The mother of all open ended materials! I have been thinking about my block area and how it is used over the course of the past two weeks. Who is in there? What are they doing? How engaged are they?
I had the opportunity to observe at City & Country School in Manhattan as a junior in college. The school was founded by Caroline Pratt, a pioneer in the promotion of the use of open-ended materials. She developed what we call unit blocks, a staple in most preschool classrooms. The classroom that I observed had tables and chairs and art supplies and other open ended materials, and then up a few steps and through a door was a completely separate room, larger than the classroom, just for blocks. There were large hollow blocks and unit blocks, and there was an enormous collaborative structure of a market as part of a long project that the children were doing. They incorporated writing and drawing into the blocks as needed, but the blocks really represented everything they needed them to. We do not have a room of blocks, as you can see below, and who really can?
The other preschool teacher and I have ordered more blocks to increase our less than fabulous supply, but the slight lack of blocks has made the clean up easier for those who use every block on the shelf, or at least those who take them all off.
Two boys did use all of the blocks today, and I took as many photos as I could of the process. It involved a layer of horizontal blocks and a layer of vertical ones, some towers and chimneys on top, and in the end there was a structure added to the side of it as well.
They were very proud of their structure, and I hope the documentation allows them to reflect on it tomorrow and perhaps revisit the block area.
As an experiment, I took all of the other items I would normally put in a block area (cars, marble tracks, legos, duplos, lincoln logs) out this time, and there are only unit blocks and animals. Perhaps the animals will leave next week, too, but I had a fear of the children seeing no reason to go in and build. But children are going in every day and building. Where else it will take us, I do not know!
My last note for unit blocks and a little preview of something (that hopefully will not go totally awry) is pictured below. I have no idea where this will lead, either -- I think a group of twenty four- and five-year-olds will determine that. After all, it's their classroom!