Our view of block play and the unfolding of their use as toys is quite a bit different from the view of most our customers. And sadly, we think that this often leads to bad results and unmet expectations. From time to time, psychologists have studied block play with children, but these studies are rarely longitudinal, that is – a study of individuals evolving over a longer period of time. Scientists cannot wait around three or four years to publish. Indeed, I don’t know of a longitudinal study of block play, and have been a psychologist for nearly 50 years. But this toy is well known for keeping some children occupied for many years and their ability to fashion things or experiment with them becoming more sophisticated as they age. Children differ but Individual differences notwithstanding, we think it is important to encourage children’s block play continuously as they grow older.
Our customers often buy blocks for children that are very young. This is perfect for small sets of blocks, but not for big sets. An imaginative three year old will love blocks, but doesn’t need very many, maybe 50, and probably won’t play with them for more than 10 minutes at a time. If you have a lot of blocks and a 3-4 year old, put some of them away. If you are buying for a young child, you should start small. A beginner set is beyond ample; a smaller set is better. You should store the blocks on the lower shelf of a bookcase facing the play area, away from other toys, and put the smallest pieces and round ones 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. Leave the blocks out as much as you can stand. Don’t buy a crated set or at least lose the crate. Use a bookshelf. I hate crates.
If you bought blocks for your youngster at 3 and you child is 5 and no longer playing with them, as long as you bought real unit blocks of standard size, you can often ressurect the plan by following our advice below.
Now comes the critical part. You need to play with your youngster. Not all the time, but more than once a week for a while. And it’s good to be thoughtful about what you are doing, and not merely affectionate – learn to play with blocks yourself, it’s more complicated than you think. 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. What can we use to show her hair?” After some of these sessions, you will probably find your child playing with the blocks alone and talking to itself. This is a good thing. Your child is exercising imagination. What's to be avoided is pushing your child into playing with them by insistence. You have to lure them into getting interested.
Many people are chary of guns and armies, but GI Joe was a perfect accompanyment for standard unit blocks. Matchbox cars work well. And there are numerous dolls and figures about the size of GI Joe that will also complement what a child is doing - if you show them how.
Jointly put the blocks away, neatly, by shape. The mathematical equivalence of two of this to one of that will become clearer. It’s 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 and sure to create problems. Did I say I hated crates? When putting the blocks away on the shelf, over time, slowly switch from the child handing the blocks to you to having you hand the blocks to the child. When you are finished, the blocks will be sitting there inviting more play, not out-of-sight in a crowded crate.
Your goal will be to schedule a short period of play every few days for some weeks and thereafter. As time goes on, 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 or making roads for little cars. 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 learn to name them but if you want a rendition of a castle you’re going to have to be patient (for a couple of years). Your problem is to get your child engaged with the blocks when they are looking for something to do; it won’t really happen without some play time from you.
Otherwise, what is going to happen is you are going to buy a set of blocks for a hundred dollars or so in a crate. They will get dumped somewhere in your playroom. Your 3 year old will play with them a dozen times or so, and then they will get put away in the crate. This will repeat a few times. Then, tired of trying to get them all to fit in the crate, a puzzle in itself, they remain out-of-the-way until you need a wedge to hold a screen door open some years later. They will sit there mocking you because they are indestructible but were too expensive to throw away. You won’t get the educational engagement you anticipated, an IQ bump, or the architect you were hoping for 20 years on. You'll get a crate of blocks.
You should plan to engage you child for the long run - whatever works for you. Buy a small set for young children, and then add to it a couple of times a year. Put it on a book shelf. Play with your kid. Make a movie.