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Dr. Toy Talks About the Power of Construction Toys

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One of the most important areas of play involves building with construction toys of all kinds. This is an important creative and learning experience for boys and girls of all ages. The benefits last for a lifetime.

The world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, wrote in his autobiography, "The maple-wood blocks are in my fingers to this day. These primary forms and figures were the secret of all effects which were ever got into the architecture of the world."

As a child, this outstanding architect spent a great deal of time playing with the educational blocks that were created by Friedrich Froebel (known as "Froebel Gifts") and given to him by his mother. The Froebel "Gifts" used by Wright were small, geometrically shaped blocks that could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. Wright was greatly influenced by the experiences of building as a child. These early building experiences formed the basis of his approach to design.

In 1840, Friedrich Froebel built the foundation for modern education when he created "kindergarten," or as it was then called, "Play and Activity Institute." One of the important contributions of Froebel was to recognize the importance of hands-on activity of the child in learning which included gardening and playing with the Froebel "Gifts."

The principles of his method were to proceed from easy to more difficult activities and included measuring, drawing, writing, numbers and reasoning. He also advocated for the importance of free play in childhood. Play is an essential and special part of childhood. It allows children at all ages to experiment with the world around them and engage in the mental and emotional world inside them.

In 1916, Frank Lloyd Wright's son John created a popular construction product that you may also have played with known as "Lincoln Logs." These small but authentic-looking logs were inspired by the traditional log cabin, and have been played with by many generations of young architects, builders and creative children,

Other architects have expressed the important influences that came from creating with building blocks.

"Construction toys, of all toy categories, offer the most open-end opportunities for children to design and create imaginative structure. Using abstract, modular forms, construction toys present a 'what if' question and allow children to construct and continually modify their own representations," writes Karen Hewitt, who developed a unique set of creative products offered by Learning Materials Workshop.

To some adults, child's play might seem trivial, but we know there is a lot of work going on, like skill building, problem solving and overcoming physical and mental challenges. Playing with a variety of building and creative products helps children build self-confidence and encourages their independent learning. For the fullest development of fine and gross motor movements and for the growth of eye-hand coordination, it is extremely important for children to play with a variety of things, including materials both natural, like sand and water, and manufactured, like wooden blocks and construction materials. Giving children ample time to explore and play together helps to make them more confident human beings.

Adults can enter the world of imagination and fantasy when we play with children. This helps children build self-confidence while feeling safe and secure in our presence. As parents, grandparents and teachers, we help to strengthen the child's self-esteem and confidence when we provide children with our time and attention. When children realize that the things they are interested in are also important to us, and that we appreciate their method of play and fun, reinforcement of their skills and capacity grows.

Play also allows children to explore new friendships with all those with whom they interact. Starting casually with the most fundamental experience of placing two stones on top of each other, then collect a fistful of sticks to create a rudimentary structure. Then, gathering wooden blocks can open up a world of potential designs. Children are encouraged to create whatever they want their structure to be. Thus from the simplest beginnings, based on what is natural and available, the child explores and discovers.

We are most fortunate to have many choices for children when we consider construction products -- from wood to colorful and sturdy plastic; from dowels that fit together to blocks of all sizes, shapes, colors and forms; and from many different materials that reflect the real world -- metal, soft and hard-colored plastic, all variations of wood and foam, air blown blocks, cardboard and, of course, water, sand and all the other natural materials.

There are many excellent examples of construction products. Children in a classroom, attuned to the potential of construction play, can have the world at their fingertips on a daily basis and be encouraged to shape the world to fit as they imagine it to be. Varied products contribute to the children's evolution today and benefit their growth and development far into their future.

Construction Play offer unlimited possibilities and value. Some of the ways "Construction Play" benefits children:

• Children learn to create buildings and other structures.
• Design imaginary things based on their own ideas.
• Build strength in their fingers and hands
• Improve their hand-eye coordination.
• Develop and improve social relationships with other children
• Valuable opportunities for interaction as children share discuss and solve problems together.
• Expand language abilities as they discuss the size, shape, colors, comparisons and other aspects of building.
• Learn and practice math skills by grouping, adding, subtracting, matching and sequencing.
• Learn skills that involve modular reasoning, building, perspective, logarithms, algorithms and creative reasoning.
• Experience science and physics as they experiment with gravity, weight, balance and stability.
• Develop skills and imagination such as cause and effect, problem solving, classification skills and critical thinking.
• Gain a sense of achievement when constructing with blocks, building sets, robots, model kits and puzzles.
• Make discoveries impossible to imagine, control or manifest in any other way as they use their own hands to manipulate shapes and forms.
• Learn as they build.
• Construction play benefits happen instantly and simultaneously.
• Many activities enhance play and stretch the child's experiences.
• Discover how to build by placing each piece next to, on top of, or connected to each other.
• Experiments by trial and error change and explore, to see what works.
• Decides what is wanted and then works gradually towards the goal.
• Chooses to work alone or with one or more.
• May talk about what they are doing or build quietly
• Observes structure grow larger and more complicated.
• May add decorations to experiment, and make other creative choices.

Many play opportunities are based on principles of construction. Everyone can enjoy time away from technology overload and find special time to build together as a family. It also helps to solve problems. Best of all, discover for yourself the power of play and the many benefits of building play.

For more information, see my book, Smart Play, Smart Toys and Dr Toy's Guide www.drtoy.com for suggested specific construction toys and other play products of all kinds. See also Dr Toy's Gift Guide App.

© 2013 Stevanne Auerbach PhD/ Dr. Toy, San Francisco CA