Wooden building blocks are the hot new fad in New York City’s elite schools, reports the New York Times. The story starts with “block consultant” Jean Schreiber leading a workshop for parents who want to know how to help their children play with blocks. Schools advertise their “block labs” and “centers.”
Eva Moskowitz, the former city councilwoman who runs a fast-growing network of, said her schools had created a “religion around blocks,” and she proudly advertises their fully outfitted block labs alongside the chess program and daily science classes. The International School of Brooklyn is developing a program using blocks to reinforce foreign-language acquisition. And Avenues, the scheduled to open next year in Greenwich Village, is devoting a large section of its kindergarten floor to a block center.
It costs about $1,000 to outfit a classroom with a set of blocks, which typically include 5.5-inch-long rectangles as well as pillars, columns, triangles, curves and longer rectangles.
Playing with blocks is supposed to help children learn math concepts, develop language skills and “build the 21st-century skills essential to success in corporate America,” such as not hitting your colleague when he takes the last pillar.
While teachers say children need time for unstructured play, building with blocks is often linked to the curriculum.
At the 92nd Street Y preschool, teachers videotape students doing block work so they can review their process. And at the Packer Collegiate Institute, the Brooklyn Heights private school where educators have recently recommitted themselves to blocks by hosting workshops for teachers and moving block corners to more centralized locations, students often use classroom computers to search for images or watch videos that help them visualize something to build.
They can’t just let the kids play?
My sister and I used to play with blocks, even though our mother had no formal training in encouraging block play. (She was taking care of our baby brother in another room.) My sister figured out how to build a dome ceiling with rectangular blocks. When we got bored, we’d knock it all down and play something else.