If you are reading this on a telephone, it's probably too long. The information is very useful, but trying to read it on a phone is like picking up a dime in a phone booth. Wait til you get home and can view it on a computer.
Our view of block play and the unfolding of their use as toys is probably a bit different from the view of most our customers. And sadly, we think that this often leads to bad results and unmet expectations because of this confusion. From time to time, psychologists have studied block play with children, but these studies are rarely longitudinal, that is – a study over a long elapsed time. Indeed, I don’t know of one, and have been a psychologist for nearly 50 years. But this toy is well known for keeping some children occupied for many years, their ability to fashion things or experiment with them becoming more complicated as they grow older. Individual differences notwithstanding, we think that what is important is to encourage children’s block play over five or six years.
Our customers buy blocks for children that are very young, too young. Well-to-do parents buy bigger sets, poorer ones buy smaller sets, but most of them think about this as a toy for the 3-4 year age range. In the first instance at least, this is preposterous. A three year old will enjoy blocks, but doesn’t need very many, maybe 50, and probably won’t play with them for more than 10 minutes at the maximum. If you are buying for a young child, you should start small. A beginner set is beyond ample; a smaller set is usually fine. Store the blocks on the lower shelf of a bookcase facing the play area, away from other toys, and put the smallest blocks in a plastic shoebox on the same shelf. If you are playing on carpet, get a flat piece of stiff material or some of our carpet boards. Don’t buy a crate. Use a bookshelf.
Now comes the hard part. You need to play with the blocks with your child. Not all the time, but some of the time. And it’s good to be thoughtful about what you are doing, and not merely affectionate – learn to play with blocks. It’s a cunning trick to go into a play area, get out the blocks, and start to play alone. Your child will probably be lured to the party and mimic what you do. Better yet, help build stories around what you are doing. Here’s the tower, here’s Rapulzel. After some of these sessions, you will probably find your child playing with the blocks alone and talking to itself.
An excellent idea during this period is to jointly put the blocks away, neatly by shape. The mathematical equivalence of two of this to one of that will become clear if you do this, and it’s just a great habit to encourage. Storing by shape is easy to do on a bookshelf; getting them back in a fitted crate is a chore. When you are done shelving them, the blocks are sitting there in view inviting more play.
Your goal will be to schedule a short period of play every few weeks for many months and to fill out the set with periodic additions over three or four years. It’s a great time to be gushy about things your child builds. There is no hurry. We sell many, many shapes to be found among the individual pieces that are not found it the sets themselves. We also have booster sets for specific purposes like making a fort. Your objective is to use holidays, birthdays and relatives to expand the set as your child grows older. The real age for playing with blocks is 7-9. A 7 year old needs 250-300 blocks. Your 3 year old is going to stack blocks and probably learn to name them, but if you want a rendition of a castle, you’re going to have to be patient. Your problem is to get your child engaged with the blocks over an extended time; it won’t really happen without some effort from you, but it's loads of fun.
Otherwise, what is going to happen is you are going to buy a set of blocks for a hundred dollars or so, they will get set out somewhere in your playroom. Your 3 year old will play with them a dozen times or so while they are strewn around the room, and then they will get neatly put away in a crate and not used again until you need a wedge to hold the kitchen door open a few years on. They will sit there mocking you forever because they are indestructible. But you won’t get the engagement you anticipated, an IQ bump, or the architect you were hoping for 20 years on.
Buy a small set, and then add to it.