Block play can mix creativity with mathematical problem-solving

PIP Stage Design

Block play allows a child to mix creativity with mathematical problem-solving, says Anne O’Connor…

Seb, aged three, is playing at home with his mother. He has built a structure out of wooden bricks and has added a road track, cars and small world figures to his building. His mother responds to his directions as he creates a dramatic scenario for their play. He talks about what he is doing and his reasons, describing his thought processes as he finds a better brick for the fireman’s pole and when he is hunting for exactly the right brick to fill in the gap along the top.

He knows he needs a matching ‘half brick’ to create the right hexagonal shape and tells his mother he is looking for a ‘partner’ for the one that he has in his hand.

When the building work is completed, he drives cars along the road to the tunnel and dictates to his mother (the gatekeeper) the words that she must use before the cars are allowed forward. She is uncertain whether the car can fit through the tunnel, but Seb judges it with perfect accuracy.


1 Playing with bricks is an activity that all children enjoy and is valuable for their learning.

In this brief play sequence, Seb is using his creativity and imagination to invent a dramatic scenario as well as employing mathematical and spatial awareness to solve problems and test out his hunches.

The work of the Froebel Block play Research Group and the resulting book Exploring Learning: Young children and block play (Paul Chapman) are very valuable resources in helping us understand the importance of children’s block play.

Ideally, most settings will have available a complete set of unit blocks, but Seb is playing here with the random mix of building and alphabet blocks that children are more likely to have in their homes…

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Article written by Anne O’Connor and published in Nursery World ©

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