A variety of toys are available in the market today all claiming to enhance the physical and psychological development of children. New toys have been invented and modifications have been applied to existing toys to keep up with technological evolution and market needs. However, there are those toys that have withstood the test of time and continue to enhance many aspects of childhood development while at the same time remaining relevant and requiring little modification. One such toy is “building blocks”. It appears that this particular toy has caught the eye of a variety of manufacturers all over the world with almost all manufacturers claiming various psychological benefits associated with their toy. However, for the purpose of my research I will focus on the 100-piece wood block set by Melissa and Doug. The manufacturer’s claims about this product are that it enhances fine motor skills, cognitive ability and the development of mathematical skills.
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Infants often have a tendency to hold on to their building blocks, bang them on the ground and throw them in all directions. This seemingly haphazard method of play develops their sensory organs, allowing them to feel the texture of the blocks and recognize the unique sounds of each block. Toddlers begin to learn to combine, stack and line up their blocks enabling them to develop muscle control and fine motor skills. According to Piaget’s Cognitive theory of development, “sensori-motor” development occurs in babies and toddlers up to 24 months. During this stage they understand symbols, comprehend object performance and learn to coordinate and repeat pleasurable actions (Armstrong et al, 2014). During early childhood, children begin to understand the intricacy of the blocks and build more complex structures. This facilitates their physical development by developing muscle and bone strength and improving hand eye coordination. In the “preoperational stage” of Piaget’s cognitive theory, early childhood provides an opportunity for children to take in new information and make changes to their prior understanding and knowledge. (Armstrong et al, 2012). As children discover the new ways in which the building blocks fit together, they attain better muscle coordination which later enables them to hold pencils in class and develop cognitive abilities that facilitate learning by enabling them to assimilate new information from their environment in to their overall understanding of the world.
Apart from the cognitive abilities that occur in conjunction with the physical development, toddlers also acquire perceptive ability and as they try to give mental pictures concrete form using the blocks and this lays the foundation for abstract thinking capabilities. Moreover, the infants and toddlers playing with these blocks develop increased language and communication skills when they communicate feelings of achievement to parents and playmates, this in turn leads to an increased psychosocial development in the child. Erikson’s Psycho-social development theory states that, infants between birth and one year develop a sense of self or ego identity via social interactions. Parents and caregivers who provide positive reinforcement to children as they play with their blocks in these ages, build their confidence and influence feelings of autonomy in early childhood as opposed to shame and doubt (Armstrong et al, 2014).
In addition, as children play as a group and engage in cooperative projects using the blocks, they develop improved social-cultural skills that enable them to manage interactions with others and form better social bonds. Children who engage in this sort interactive play also develop more independence from their caregivers and have more secure attachment to their caregivers. According to the Attachment theory developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, toddlers and children in early childhood begin to venture out from the caregiver and explore the world. As caregivers provide positive reinforcement to the child by recognizing milestones within the game, the child becomes more independent and enjoys his autonomy (Armstrong et al 2012).
In addition to the above benefits, children playing with building blocks also develop problem solving skills and have better creative, engineering and mathematical abilities. A modification that could improve this toy is to make it more interactive such as the incorporation of colorful lights and sound whenever a child manages to fit two blocks together. This will not only boost the development of cognitive skills and sensory skills but will also provide positive reinforcement to children as they play with the blocks. Psychologists realize that play plays an important role in learning new language and cognitive skills and is a vehicle to learn and internalize the rules of social interaction, develop strong relationships with others and self-regulation. Playing with building blocks may be a traditional method of play but it certainly provides great benefits to children of all ages (Armstrong et al, 2014).