Hey, you know what’s a great toy? Blocks. Just wooden blocks of all shapes and sizes.
What, you knew that already?
Did you know that many kids really like to play with them? That some kids can come up with amazing creations full of aesthetic appeal and employing pretty advanced skills in construction?
You knew that too?
So am I to believe that you just figured all this out about blocks on your own, without the benefit of a blocks expert? You mean to tell me you’ve never attended a workshop on block building?
What are you, some kind of freakish block usage savant?
By now you’ve probably figured out that the answer to what is the latest fad in high end high cost education (at least in NYC) is blocks. Blocks. B.L.O.C.K.S. There are “block consultants” who run block building seminars for parents and teachers alike so that they can learn how to….what? Let their kids play with a toy that really needs no explanation? You’ve may also have guessed that the NY Times ran an article about this trend. If you feel like reading it, you can find it here.
All day I’ve been trying to look on the positive side; after all, it means some schools are acknowledging that children need more time to play, and isn’t that a good thing?
Yes, I suppose, but it’s the way that it’s being done that makes me want to tear out large chunks of my hair. For instance:
…members of the Parents League of New York..had crowded into an oversubscribed workshop on block building last month…. Jean Schreiber, a self-described “block consultant” advised the group to engage their children in building by photographing their work. “Don’t rush to help them with structural challenges,” she said. “You don’t have to ask them a million questions. Just sit with them and notice.”
Why does this make my gag reflex kick in? Are there truly parents who need to be told this stuff? Are they so completely out of touch with their own kids and memories of their childhood that they have to be given pointers on how to let their kids play with BLOCKS?
And also, while I think it is a good thing for schools to allow children more playtime – the more the better – the article makes it clear that it’s not really about playing. It’s about doing better on test scores (young kids with “block experience” apparently got better math grades and standardized test scores once they reached high school) and applying block building to math, science, architecture & aesthetics. See how that gets twisted?
Play should not have academic strings attached, even if play is beneficial to learning, which it undoubtedly is. But the minute you corrupt it with ‘see how we use math when working with blocks?’ it is no longer play – it is schooling disguised as play.
The upside of having kids use blocks in schools? It gets them out of their chairs and lets them move around, which can only be beneficial. And it’s definitely more interesting and fun than any number of other things the kids might be required to do.
Here’s a photo of Ben’s latest creation. He built it without me sitting nearby ‘noticing’. I did not have to ‘engage’ him to play with the blocks by promising a photo. He got my camera and took it himself when he was done. And even if I was in the room when this was being built, I would not have had the urge to jump in and ‘help with structural challenges’. There is no way I could’ve made those blocks at the top balance on that round piece. (Hey, maybe he has a future as a “Block Consultant”!)