Block Play – The Cornerstone of Creativity and Imagination

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Project summary:

Within the nursery setting the content of ‘Block Play’ and the importance of the Froebelian Principles has been a key focus in creating a learning environment for the children aged 3-5 years. The concept of ‘Block Play’ is one that many practitioners regard as a new, innovative part of the nursery environment. However, Friedrich Froebel first identified the role of ‘Block Play’ and its impact on young children in the 19th century, believing that children needed experiential play to learn (Read, 2012).


This was a practical project carried out in the nursery setting using the Froebelian Principles, National Documentation and relevant literature on Playful Pedagogy to design, create and observe the children’s engagement within a ‘Block Play Area’. The importance of this area was to promote children’s emerging imaginations and problem solving, as well as fostering the Froebelian Principles of creativity and child-led play. Froebel had specific methods for introducing children to the concept of ‘Block Play’ using his ‘Gifts’.


The literature, theory and research around ‘Block Play’ and the important role that it plays in the development of children’s mathematical thinking, emotional development and symbolic play was a new concept to the team. As a newly established team the practitioners were aware that ‘Block Play’ was present in the playroom and that children could be creative with their building designs – but the importance of Froebel’s gifts and utilising different sizes of blocks was a new concept.

To instigate the change process a presentation was given to the full staff team highlighting the important role that ‘Block Play’ has on the developing minds of our young learners. Following this an audit was carried out on the current ‘Block Play’ area where staff were able to use their newly gained knowledge to access the opportunities offered to our children. We used the Froebelian Principles and the Quality Indicators in ‘How good is our early learning and childcare?’ (Education Scotland, 2016). Staff’s initial findings were that a number of stimuli were missing, and in fact the area could be stifling the children’s creativity and spatial awareness. Brodie (2014) emphasises the importance of staff’s attunement to the children they are working with and their knowledge of how children in the nursery setting will play and explore.


To ensure that the children’s interactions, thoughts and feelings around the current learning environment were included in the change process targeted observations of children playing in the current block play area were carried out in order to gain a sense of children’s level of engagement. As Bruce (2012) affirms, the children’s interactions with their environment gives the adult an insight into their mind-sets and responses to the learning environment.

These observations of the children involve the children in the change process, promoting excellence, making them the heart of the positive change progression. (Moss & Pence, 1994). Practitioners worked collaboratively with the children when observing environments in order to gain an insight into their reactions to the learning environment. Observations of play were key at this stage to ensure the involvement of all children in their learning environment. (Woods, 2012). Children were ‘listened to’ during their interactions in the new learning environment, recording their engagement with the resources when considering ‘Block Play’.

The term ‘listening to children’ can be identified as more than just a technique, but a process of seeing the child’s voice and meaning through their eyes (Fisher, 2016) Children’s voice is also a vital key during the implementation phase and as a result the children’s comments were recorded along with photographs within a ‘Learning Journal’ to document the progress. (Tunnard and Sharp, 2009)

Julie Fisher - Interacting or Interfering (2016)


Using all the evidence gathered it was clear that a change had to occur in the ‘Block Play Area’ to support the children’s learning more in line with Froebel’s theory and supported by the theory of ‘Loose Parts Play’ and Pratt’s theory of symbolic, experiential play (Bruce, 2012). To ensure that all practitioners and myself, as an agent of change, were clear on the gaps and changes that had been identified an action plan was created. Through the creation of an action plan, roles and responsibilities were identified and as a result each practitioner had clear objectives in order to begin the change process. (Siraj-Blatchford & Manni, 2012).

The observations of the children were used to ensure the interests, styles of play and learning and developmental needs were incorporated into the “Block Play’ area (O’Sullivan, 2009). Staff worked collaboratively with the children to create a ‘Block Play’ area that promoted creativity, curiosity and problem solving skills by adding a combination of blocks as well as ‘Loose Parts’ such as tyres, cable reels, material, wool, sticks and shells. Using Froebel’s theory of ‘Block Play’ in conjunction with Pratt’s theory of ‘Loose Parts’ and experiential play the children had access to a wide range of learning opportunities (Brown, 2003).

The area was continually evaluated using reflective notes and observations of the children’s engagement in the area and regular staff conversations occurred. It was evident that the children felt more at ease and free in their new environment and children were demonstrating high levels of engagement within the play space. Staff also commented that a visible difference could be seen from the play that children were creating complex structures that represented experiences both from their own life and through their imaginations. As Froebel asserts “where children felt secure enough to match their inner life with the demands of the outside world, where opportunities existed for children to experiment through their play in areas not yet known” (Froebel, 1842, in Liebschner (1991), p.15). As Bruce (2012) asserts the role of the adult is key in sustaining and maintaining the children’s interest and ensuring that the children’s interest continues to grow. This can occur when the adult is in tune with the children’s interests and knows when to interact or when to step back and simply be present with the children. Fisher (2016) further enhances this by stating when practitioners intervene when it is not required or appropriate that children’s passion and enthusiasm can be immediately stifled.

Bruce states that ‘Rich block play does not just occur. It develops when the adult acts as a powerful catalyst working hard to enable it.’ (Bruce in Gura 1992:26) With this in mind the practitioners were attentive with their interactions and often were watchful from within the play so as not to hinder the creative thinking, but instead to extend and encourage it.


Throughout the project it was clear that the use of a ‘variety’ of textiles, and materials was vital in promoting and enhancing the children’s creativity and the ‘Loose Parts’ supplies had to be continually restocked and enhanced. In order for this to be sustainable regular enhancements have to be made to the ‘Loose Parts’ materials in order to keep the children’s interest alive. The implementation of this project has supported the children’s and the practitioner’s creative journey with ‘Block Play’ and has created an ethos of empowerment

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

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