Simple Playthings?

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Project summary:

Due to the simplistic nature of blocks they can be used in a variety of different ways (Brosterman, 1997). Within this simplicity there exists a richness, “As Froebel argued, the real and the pretend, the concrete and the abstract, the whole and the parts, freedom and constraint – are all inextricably connected in one play material.” (Tovey, 2017:88)


This project encapsulates practitioner enquiry, which is reflexive in design, with the aim of enhancing practitioners perspectives by enabling them to unearth and interpret (Wall et al., 2021) the intricacies of block play to develop young children’s thinking. Reflecting upon Froebel’s principles and practices it is apparent that his gifts and occupations were of central importance to play in childhood (Bruce, 2021). Froebel felt the wooden blocks, a modern version of the gifts, were at the heart of a child’s education (Bruce, 2012).


Froebel anticipated that block play would enable children to experience and represent the forms of life, beauty and knowledge (Liebschner, 1992). Practitioners lacked the pedagogical knowledge and skills in relation to the intricacies of block play and the role of the adult. As Bruce (1992a:26) states,
“Rich block play does not just occur. It develops when the adult acts as a powerful catalyst working hard to enable it.”
Ultimately, from engaging with principles, pedagogy and national practice guidance the impact would be the development of knowledgeable educators; a key Froebelian principle (Tovey, 2017), who have a deep understanding of Froebel’s values. As Bruce (1992b) states,
“An educator is a researcher and practitioner combined.” (Bruce, 1992b:X)


A qualitative methodology was implemented to enable the researcher to interpret the data from observations and decode the thinking of the children and practitioners by being as close to the environment of all participants (Otsuka and Jay, 2017). The research was conducted in the block play area of the Primary One learning environment, where forty-six children attend.
In addition, engaging with the ‘Being me through Block Play’ (Education Scotland, 2020a) training was identified as a crucial resource that would address the issue of the lack of practitioners pedagogical knowledge about block play. The format of the training maximised time for collegiate discussions in school as Vygotsky acknowledges the importance of the social influence of learning from interacting with peers and more knowledgeable others (Otsuka and Jay, 2017).

As Froebel states, “Adults are surely Froebelian when they encourage children to think for themselves, to be aware of themselves and their ideas, feelings and relationships, and to nurture what is inner be expressed in outer ways through imaginative and creative use of the Gifts.” (Bruce, 2021:64)

Bruce, T. (2021) Friedrich Froebel: A Critical Introduction to Key Themes and Debates, London, Bloomsbury.


Evaluations from practitioners who engaged in the ‘Being me through Block Play’ (Education Scotland, 2020a) training showed that seventy-five percent strongly agreed and twenty-five percent agreed that it had developed their skills and confidence with block play. From developing pedagogical knowledge of the stages of block play and schemas practitioners are far more confident in using their observations to scaffold children’s learning in their play as Vygotsky, (1978:102) states,
“Play creates a zone of proximal development of the child. In play a child always behaves beyond his average age…as though he were a head taller than himself…play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major source of development.”


In conclusion, practitioners experienced the bridge between pedagogy and methodology by applying their skills to facilitate the research project (Wall, 2018). Practitioners gained confidence from engaging with theory about block play which ultimately led to a significant increased presence in the block play area, playing with children, where they were able to make knowledgeable interactions and observations.

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. Clare Langley
    Clare Langley
    15 May 2022 at 6:00 am

    This is really interesting. Similarly my project flagged up what is key is pedagogical knowledge about block play. Great to read block play in Primary One. Primary Two next??

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