by Meredith Flory

 

Regardless of an ever growing field of competition from technology, character branding or trendy looks, toys in the category of building blocks have maintained their appeal for generations.  In addition to simply being fun, building sets challenge imagination and learning.  When organizing a child’s room or play area, building toys make a great center focus.

Why are building toys so important?

There are a variety of toys that fall into the building category, so finding the one that works for your family may be a process that considers the age of the children, interests, space available and goals. Options for challenging a child’s thinking by inviting them to create structures include sets with pieces that encourage further thinking about science. Sets that require more active play, such as gears or marble runs and those that engage children in art and design such as traditional wooden blocks are a wonderful option too – any of these toys are challenging children in a variety of ways, both artistic and scientific.

While many sets have specific instructions, blocks encourage open ended play, rather than play that follows a set script such as many electronic games and toys that encourage simple reenactment of something they’ve seen.  Open ended play allows children to focus on creating and problem solving as they go along in choosing structural and design elements, and this is incredibly important for a generation of children that finds much of their time overly structured.  Carrie Koerber, Children’s Librarian for the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library system points out that “children use tactile skills and their creativity when they work with Legos®. They learn to work with their hands and use their imagination to make their creations.” The ARCPLS offers a club as part of its children’s programming, and Koerber shares that, “it is amazing the many different creations that we see that the kids make. For example, some of our kids make animals… and some make houses or miniature cities. It is a fantastic way for the library to foster creativity in children.  I think parents might not expect how creative their children really can be! Many parents are amazed at what their children can imagine and bring to life…”

Blocks also help bridge a gap between structured learning and imaginative free play.  At times blocks encourage open ended play, but parents can create challenges and games as well, such as seeing who can build the tallest tower with small children or building working machines with teens.  A simple Google or Pinterest search will pull up a number of already created activities for any subject or age range.  I found that Lego® Duplos® were a great way to teach counting, colors and comparative words (e.g. smallest, biggest) to my children.  Koerber pointed out that building clubs and other activities are, “really wonderful at building the “engineering” skills that are included in STEM learning”  and that “in such a technology centered culture, the LEGO® program gives children a chance to “unplug” and use their brains to make new creations.”

Another, perhaps unforeseen, positive aspect of building play is that block toys encourage intergenerational interaction, whether it’s putting together a difficult set, playing a game or crafting a marble run.  Building toys have been around for generations and appeal to multiple age groups, so they are a great way to get grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents and different aged siblings playing together.

Local Opportunities for Building Play

There are opportunities to build more fun at Brickz 4 Kidz, the Home Depot building workshops and LEGOLand Discovery Center Atlanta.  According to Koerber, the Augusta Library was able to begin the Lego® Club as part of a grant that allowed the library to purchase sets. For more information on the various clubs they offer, visit www.arcpls.org.

Dana Peterson, the Young Adult Librarian, advises that while there isn’t a building toy specific program for teens, many of their activities, such as a summer bottle cap mural project “requires similar planning skills”.  Teens can become involved with the Teen Advisory Group (TAG) to share their ideas for activities and learn about volunteer opportunities.

Encouraging Reading through Building

If you have a child that has developed an interest in building sets, use that interest to encourage more reading.  If your child spends time building castles and towers, looks for picture books on medieval castle life.  If they are building spaceships and rockets, suggest science fiction for children or non-fiction titles on life as an astronaut.  For those building machines and mazes, look for books with Rube Goldberg machines or that go behind the scenes of how things work.  Koerber shared that “by attending one of our programs, the chances of a child checking out a book increases,” and that librarians showcase books on the topic of the program to entice reluctant readers.  For example, available for checkout are handbooks for building with Legos® as well as fiction works centered around mini-figure characters such as Legos®: Legends of Chima.  At a similar program, my daughter and I were introduced to books by Kevin Hall. One of my favorite series right now are the adorable picture books by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts focusing on girls building and inventing with titles such as Rosie Revere, Engineer.  Peterson echoed that building projects may be a way into reading for teens too and suggested titles like Physics Projects for Young Scientists by Adams and Goodwin for non-fiction and Cinder by Marissa Meyer or Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza.

This article appears in the August 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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