Tuesday Teacher Tips: Encouraging the Use of Building Blocks at a Young Age

Welcome to the Tuesday Teacher Tips series! Each week we’ll highlight teaching and learning resources, ideas to use in the classroom, as well as things to ponder as you go about your teaching day.

One of the final math units I taught this year was a geometry chapter on recognizing two-dimensional drawings and nets as three-dimensional figures. We worked with nets; first predicting what they were, and then cutting, folding and taping them together. The students also studied drawings from multi-perspectives—top, side, front, back—and constructed what the three-dimensional figure looked like with their wooden cubes.

When we do this type of math I’m always a little surprised at which students get it immediately and which students struggle. For the students who “get it,” there is almost this huge sigh of relief; it feels like math time is play time and they are not doing “real math.” But for the students who don’t understand, their frustration seems to mount the entire math period. They want the formula of how to make it work; they want an easy answer. What they really need is the time and experience of working with the materials.

In the primary grades, there is a vast difference between the students who have had lots of literary experiences at home and those whose reading experiences are limited to the classroom. Children who are exposed to literacy from birth to school-age come to the classroom with an entire set of skills from their steady diet of books, words, storytelling, and illustrations.

It’s similar to the children who use building sets and blocks at home on a daily basis. They are used to looking at a picture and trying to replicate it with their materials. They are used to looking at buildings at various perspectives to try to get their version “just right.” And they are used to rotating, sliding, and flipping objects.

Teachers and educators have done an excellent job of getting the word out to parents about the importance of reading at home from the time their child is an infant. Maybe as math educators we need to follow the same example. By giving toddlers a set of blocks or age-appropriate building materials we can educate parents on the importance of developing their child’s spatial and geometric skills from a young age.

What are your experiences with students and geometry in the classroom? How do you encourage geometric learning when students have limited experiences? Email and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.