We love blocks at our house. We have so many different versions, including ones that have the Periodic Table of Elements on the sides. I always keep blocks in my classroom to help kids decompress after a lot of academic work. It truly seems to work. Even after about fifteen minutes of playing with Equilibrio, Twig, or some other building activity, the child is able enough to get back to work – if I can peacefully tear him away!
Block-lovers are in luck because not only is playing with them fun but they’re incredibly good for the brain… and what’s good for the brain is good for the mind and the body.
Tons of research show that building blocks help with creating essential spatial awareness needed in science- and math-oriented disciplines, tuning and fine-tuning motor skills, language and communication, concentration, and problem-solving.
Many folks even consider playing with blocks equivalent to that of a multi-vitamin.
It’s fun to have a variety all at once to see what the imagination can conjure up, and it’s also just as therapeutic to use one specific set – they all have their own unique qualities. If you play with them enough, you might find some other uses.
One of my favorite block extensions is making a painted masterpiece from their structured shadows using our awesome Twig blocks. I love using these because they have large and small openings in the center of the blocks that make for perfect windows to our fortresses!
Here’s what we did…
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- Twig blocks
- large white paper (taped to the wall)
- wax crayon
Studio set-up requires a couple of tables or one long table. Tape or thumbtack the paper (we used easel paper) on the wall then position the lamp – shade OFF – a couple of feet away from where you will have your blocks. You might need to place an extra height (like a book) underneath blocks or lamp. Use your best judgment. We randomly placed blocks in front of the paper, then moved the lamp back and forth to make the shadow as sharp as possible. You’ll find that sweet spot! Once you’ve found your lucky lamp spot….
Situate your blocks so that you like how it looks on the paper. We turned the large window blocks to the side so that the bottom windows of our castle looked double.
A different perspective. You might notice Piglet standing in one of the “downstairs” windows… He makes it into the shadow sketch, too.
There he is. Gazing out over his kingdom.
You can add other figurines as well. It’s also fun to play with the light a little by showing the child that when you stand directly behind the structure, you can’t see the shadow it creates… this is also a great way to introduce or mention the idea of the phases of the moon.
But then when you move to the side, even just slightly, you can start to see a whole other world that your structure creates.
Once you’re happy with your structure, grab your wax crayon and start tracing the shadow onto the paper. This can be tricky, because if the table gets bumped, then the castle could crumble. We use a wax crayon because the wax will help to resist the watercolor from bleeding in through the walls of the castle. I tell the child not to worry so much about making the tracing dark at this point because we’ll be retracing it in a moment. The goal right now is to get an outline of our castle onto the paper.
Once you’re finished tracing it, turn the lamp off, take the paper away from the wall, bring it to a table you can sit at, and trace a little heavier over the original tracing. This will make it look nicer and create more resistance to the watercolor.
Once you’re finished tracing, you can get your watercolors out and consider your peaceful plan of painting attack!
You can start anywhere… I love sitting back and watching their eyes dart around on the paper to see where they’re going to start – and then seeing the decision in action. Piglet goes first, here!
Continue to paint wherever your heart leads. I have found that the less adult control, the cooler the picture turns out.
I think this turned out to be pretty amazing. Hanging it up in a window will add a brightness to it!
What kind of things can you come up with?
Articles on the benefits of building with blocks: