, IN 46341