by Indre Page
The Free Library of Philadelphia recently received wooden block sets for preschool programming from the State Library of Pennsylvania. To prepare for this new programming, children’s librarians from across the city participated in a workshop led by Peg Szczurek, Associate Director of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC). While librarians stacked, sorted, balanced, and knocked over wooden blocks of all shapes and sizes, Peg Szczurek offered scholarly research and professional advice about wooden block play and early literacy. Through this first-hand experience, we made several discoveries: playing with wooden blocks is joyful, some librarians like to share while others do not, and learning through play—even for grown-ups—is very important.
Simple toys engage children in the kind of play that encourages early literacy skills. Unlike toys with batteries, wooden blocks are open-ended and offer opportunities for creative thinking, critical thinking, and problem-solving. As educators focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) in the curriculum, block play is the perfect introduction to these subjects for preschool age children. Simple math concepts like classification, sorting, and comparison of shape and size, as well as large motor skills and hand-eye coordination, are fundamental to wooden block play. Collaboration (sharing), research (if this does not work, will this work instead?), and proper care and handling of materials (no throwing, clean up and put away) are vital elements of block play that will help prepare children for the skills they need in Kindergarten.
Wooden Block Party programming at the Parkway Central Children’s Department began in January. In addition to wooden blocks, we received toy cars, people, and animal figures to extend the learning experience. Wooden blocks can become useful tools when accessories are added, teaching children about simple technology and engineering. For example, a truck needs a ramp to reach the long highway stretching across the room, the fireman needs a ladder to reach the cat in the tree, and the girl on a unicorn needs a bridge to cross the river. These additional accessories promote storytelling and collaboration. Learning can be further extended by offering books and storytime. Clearly, one of the greatest benefits of block play is the important parent-child interaction that occurs when parents bring their children to block parties at the Free Library and get down on the floor to play together.
But best of all, wooden block programming supports the concept of play as integral to childhood. At the Free Library, children from all backgrounds can find access to open-ended toys that encourage early literacy. Wooden blocks made from natural materials and high-quality accessories, coupled with stories to inspire the imagination, turn the public library into a magical place. Here, the Empire State Building and the Great Pyramid of Giza are connected by a long road on which dinosaurs lumber alongside farm animals while fire engines whiz past.
Won’t you join us at the Central Children’s Department for our next monthly block party on March 25th? Who knows what we’ll build together!
Indre Page is completing a Masters of Library and Information Science Internship in the Parkway Central Children’s Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia. When she is not at work you can find her at her local library with her kids! One of her favorite books is The Little Saint by Georges Simenon. She will graduate in May 2017.