Block Play in the Primary Classroom

Using block play to foster Froebelian principles and practices in the primary classroom

Project author:

Project summary:

A practitioner inquiry project which investigates whether using block play, to support Froebelian principles and practices in the primary school classroom enhances the learning experiences of children.

 

blocks

Introduction

This project looks at using Froebelian principles and practices to support practitioners as they enhance children’s learning experiences through block play. It considers the perspectives of, and observations made by, a group of practitioners from three different stages within a primary school establishment. It refers to publications from the Froebel Trust, Tina Bruce and Helen Tovey which outline how Froebel’s gift of block play can be used with children today.

This enquiry matters because the project findings will help to shape the future provision of play pedagogy within our establishment and could potentially have a positive impact on the experiences which are provided for the children in our care.

My main purpose in undertaking this work was to learn if incorporating block play would enhance children’s learning experiences and interactions during child-initiated play. Additionally, I wanted to spark interest in block play amongst staff and use this as a catalyst, to raise awareness of Froebelian principles, with the desired outcome of implementing further Froebelian practices to improve outcomes for our children.

 

Context

At the beginning of this project, practitioners in our primary one and two settings were committed to fostering a developmentally appropriate curriculum through a blend of child and adult-initiated experiences. Our learning environments were created to provide engaging spaces for children to learn through play. However, opportunities for block play in these settings were not yet developed to their full potential.
In contrast, practitioners in the primary stages were aware that the use of unit blocks, and the principles which surround this pedagogical approach, were firmly embedded within our nursery setting. A combination of unit blocks and hollow blocks provided opportunities for rich, open-ended learning experiences for our nursery children.
Practitioners felt that the practice of block play should be extended into the infant stages of the primary classes to enhance the continuous provision of play pedagogy across the early years of our establishment.  Each stage had a very limited number of resources in comparison to our nursery class. However, we were able to overcome this complication as we received funding from our local authority to support the development of play-based learning. A combination of unit and hollow blocks were purchased to allow practitioners to create block play spaces at each stage and to begin their observations of the children’s interactions.
Additionally, we could see the potential in extending block play beyond the early stages in our school. Participating in this research could encourage pedagogical approaches to learning across all stages. A practitioner from the upper stages expressed an interest in the project and was invited to participate in the research by implementing block play with children in a primary six class.
All practitioners were enthusiastic about participating in this research and fully embraced the opportunity to be part of this professional inquiry

Methodology

The project aimed to research the use of block play in the primary setting. It considered how a Froebelian practice, such as block play, could support practitioners to enhance learning experiences and improve outcomes for children.

It seemed appropriate to involve all infant practitioners, three primary one teachers and three primary two teachers, in this research. Prior to this project, each had expressed a commitment to improving their pedagogical practices at their stages. One primary six teacher was interested in drawing comparisons between using the principles and practices of block play with older children.

Participating in this research project involved using our funding to purchase blocks for spaces in our environments. It was decided that existing resources from our nursery class should be used to gauge the children’s interest in the blocks at the primary one and two stages. The success of two mornings with the resources affirmed our decision to purchase a combination of unit and hollow blocks to enhance the play spaces at each stage. Smaller Kapla blocks were used by the primary six practitioner to implement adult-led and child-initiated learning experiences.

During the research, data was collated using an online questionnaire, followed by a focus group.  Anonymous questionnaires were distributed at the beginning of the project to evaluate practitioners’ current knowledge and understanding of Froebel gifts, occupations, and practices, with a particular focus on block play. The responses to the questionnaires were reviewed to plan support for practitioners during the research period. The data collated was then used to create questions for a staff focus group. The aim of the focus group was to evaluate and reflect on the practitioners’ observations of children engaging in block play. The purpose of the research was summarised and provided at the beginning of the questionnaire alongside a consent form to gain participants’ permission to be involved and audio-recorded. Details of the research and consent form were given to our Head Teacher to be reviewed. Her consent was granted prior to carrying out the initial research. It was not deemed necessary to gain consent from the children/families as direct observations of specific children were not documented or referred to in the questionnaire or focus group. Furthermore, the children were not questioned or identified during this research. Any photographic evidence captures the structures built by the children alone.

‘Blocks provide endless possibilities, there’s no ceiling on what children can do or achieve. The children are free!’

Practitioner, 2022

Findings

The research findings discuss the views of the practitioners directly involved in this project. It focuses on their observations as they used block play to support Froebelian principles and practices to enhance the learning experiences of children within their settings.

Close analysis of the data indicated that all practitioners witnessed high levels of engagement in the block play spaces and classes during their observations. The focus group feedback indicated that the block play spaces, developed by practitioners, enhanced the continuous provision of play in both primary one and two settings. Practitioners observed children working independently and collaboratively to create symbolic representations, complex structures, and their own narrations. Furthermore, the mathematical ideas which the children explored with the blocks fascinated the adults. Practitioners reported that the children were now demonstrating more sophisticated block play by incorporating pattern and symmetry into their designs in comparison to their observations prior to the enhancements. The children had previously been observed carrying and stacking blocks and using them to bridges and enclosures. However, the children were now creating complex structures to express their ideas.

Practitioners reported that prior to developing the block play spaces in relation to this research, the provision for block play was limited. The developments and enhancements have improved the experiences by providing the children with endless possibilities to create and to work collaboratively, particularly in the upper stages where children initially found it difficult to compromise and negotiate when solving design problems. Some practitioners reported improvements in children’s social interactions and talking and listening skills. They witnessed children persevering and making good attempts to work collaboratively. One practitioner was particularly surprised at how far the blocks could take the children’s learning and now realises the benefit of block play and how this resource can be transferred to different curricular areas to develop a range of skills. Tovey (2017) refers to Froebel’s theory that blocks bring together all areas of learning in a meaningful way. The children in the upper stages challenged the misconception that blocks can only be used in the early years as the primary six teacher reported on how children were able to self-differentiate and create their own challenges to demonstrate higher order thinking skills.

Discussion points from the focus group referenced inequalities surrounding gender. The participants felt that the boys in the primary one setting predominately visited the block space before the new enhancements were introduced and therefore creating a gender imbalance. Additionally, prior to the enhancements, the boys seemed interested in stacking the blocks to create towers. Practitioners felt that the children’s interactions were confined to the early stages of block play. However, new developments have provided the children with endless possibilities when exploring and using the blocks and ‘opened-up the blocks to new learners’ (anonymous). Practitioners have witnessed higher levels of engagement from the girls and more sophisticated block play from the boys. The girls have been observed using the large hollow blocks to create symbolic structures, such as castles, shops and houses, which they use whilst inventing imaginary situations during their role-play. Enhancing the unit blocks has provided the boys with more open-ended materials to compliment and decorate their structures and create patterns.

Further discussion during the focus group highlighted how using the Froebelian principles and practices to implement block play had supported practitioners throughout this journey.  The ability to reflect on the theory surrounding block play gave practitioners some direction as to how to provide high quality opportunities and enhancements for child-initiated learning. One practitioner commented that having the Froebelian principles and practices to guide her practice gave her permission to drive child-initiated learning forward. Placing the child at the centre of her practice and having the knowledge to do so was, ‘liberating’ (Anonymous).  Another described utilising the Froebelian principles and practices as a means of providing practitioners with the vocabulary to express how they feel children should learn. ‘We have been introduced to Froebelian principles and practices through implementing block play and we now see that children should have autonomy in their learning. We value child-initiated play. Children should have freedom to explore their own learning and make sense of their world. Children learn organically through play and from their peers. We should provide an organic curriculum around the child, a developmentally appropriate curriculum which breaks down barriers to learning in a traditional classroom. One where children clarify their learning and have opportunities to grow and develop at their own pace.’ (Anonymous).

Overall, practitioners agreed that participating in this research has raised their awareness of Froebelian principles and practices. They can see that an open-ended resource, such as the blocks, can create many opportunities to allow children to use their imagination as they transfer skills to many areas and spaces. Implementing block play was a starting point and they now feel inspired and better equipped to develop their practices further.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this research project used Froebelian principles and practice, alongside relevant literature, and pedagogical theory, to maximise the potential of block play beyond the nursery setting. Practitioners anticipated that providing opportunities for block play would enhance the continuous provision of play in the early primary stages and were therefore enthusiastic about developing and enhancing block play at their stages. In comparison, there was apprehension about implementing this resource with older children in the same establishment. Implementing affording spaces in each setting was costly. However, as they are open-ended, transferable, and sustainable, practitioners agreed that the wooden blocks would be an investment. Bruce (2008) describes open-ended resources as something which provides children with many possibilities.

Regardless of age and stage, practitioner observations evidenced the affordance of block play opportunities. The blocks provided children with an open-ended material which nurtured creativity. The Realising the Ambition (RtA, 2020) document suggests children need opportunities to discover, investigate and be creative through play. Practitioners witnessed the children’s learning developing over time. Furthermore, the children were observed assessing and managing risk as they developed their physical motor skills, communicating at several levels.

Prior to beginning this research, two practitioners had completed the Froebel certificate at Edinburgh University, and through their observations of children using blocks in nursery class, could see the benefits of expanding this practice into primary setting. Participating in the research raised the awareness of Froebelian principles amongst all staff, giving individuals the confidence to allow children to become autonomous learners.

This research project became a valuable learning experience for all participants involved. It leaves practitioners pondering where to take block play next and how to enhance the current provision. Perhaps extending this Froebelian practice to the primary three stages of our establishment or developing a shared block play area where all stages within our primary school have opportunities to explore endless possibilities!

Dissemination/Impact Report

https://sway.office.com/OuO9gJ4beIUeTIKA?ref=Link

 

Block Play in the Primary Classroom

This project looks at using Froebelian principles and practices to support practitioners as they enhance children’s learning experiences through block play.

 

blocks
Endless possibilities!

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Michaela McCune
    Michaela McCune
    25 May 2022 at 1:43 pm

    This research is very interesting. We observed similar themes whilst undertaking ours and, going forward, we would love to extend block play beyond primary one. It sounds like that was a positive experience for your educators and learners.


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  2. Taylor Vandal
    Taylor Vandal
    25 May 2022 at 3:15 pm

    It was great to see within your researcher project how you have implemented block play in to primary school as block play is such a large part within early years settings. it would be great to see this extended to older children and the benefits valued.


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  3. Julie Forrest
    Julie Forrest
    25 May 2022 at 5:12 pm

    Wow, what a wonderful project. The development of block play and play in general in Primary 1 and beyond is something we were just discussing today. It is wonderful to see how you and your team have developed it. Thank you.


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  4. Caroline Easton
    Caroline Easton
    26 May 2022 at 7:27 am

    Great project, being a fellow block lover, the block play in our nursery is incredible, however, looking in the primary one classes there is very limited blocks (many taken away), not very big areas, however, the learning that takes place within this area is astounding. It was interesting to read your work, as it does highlight the need for block play to be implement, to primary one and beyond. Sharing your project with the school will be very interesting and hopefully moving forwards, block play will be seen across the school.


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  5. Nicole Warnock
    Nicole Warnock
    26 May 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Such a lovely project. You can really see the passion behind your project through your research and findings! I’m sure children of all ages across the primary would thoroughly enjoy exploring block play further. Thank you for sharing with us.


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  6. Dyan Spence
    Dyan Spence
    28 May 2022 at 8:44 am

    What a lovely and creative project. It’s such an area of interest to me as I can really see the value of block play. I think within this you can see the children’s symbolic play and representation being nurtured and enhanced. Great project 😊👍


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