On Becoming a Block Head

As a child I loved playing with blocks.  I distinctly remember one of the highlights of kindergarten was playing with unit blocks, and at my grandparents’ house I had a set of colorful, wooden blocks to build towers with.  I really loved building tall towers and watching them tumble down.

This school year I was able to purchase unit blocks for my students.  I’ve spent a lot of time building with them, watching them build,  listening to their conversations and play, and taken many photos of their structures.  Over the spring vacation I read the book Building Structures with Young Children by Ingrid Chalufour and Karen Worth.  On Tuesday I tried one of the suggestions which was to show photos (or drawings) from the previous building session as a prompt to spark discussion.  The kids enjoyed looking at the photos, and we noticed that one of the structures reminded us of a snail coming out of it’s shell.  I am hoping if I continue this regularly that it will help provide some connection from one week to the next.

My original plan was to look at some photos of bridges, but then I received a new book from Amazon called 13 Buildings Kids Should Know and I couldn’t resist showing them pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  The  photos of  the tower were really excellent and you could see the beautiful details of the building. The kids really enjoyed trying to figure out why it was leaning and were interested in the story of how it was built and added onto over several hundred years.  We also looked at some photos of bridges.  The kids were quite fascinated by the variety of bridges from the Golden Gate to ancient Japanese footbridges.

When it was time to build almost everyone started with bridges, and oh how I wished I had remembered a clip board and paper to write down comments from the children as they built which was another suggestion from the book Building Structures with Young Children.  The students made some insightful comments, and even though I thought I’d remember them….I don’t!

One of the challenges I have is not having my own classroom.  I work in several programs and my van is my mobile art room, transporting supplies from one learning site to another.   I guess I’ll have to make a list of some of the new things the book has inspired me to try…and make sure I find a place to stash things like clipboards and comment forms in with my blocks!

At the end of our blockbuilding time the classroom looked like a city with towers and roadways. We visited each student’s creation to reflect and comment on what was built.  One student had built a roadway for trains and he told an elaborate story about how the trains had crashed and had to go and get repaired.  For him the fantasy play was the most critical part of the building.  For other students it was the height of the tower or the colorful flooring samples used to decorate the bridge that was most exciting.

Clean up time removed all evidence of that city, and the blocks are neatly replaced in their tubs, but next week who knows what will emerge from those rows of stacked  wooden blocks? I look forward to finding out!


About francifularts

I am an independent art educator. I had my first experience teaching ceramics when I was 24 and worked in the University for Youth program at the University of Denver. As an elementary school teacher I always found myself integrating the arts across the curriculum, which led to me working as an artist in the schools. In May of 2008 I began a master's program with Lesley University in their Creative Arts in Learning Program. It was a truly transformative and incredible experience which led me to decide to devote the rest of my teaching career to teaching art, and through the arts. About the same time that I completed my master's degree in January of 2011 I was hired to teach art in two different programs. I have never been happier in my work as a teacher, and I really appreciate the wonderful professors and cohort of fellow teachers I studied with at Lesley University. I also want to thank all of the wonderful arts educators that I have met online through the TAB/choice list serv for their thoughtful posts and insightful suggestions for teaching art!
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