Parents can build on preschoolers' learning with gift of blocks

November 18, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Parents looking for preschooler gift ideas will find not much else stacks up to a basic set of blocks, says a Purdue University child development expert.

"Play is an important learning activity, and young children can learn a lot through playing with blocks," says James G. Elicker, a professor of human development and family studies. "They gain hands-on experience with measuring, counting, organizing, estimating, problem solving and order. Essentially children are budding engineers, imagining things they want to build, wondering how things work, planning and constructing their own prototypes, evaluating, and refining their designs."

Elicker says even homemade block sets are fine, such as pieces of sanded scrap wood, shoeboxes, or old plastic food containers with lids. Homemade sets also might offer variety in texture and materials, as well as possibilities for children to decorate the boxes. A variety of sizes also are important, Elicker says.

"Smaller blocks help with fine motor skills and building coordination and strength in hands, and larger blocks, like the size of shoeboxes or bigger, help children with bending up and down and other gross motor skills," he says.

Because research shows that free play with blocks helps children understand science and math and expands their vocabulary, Purdue Health and Human Sciences Extension offers Block Party workshops in Indiana. Elicker consulted on this school readiness project, which organizes community Block Party events for children, ages 8 months to 8 years and their parents and child care teachers.

"Children today have scheduled lives, but they still need time to play," Elicker says. "Toys on the market even dictate how a child should play with them, so it's really important that young children have access to open-ended play materials like blocks, and the free time to play with them."

More information on Block Party events is available at

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: James G. Elicker, 765-494-2938,

Related websites:

College of Health and Human Sciences

Health and Human Sciences Extension

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