The library in my community of Fernie, BC has offered an after-school LEGO® Club for children seven years old and up for as long as I can remember. This left a gap in the programming “market” for kindergarten and Grade 1 students looking for after-school activities. I suggested to my manager, a Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) program using building blocks. She in turn challenged me to prove the connection to literacy of such a program. I’m certain she already knew the answer, but she made me figure it out for myself. This gentle nudge helped me not only develop a program, but also ensured that it was educational, engaging for kids and adults, and checked all the boxes for a quality community literacy program.
There is something special about figuring things out for yourself. My manager’s technique worked just as well with me as it does with children. When a child gets to discover the answer rather than being given the answer, they develop a better understanding of whatever concept is being taught. This child will gain a stronger sense of accomplishment and will feel like they have discovered a secret no one else knows about. It is an exciting moment. This is especially so when there isn’t a “right” answer. And what better way to figure out “your” answer than by making it with building blocks?
So, I did the research, put all of my newly acquired knowledge together, and created the Block Builders program for five and six year-olds. I run it as a family program so that all the kids that attend have an adult with them. I can not only help parents understand the benefits of play-based learning, but I can also guide them in allowing their children to make discoveries on their own.
Block Builders is a series of 11 challenges. Each session we focus on one of the challenges. At the beginning of each session, I have a box of LEGO® or DUPLO® blocks with letters on each block. The children spell their names with the letters to define their play station. I adore seeing the progression from week one where some will spell their names backwards and others will place the correct letters randomly on their play mat, to the final week when they can find their letters and place them in order independently.
Through the directions of the facilitator and use of the challenges, children learn and improve these skills: storytelling, reading, following instructions, fine motor, attention and focus, patterning and sequencing, oral and written language, numbers, memory, problem solving scientific concepts, creativity and imagination, social, and symbolic representation.
Some days the challenges are very open-ended, such as “Lap-time Builder”. Caregivers read a story to their child and then they build the story with blocks. Other activities, like “Restricted Building” are more structured. Each child is given the exact same building pieces. They have 5 - 10 minutes to build whatever they want, but they must use every piece. It is always so fascinating to see the variety of structures that can come from this activity.
I love the “Roll and Build” challenge. This activity has building block pieces divided into six compartments. Children roll the die and choose a piece from the corresponding compartment and use it to build something. You never know what they are building until they’re finished!
The Block Builders manual is available as a free digital download on the CBAL website. For more information about the Block Builders program please contact Chrisy Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Literacy Coordinator - Elk Valley
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy