Monday, November 28, 2011

"Block Centers"? How About Just Letting Kids Play?

A "Block Center". I kid you not.
Growing up, I spent many, many happy hours with a set of blocks that my parents had somehow acquired. Blocks are great, for obvious reasons. You can make anything with them. They're large enought to build something big, but no so big as to be unwieldy.
So, it was only natural that as my own children began to grow older, I wanted them to have a set of blocks like I did. Not so simple. They really weren't all that easy to find, and the sets that were available were incredibly expensive. And, the kids didn't really clamor for them, so I let it go.
Some years later, when I built a cedar deck in front of my house, I didn't know what to do with the leftover pieces of wood from the construction. I had no real use for them, but I couldn't bring myself to throw them out. Then it hit me: make them into blocks - which is exactly what I did. A while later, I was left with squares, triangles, rectangles of various shapes and sizes. (it might have been better if they were uniform, but beggars can't be choosers), and over time - much spent in front of football games - I sanded the blocks down to make them safe. Today, we've got a huge tub of blocks which my children don't always play with, but return to from time to time.
I mention all this because it seems that I'm ahead of my time, at the forefront of educational theory. None other than the "Grey Lady" herself reported today on the growing trend of "Block Centers" cropping up in schools. Gushes the times,'
Eva Moskowitz, the former city councilwoman who runs a fast-growing network of charter schools, said her schools had created a “religion around blocks,” and she proudly advertises their fully outfitted block labs alongside the chess program and daily science classes. The International School of Brooklyn is developing a program using blocks to reinforce foreign-language acquisition. And Avenues, the for-profit school scheduled to open next year in Greenwich Village, is devoting a large section of its kindergarten floor to a block center. 
Really? Block centers? Block religion? Block consultants?
I guess it's a good thing that people think kids should play with blocks. They engender creativity and imagination, which seem in short supply today, in a world full of single-purpose construction toys (think Legos intended to make a specific thing) and video games. But do we really need to professionalize playing with blocks into "block related study"? Honestly, not everything requires categorization and quantification. Kids need to play. They need to use their imaginations to expand their own horizons. And blocks are a great way to do that, whether it's in school, or at home.
Recently, my six-year-old was playing with his Playmobil soldiers (which he's crazy about), but ran into a roadblock. How could he hide his soldiers from each other as they battled it out? I suggested that he take the blocks and build them a fort. His face lit up, and before long, soldiers of one kind were attacking enemy forces hunkered down in a makeshift, crude, block fort.
Perhaps I should open a side business as a "block consulatant?" Actually, I doubt that would work here. In Israel, we just call it "playing."
So, if you're considering what to buy your child for Chanukah, perhaps instead of the new video games for the Wii or a video he or she is pining for, consider buying them a set of blocks. Not only will you be getting them a great toy. You'll also be an "educational trendsetter".