And another positive thing about blocks? They don't require batteries or make sound. A HUGE bonus in my book.
Anyways, of all the different things we do with blocks, this is a kind of Montessorian self directed activity with blocks that Preschooler Man loves...if I had to come up with a name for it I'd call it Montessorian advanced block sorting. Sounds pretty clinical, huh?
Sorting is a wonderful pre-mathematical concept that all children should be exposed to in various forms prior to entering into school. Sorting also assists in developing the child's problem solving skills. We do all sorts of sorting things around here....and as I recall I taught my older daughter her colors by grabbing a handful of M&M's after dinner when she was younger and having her sort out and name the colors. One of Preschooler Man's favorite sorting activities as a toddler was to dump all the fruits out on the floor that just came from the grocery store and sort it out by types. He got some sorting experience, and my fruits were rolled in whatever bits of dirt and crumbs happened to be on the floor. Good times.
So here's what we did this time:
I gave Preschooler Man a set of multicolored blocks of different shapes, which I had dumped into a bowl. I gave him the tongs (though we like to call them "snatchers" around here) and asked him to sort out the blocks by shape, using the tongs to pick them up, into a wide variety of different containers. As simple of an activity as this sounds, he enjoyed doing this so much. He did it again and again, though I varied the instructions to give him other tasks to do as well.
As you can see, I used my very fancy fine china for this...or whatever I happened to grab from the cupboard.
So, what are we working on here? Motor coordination. This is a wonderful task for the three year old to four year old age because it is actually a bit tricky to manuever the tongs with the blocks, and gives them a bit of a motor skills challenge. The sorting and matching blocks to the different types, as previously mentioned, is an important pre-mathematical concept. Following directions. Initially I would just asked Preschooler Man to sort out all of the squares, then maybe all of the circles individually, etc. When that was accomplished I asked him to sort out all of the ovals AND stars, giving him more complex directions to carry out. In the end, he sorted all the shapes into different containers completely independently. You could do lots of different things with this as well, and use lots of different materials. I happened to have a set of these lacing beads from Melissa and Doug that worked wonderfully, but you could use so many other things. Things could also be sorted and matched by many other characteristics, like color, texture (hard things and soft things), etc.
Like any activity I discuss, be creative, and tailor it to your child's age! For my baby, I might try a simple sorting game with him in a few months where I sort out a few simple colors from his pegboard pegs, saying the name of each color as I'm doing so. Even if he doesn't participate, observing me do so will be helpful to encouraging his understanding of how things are different and that this means something.
For my older child, let's call her Princess Fancy, I might put an assortment of plastic animal figurines into a big bowl and ask her to sort out the mammals from the reptiles, the herbivores from the carnivores, etc. And trust me, seven year olds are not too cool to sort things using tongs. They love it.
And a final birds eye view of the activity...