It might be surprising to learn that one of the most powerful tools for teaching children during early development is the humble building block. And yet, according to Cynthia Willmarth, Early Education Quality Coach for Child Care Aware (CCA) of Kentucky at the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute (HDI), they can have a profound impact on children in their earliest years.
“If you look at an early childhood curriculum, we talk about cognitive development, which is language, science, math, and all those things. We talk about social/emotional development, which includes learning to take turns, cooperate, being part of a social group, and physical development, which is both large motor and small motor,” Willmarth said. According to Willmarth, blocks can help young children learn every one of these concepts. She compared blocks, which allow for endless creativity to something like a puzzle, which only has one solution.
The Block Project aims to help early childhood educators harness the power of that tool. Funded by the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood through the 0-5 Early Childhood Regional Collaborative with support from CCA Coaches, this effort is a model for partnership and teamwork. Mary Howard, HDI’s Division Director for Early Childhood, says, “This was a wonderful collaboration that built on our community partnerships in the region. A great opportunity for our CCA coaches to expand the knowledge of child care providers while also modeling locally and nationally a way to build strong partnerships that benefit all”.
Child Care Aware coaches developed a curriculum around blocks, shared ways to make an effective block center, identified the kind of materials that go in block centers and discussed the teacher’s role. “But it’s not so simple as putting a bunch of wooden blocks on the floor and letting kids do what they will. You need the proper equipment and the proper training. To get a set of unit blocks or a set of hollow blocks with the necessary shelves for proper organization and storage, you’re looking at probably $1,000…if you have ten classrooms, that’s $10,000,” Willmarth said.
There are many times that a federal program will provide a quality set of blocks and everything you need to make them work…but not the training to understand how to unlock their full potential. According to Linda Fowles, an Early Education Safety Coach with Child Care Aware, that training is essential too. “I don’t think they do understand the potential of the materials,” Fowles said.
This is a big part of what makes the Block Project special – most trainings do not provide the materials, and often when schools receive funding for blocks, the training to use them correctly doesn’t come with it. The Block Project provides both. “I think that’s why this project left such an impression,” Fowles said. “That was another very important component of this training, to share simple information and simple concepts with them. Not only did they receive these expensive materials…the teachers also learned these very simple concepts.”
The results, Fowles said, spoke for themselves. “They were stunned at how much the children enjoyed playing in the blocks,” she said. “They were so impressed with it that they talked to their school administrators about ordering more sets of blocks for other classrooms. Until they were exposed to this project, they didn’t realize the importance of these materials.”
Almost 20 different programs have participated in the Block Project, each receiving at least $1,000 worth of materials.
Learn more about early childhood education in Kentucky at the following websites.
Child Care Aware of Kentucky at childcareawareky.org.
Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and Regional Collaboratives at kyecac.ky.gov