Building blocks are hot in NYC schools

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 charter schools, 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 for-profit school 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.

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  1. I just read this to some students, one of whom replied, “Those blocks better be made of silver, at that price.”

  2. Gee, we must have been awfully advanced back in the day. We played with blocks even before starting school.

  3. I wonder how much empty cardboard boxes will cost, when New York City discovers them?

  4. One wonders how much a “block consultant” makes per gig? And is she getting a kickback from the company selling the blocks?

    A quick Google shows that toy blocks go for about $14-$20 for name-brand blocks. If you have a 30 kid classroom, you’d have $600 retail for the $20 blocks, assuming you buy a set per kid. Assuming that you can negotiate a wholesale price for a bulk purchase, you should be able to get a classroom-full for no more than $500.

  5. The only kind of blocks that should cost $1000 for a 30-kid classroom are the ones Lego sells that have microprocessors and motors and such inside them.

  6. Hey… after I get laid off this year maybe I can go into business as a educational consultant showing teachers how to use yo-yo’s in their classroom? Or maybe use kitchen and tool play sets to shatter gender preconceptions? Oooh that sounds like a good idea.

  7. Please tell me that it’s April Fool’s Day.

  8. We all know for a fact building blocks were a part of our preschool years. It is very important in the development of the cognitive ability of the child. There are building blocks made of plastics and are very affordable.

    • True, but kids were allowed to play on their own; no coaches or teachers telling them what to do and how to do it. Stifling their creativity, much? I say the same about kids’ play in general; too much adult supervision and interference – at school, on the playground, in the neighborhood and at home.

  9. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Today my two year old sat ME down to instruct me on the ‘right’ way to play with blocks. Obviously he has a future as an educational consultant! If it wasn’t for child labor laws, I could rent him out now! 🙂

  10. Let’s be careful, poking fun a charter queen Moskowitz could cause Joanne to get criticized by the right wing “reform” crowd.

    I played with blocks too in Kindergarten. But that was before the days of standardized tests. Now the Kindergarteners at my school take reading tests.

  11. Deirdre Mundy says:

    One of the reasons we home school is so that my pre-K and K kids can have time to play with blocks and Playdoh and trucks an Legos. And so that my second grader can read for fun without having to choose AR books. And so that we have time for science and art and history and all those other fascinating things that don’t show up on tests.

  12. I’m rich! I’m rich! there are at least 4 big boxes of blocks in my basement.

    Blocks are better for home than for school, but if kids don’t have them at home, by all means, have them at school but with minimal adult involvement.

  13. I know this is easy to poke fun at, but (if anyone is still reading) I think there is something worthwhile behind this idea. The reason I think that is because my son’s K ( a few years ago) used blocks in a totally different way than I’ve seen in other classes or at homes and I think the article may be describing something similar.

    Some of the differences were:
    – block structures not picked up until end of week, building by same kids continues each day
    – teams of kids (usually teams/pairs were assigned, though with sense and consideration by the teacher) worked together on parts of the structure/complex
    – before building, the kids would plan and discuss (with a teacher) what they were going to build that day/that week.
    – sometimes there were themes and each pair/group would work on a part of the theme – for instance, city, zoo, emergency services, really high buildings…
    – the kids wrote signs and made accessories to go along with whatever it was they were building.
    – the teacher and kids would discuss what worked and why, what they liked, what they would improve

    Yes, my kids do this at home too, though generally sans planning, recap and signs. We have~ $100 worth of blocks, and it’s not really enough even for my 2 kids, even though the oldest is 14. To pay for enough blocks for several kids to play with for a week, and the storage? I don’t think $1000 would be enough.