Three dimensional construction is a mainstay of the preschool curriculum. In my school we have a center for these small wooden blocks, a large muscle rug for the huge wooden blocks we call "hollow blocks", and we also stock plastic milk crates in two outdoor closets on our playground. Construction is very popular among both boys and girls. And since there has been an ongoing major construction project across the street, construction has become even more meaningful. The children see the steps of real building going on in their neighborhood.
In this photo the children have constructed a zoo. We haven't gone to the zoo (to be arranged) but when we brought out the plastic animals the children saw their opportunity and took it! Their passion is intense. They cooperate in ways that are amazing for three and four year old children. They don't stop and ask why we have blocks. The reasons to them are self-evident.
Why do we use blocks in preschool? Do children play with blocks in first, second or third grade? Why aren't we sitting them down and making them do workbooks? Why aren't we asking them to make Winter pictures of snowmen since so many children's books equate snow with Winter, regardless of the fact that many regions of the world have no snow at all? Why aren't we drilling them on letters and numbers, rewarding them with stickers for correct answers?
Because we know that what the children are passionate about are also interests that lead to a broader and richer development of their talents and abilities. What children learn through block play is how to manipulate three-dimensional objects in space. They learn to visualize what they want to accomplish before they even take out a single block. The more practice they have, the more accurate their visualizations become. Over time their creations become more complex and intricate, not to mention surprisingly skilled. They are practicing Spatial intelligence. Schools beyond preschool have traditionally neglected it (see the above link). These skills are devalued by traditional schools when they could become an integral part of a child's future. This is a vacuum in education that needs to be filled.
Kindergarten, first and second grade are still considered early childhood by all experts in the field. Yet recess drops to almost zero, children are asked to sit still way too much for their growing bodies and intelligences, and they are asked to do work and take tests that have no relevance to their actual futures. Learning is dynamic. Children are active learners who have all of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences in their growing brains and bodies. Let's continue to exploit these intelligences into the early elementary school years. They will learn to read and write and compute, but they will do so in an organic way that includes engagement and interest in truly creative work