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One Morning in the Block Area

About this video

Many preschool programs make block play an option during choice time. In this video, three children play in the block area in a prekindergarten classroom.

The program schedules time for children’s self-directed activities at the beginning of each day. Children put their belongings in a cubby, wash hands, answer a sign-in question, and choose what they will do next. Parents who are dropping off their children often stay for a few minutes in the classroom during this time, talking to each other, the teachers, and their children.

Travis, age 4, is the first child in the block area. Four-year-old Matilda then enters the area, apparently hoping to play with Travis. His mother is also present for a few minutes. Shortly after she leaves, Stacia, age 4, enters the block area.

A viewer can see ways in which their block play enables them to address early learning and development benchmarks in four learning areas.

Language development: The video shows the children making use of language for a variety of purposes. The initial interaction between Travis and Matilda involves some wordplay that suggests they are “playing with” the sound of words, such as when they experiment with different ways to say yes and okay. Matilda and Stacia both ask questions to initiate or continue interactions. Travis responds to questions, sometimes with one word and sometime with longer answers. The clip also contains examples of “private speech” in which children narrate their experiences with no expectation of a response. For example, Matilda turns to the stack of hollow blocks and says, “And I guess I’m…” Also, Travis sometimes seems to be thinking aloud (e.g., “That’s better” and “Need to make some”), perhaps to help organize his thoughts and actions as he encounters problems.

Mathematics: The children’s geometric thinking and awareness of attributes of objects are evident in the video. Travis sorts through the unit blocks, looking for particular sizes and shapes. He, his mother, and Matilda discuss the shapes and relative sizes of blocks and structures. As they build, the children encounter problems related to the size, shape, and placement of the blocks. For example, Travis finds that the sides of his frame are too far apart to support the long blocks that he tries to place there. Matilda sees that the “car” she has built does not provide enough room for Travis to stretch his legs. When building the “robot,” Travis seems to be taking care to make it symmetrical.

Physical development: Block building involves a variety of physical skills. Throughout the video, all three children coordinate a variety of large-motor and fine-motor movements to transport and place blocks. At one point, Travis uses his chin as well as his hands and arms to carry several blocks at once. Matilda carries the much larger hollow blocks with some effort. Afterward, Stacia lifts and places a hollow block, commenting that it is “hard.” Travis’s fine-motor skills enable him to place blocks with precision on his robot structure.

Social/emotional development: The children’s block area interactions are generally positive. Travis agrees that Matilda can play there but does not seem to want to play collaboratively. Twice Travis rejects her idea of building him a car, but she persists in trying to engage him. Matilda and Stacia play cooperatively, talking to each other as they build a car. When Travis holds the block over his head, Matilda and Stacia show concern about safety although he is not making a direct threat. They leave the block area without scolding Travis or seeking adult help.

This video shows the flow of constructive activity that can occur when the daily schedule offers extended periods of time to use open-ended materials such as blocks. The fact that Travis stays involved in the block area for many minutes despite some interruptions indicates his high level of engagement. The interaction involving Travis’ mother demonstrates one way that a parent can support children’s school activities by observing and responding to what they are doing in the classroom.



Note: In much of the video, sounds in the rest of the room are louder than the block area conversation. The transcript below includes only what is being said in the block area.

Travis works on a frame of long unit blocks on the floor. He selects some shorter blocks from the shelf behind him. He places the blocks on the floor and moves around the space.

Mother: (off camera) Are there enough of those?

Travis: Yeah.

He continues to pull shorter blocks from the shelf.

Mother: Are there enough of those long ones left?

Travis: No.

He adds small blocks to his frame. Matilda enters, sits on the carpet, and speaks to Travis. He looks at her and nods.

Matilda: Can I help?

Travis: (nods) Yassay. Yes-sy.

Matilda: Okay.

Travis: Okay-dee.

Matilda: Okay-dee. Okee-dokey.

Travis: Dockey? Dukey? Ookey-dookey? (Going to block shelf.) Now we need another one! (Pulling a block from the shelf) This? No. (Taking another block.) This? This? Yes.

Matilda: (Turning toward stack of hollow blocks) And I guess I’m –

Travis: (Placing a block) That’s better.

Matilda continues to examine the hollow blocks. Travis takes a basket of small objects from the shelf and dumps it onto the rug inside his frame.

Mother: Ooh. Is that the treasure basket?

Travis tosses a white bow to his mother.

Mother: (Holding up a white bow) That doesn’t belong in there?

Travis: Nuh-uh. (Lifting a long block) Now we need a big one of these.

Matilda: Oh, that’s giant! These (showing a hollow block) are gianter than those ones.

Mother: Oh, they are. Wooh!

Travis: (Trying to set a long block across the top of his structure.) Need to make some [unintelligible] all of ’em onto that…

Mother: What do we need to do? What do you think?

Matilda: (Holding wedge-shaped hollow block) Look how big this one is! Look how big this one is!

Mother: Oh, that’s neat.

Travis: Need to make some –

With some effort, Matilda carries the wedge block to Travis’ structure as he tries to place another long block on his frame.

Travis: All of ’em are too –

Matilda watches him, then returns to the hollow block area and sets the block down on the floor.

Mother: What can you do instead?

Travis: Make it smaller. I’ll try that….

Mother: Yeah. […]. Get your frame, if you want your frame back up. Do you want your frame to stay the same?

Travis: No, I think we, we, we can put ’em right here.

Mother: Okay.

Travis: Then put ’em back in there. (Pointing to the shelf behind him.)

Mother: Okay.

Matilda walks on the wedge block, slipping slightly. She steps off and turns to Travis.

Matilda: I’m like this, see?

Mother: You’re so tall.

Travis stands to look at something Matilda wants him to see.

Mother: Well, let’s think. Maybe you can build—


Travis sits down by his structure.

Mother: You could keep your frame. ’Cause if you want a square, keep your frame —

Travis works on his frame.

Matilda: Or you could make a smaller frame if you wanted to.

Mother: That’s true. But if you want it to be smaller —. What’s smaller (gesturing) the outside edge or the inside?

Travis: Outside. (realigning a block)

Mother: The outside? Okay. You want to make the outside smaller?

Travis: Yeah.

Mother: Okay, how would you do that?

Travis: I don’t know.

Matilda: Uhm—

Travis: Make it—get a new frame.

Mother: You could get a new frame. That’s true. You could make it out of different sizes, you—

Travis: Or you—or we could make it out of this size or this. (holding up blocks)

Mother: It’s true, because those are smaller.

Travis: Or I could make it out of this, or I could do this, like this. See?

Matilda: (Holding up cylindrical unit blocks.) Or you can, or you can make it out of circles like these.

Mother: There are so many cool options.

Travis: Or we could use, or we could make robots of these, of the squares (showing his mother a cylinder block) and this could be the circle, this, and this could be also the eyes.

Matilda turns to the hollow blocks and places one back on the shelf.

Mother: You have so many great ideas.

Travis: Mm-hm.

Travis: I’m gonna make a robot.

Mother: Okay.

Mother: (Touching Travis as he maneuvers around his structure.) Say goodbye? I’m gonna leave. I’m gonna head out. I’m gonna go ‘bye.

Travis stands and turns to her. They kiss and hug goodbye.

Mother: OK, see you soon.

Travis’s mother leaves.

Matilda observes while Travis builds.

Travis: I need more of that.

Matilda: You need lots of that or you’re gonna run out forever, right?

Travis picks up several of the square blocks and carries them to his structure, places them rapidly on top of a longer block. As he does so, he briefly pays attention to others in the room, and quickly returns to building. Matilda continues to move hollow blocks, pausing to look at her work. Travis picks up and carries more blocks. Matilda makes a structure with the wedge in the center and smaller blocks on either side. She pauses to look elsewhere in the room while Travis works on his unit block robot. After she places a square block at one end of the ramp, she goes to Travis and gets down to his level.

Matilda: (Whispering.) When you get done, you want to make the other thing with me?

Travis: I don’t want to.

He stands up, goes over to her structure and sits down.

Matilda: You could try it. The car? […] Like, pretend that was your car, okay?

Travis moves a block with his hands and his feet, sliding slightly down the wedge. Stacia joins them.

Stacia: What are you guys playing?

Matilda: Nothing—making a car […] (placing a block). It can go here.

Travis stands and goes back to his structure.

Matilda: Wanna go in the car?

Stacia: Yeah. What are you gonna do?

Matilda: Want to build a car for him?

Travis: I don’t want a car.

Travis continues building his robot.

Stacia: No, not right now.

Matilda: Look at this. Get a block—

Stacia pulls a hollow block from the stack by the wall.

Matilda: Slide it right in there.

Stacia: Like this?

She places the block carefully and claps her hands.

Stacia: Woo! It’s hard!

Matilda: Ready to pull it up a little?

She pulls, and Stacia pushes the new block up the ramp.

Matilda: Uh! But it’s gonna slide down!

Travis goes to their structure and picks up the block, holding it above his head.

Matilda: No, that’s your seat! (to Stacia) He’s going to drop that now.

Stacia: (To Travis) Don’t drop that! It’ll fall down. (To Matilda) Let’s get out of here so it doesn’t fall.

Stacia and Matilda leave the block area. Travis watches them, lowering the block. He puts it back on the shelf, then stands by his “robot,” looking around the room. He turns back to his structure, selecting two square blocks, then two wedges. He aligns them carefully and then stands up and leaves the area.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.B.ECc: Continue a conversation through two or more exchanges.
Matilda and Travis had conversations with several exchanges.

Travis, his mother, and Matilda had an extended conversation about his block structure.
7.A.ECa: Compare, order, and describe objects according to a single attribute.
Travis verbally compared the relative sizes of several types of unit blocks. Matilda commented that the hollow block was “gianter.” They also referred to the shapes of particular blocks, such as square and “circle” (cylindrical).
7.B.ECa: Practice estimating in everyday play and everyday measurement problems.
Travis estimated the length of block he would need to roof his structure and tested his estimates multiple times. He adjusted the size of his structure, estimating what size would work.
9.A.ECb: Sort collections of two‐ and three‐dimensional shapes by type (e.g., triangles, rectangles, circles, cubes, spheres, pyramids).
Although he did not say the names of the shapes, it was clear that Travis selected unit blocks by shape as well as size.

Travis and Matilda both referred to cylinder blocks as “circles” or “circle ones.”
9.A.ECc: Identify and name some of the faces (flat sides) of common three‐dimensional shapes using two-dimensional shape names.
Travis referred to “square” blocks (the double units, which have two square faces). Matilda and Travis referred to “circle” blocks, showing recognition that both ends of a cylinder are circular.
12.C.ECa: Identify, describe, and compare the physical properties of objects.
Travis looked for blocks in particular shapes. He talked about making his frame smaller. Matilda said the hollow block was “gianter” than the other blocks. (They do not seem to differentiate length from overall size.)
12.D.ECb: Explore the effect of force on objects in and outside the early childhood environment.
Stacia commented on the exertion needed to move a block (“Woo! It’s hard!”). Matilda and Stacia pulled and pushed a block up an incline they created, and Matilda exclaimed when it slid back down. The girls discerned that if the block Travis held overhead should fall, someone could be hurt.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECa: Engage in active play using gross- and fine-motor skills.
Travis, Matilda, and Stacia used large-motor skills to move blocks.

Travis used fine-motor skills to place blocks in his structures.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Travis watched where he placed blocks while building and was able to align shorter unit blocks on top of longer ones.
Physical Development and Health
19.B.ECa: Coordinate movements to perform complex tasks.
All three children coordinated large- and fine-motor movements to pick up, hold, carry, and place blocks.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECb: Use appropriate communication skills when expressing needs, wants, and feelings.
Matilda used several verbal strategies when trying to persuade Travis to play and build with her.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECe: Use materials with purpose, safety, and respect.
For the most part, all three children used the blocks for creating structures. When Travis held the bock over his head in a way that seemed unsafe to them, Matilda and Stacia left the area. Travis put some blocks away when he did not need them.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECf: Begin to understand the consequences of his or her behavior.
Travis saw evidence that the girls no longer wished to play in the block area when he held the hollow block over his head.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECb: Demonstrate persistence and creativity in seeking solutions to problems.
When his approaches to putting a roof on his block frame did not work, he talked with his mother and Matilda about the problem.

Matilda tried multiple approaches to getting Travis to build with her.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECc: Show some initiative, self-direction, and independence in actions.
Travis and Matilda both selected block-building as a choice time activity. After working on a frame, Travis changed his plan and made a robot. Matilda persisted in constructing a car for Travis despite his assertion that he did not want a car.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECd: Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities.
Travis spent many minutes in the block area. His goal shifted during that time, from making a roofed enclosure to making a robot.
Social/emotional Development
31.A.ECc: Interact easily with familiar adults.
Travis seemed comfortable having his mother join him and talk with him as he built. He was able to let her leave without apparent anxiety. Matilda spoke comfortably with Travis’ mother.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECa: Interact verbally and nonverbally with other children.
Stacia asked Matilda and Travis what they were doing.

Matilda and Stacia conversed about their block construction.

Matilda asked Travis questions about block play, and he responded.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECb: Engage in cooperative group play.
Matilda and Stacia collaborated to build a vehicle.
Social/emotional Development
32.A.ECb: Follow rules and make good choices about behavior.
Matilda and Stacia decided to leave the area when Travis lifted a block above his head. They did not state a rule but recognized potential danger.