As a child, Toronto born Frank Gehry, arguably the world’s most famous living architect, (designer of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Art Gallery of Ontario redesign, among others) played with blocks and planks fashioned by his grandmother from scrap wood. Years later, in his twenties, trying to decide what he was going to do with his life, Gehry says, “I remembered Grandma and the blocks, and just on a hunch, I tried some architecture classes.*"
Although famous for his undulating forms that are impossible to engineer without high-powered computers, to this day, blocks are a key part of the design process in Frank Gehry’s studio.**
Blocks are a fantastic way to explore, shapes, volume, construction and the principles of engineering structures. And with modular blocks that are carefully designed to be proportional, blocks can illuminate key mathematical concepts like fractions, ratios even math operations.
But although we usually think of playing with blocks with the early years, as Gehry’s practice illustrates, blocks can be engaging and provocative for STEM discovery for older learners right up to adults. In a parent drop-in centre, blocks are a great way to get adults down on the floor, building with their kids. And in a before/after-school program, a good block station will be as engaging to juniors and intermediate students as it will be with pre-k’s and toddlers.
Here are 6 tips for building your block learning area.
For a block kit that addresses all these needs check out our new BLOCK AND CONSTRUCTION KIT FOR SCHOOLS
Proportionality. Start with a core proportional set. For instance the Community Playthings modular block family – from Mini Unit to Hollow Blocks are all made to fit together in consistent ratios in size and width. This design is key for understandings in math operations, geometry and engineering. The modular design makes structures strong and stable.
Quantity: You can never have too many good quality blocks. The more there are the bigger the structures, landscape and the more kids can participate in construction. So plan to get a lot and then see if you can get more – you won’t regret it. (CHECKOUT the ENTIRE LOUISE KOOL BLOCK COLLECTION)
Bling Don’t be afraid of a bit of bling. Even if natural materials and colours are the basis of your centre you can still add a splash of colour and a bit of dazzle. These elements may engage the students who may not be usually drawn towards the engineering and construction aspects of block play. Dusyma has some great options: Jewel embed Uhl Blocks, Transluscent Lumina blocks even Luxynation and Lumination Building Blocks with built in LED’s.
Organize: some of our block sets you can get with a dedicated cart like the Keva’s and the Community Playthings Unit Blocks. But consider additional shelving and baskets for all your sets.
Quality– Blocks are going to get a lot of use and some abuse. Look for maple hardwood (in Community Playthings and some Keva products) that deliver a satisfying feel and long life. Additional Community Playthings design touches: Integrity of the modular design blocks are accurately cut to within 0.2mm or 1/100th of an inch; Hollow Blocks use screwed joints; all blocks have evenly curved edges and no sharp corners.
Add People and Things: wheeled toys and figurines can bring a building or environment to life. A block centre's structures and landscapes can stir much imaginative play and self-directed narratives.
* Quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Gehry
** Art Gallery of Ontario website http://www.ago.net/frank-gehrys-process
Image courtesy of Designboom "frank gehry reveals plans for LUMA parc des ateliers in france," https://www.designboom.com/architecture/luma-parc-des-ateliers-by-frank-o-gehry/