This lost art is a key learning toolphotos courtesy of Barbara Abel When children build with blocks, they are learning to solve problems and think differently.
Sometimes, a block is just a block. But place one in the hands of a preschooler, and it's a world of learning.
"People just don't understand the value of blocks," says Barbara Abel, assistant director of the infant-toddler program at Chicago Public School's National Teachers Academy. "It's the one material we have that covers all the curriculum areas: math, science, literacy and social studies."
Abel, a block expert, began her career at the Bank Street College preschool program in New York where she did block research. She spoke recently at the first installment of a series on play and architecture sponsored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.
The beauty of blocks is the ultimate freedom it gives a child to make decisions, Abel says. Not even LEGO compares. "There is greater freedom with blocks," says Abel. "Children are the architects, they are the problem solvers.
"At the heart of block building, in terms of cognitive development, is problem solving," she says.
Each child goes through distinct developmental stages with block building beginning as toddlers.
"Every school has blocks, but they don't have enough of them because few teachers realize what they can do with them," Abel says.
Children can continue to learn from blocks into 6th grade and beyond, she says.
And the effects of block building can last a lifetime. Famed architect Wright credits Froebel Building Blocks with developing his love of building and structure. For parents who want more information, Abel recommends The Block Book by Elizabeth Hirsch.
The final Wright workshop on play and architecture is still open for parents and children ages 4 and older from 9-11 a.m. April 24 at Longfellow School, 715 S. Highland Ave., Oak Park. Cost is $5 a person, not to exceed $15 a family. For reservations, call (708) 848-1976.