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Notch Blocks: Engaging Children in a Fully Integrated Block Building Experience


By: Cindy Gennarelli M.Ed., Director, Early Childhood Education Innovation, William Paterson University

Wooden block building materials are a fundamental and natural manipulative used by children worldwide. Notch Blocks support extensive National Association of Education for Young Children (NAEYC) research validating developmentally appropriate educational advantages for young children interacting with high-quality wooden block building materials. These learning opportunities are aligned with STEM concepts, (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), the 21st-century learning framework, and related skills including creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration (4C’s).

Notch Blocks wooden building toy educational outdoor play

While exploring with Notch Blocks (both indoors and outdoors), children have opportunities to engage in open-ended, active learning building opportunities. They formulate hypotheses, test theories, and make discoveries that help them develop a fundamental understanding of the structural design process. Additionally, they begin to experiment with different orientations of blocks that spark curiosity and heighten their creative capacities. These open-ended building opportunities promote independence, innovative thinkers, and flexible problem solvers. For example, as part of the design process, children begin engaging in engineering and architectural behaviors, building with intentionality and purpose. They take initiative and think deliberatively about their choices; they show persistence designing, refining, and critically rethinking their iterations.

Children’s interactions with Notch Blocks are instinctive and organic; therefore, children should always be the decision makers when building. Some children may begin by stacking blocks vertically, others may build horizontally; however, all building opportunities should be validated. They rely on their prior knowledge and experiences from what they know about their environment and when given the freedom to build without predetermined outcomes, children will attend to building more intentionally. Individual and authentic structures will emerge, ones that will reflect the child’s individual and unique environmental experiences.

These open-ended play-based learning experiences provide opportunities for math and science learning to occur and extend cognitive thinking skills. As they manipulate three-dimensional shapes, they heighten their visual-spatial perspective, knowledge, and skills including geometry and directionality. When they navigate through the building process, they begin to grasp the underlying fundamental understanding of physics: creating strong, stable foundations, ramps, pathways, tunnels, and bridges that include force and motion.

It is crucial to consider our role as adults. How can we facilitate their Notch Bocks System building without disrupting their building process? We can do this and extend learning in a variety of ways that include the types of questions and conversations we have with children during their building process. Engage children in higher level, open-ended, meaningful conversations that support their work but doesn’t interrupt their play. Ask questions that provide opportunities for children to articulate their new learnings. For example:

  • I wonder what would happen if…
  • I am curious…
  • I notice that you …

Introduce new vocabulary in a purposeful and meaningful way.

  • Your structure has quite a sturdy foundation…
  • Your building is very stable…
  • How many stories tall…
  • What can you tell me about the geometric pattern (angles, slants) ….

Notch Blocks provide opportunities for children to explore and investigate with materials when provocations emerge from their own interests and curiosities.

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Creating Nature-based Classrooms Webinar – Presented by Sandra Duncan and Jody Martin

When you think of the aesthetics of an early education classroom, what do you see?

  • Brightly colored plastic toys.
  • Shelves stacked high with lesson materials and paperwork.
  • Walls covered with color-by-numbers artwork.
  • Commercial posters with letters, numbers and cartoons.

Consider how this makes you feel. Are you calm or are your senses overwhelmed with all the colors? Can you find a comfortable spot to relax? Most likely, if you don’t feel comfortable, little ones will also feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed in this type of environment. This is a familiar aesthetic for teachers, but not necessarily the right one. Early childhood experts are beginning to look at new ways to break this antiquated classroom setup by designing beautiful classroom environments filled with nature and natural objects.

“Traditionally accepted notions of what early childhood classrooms should be have persisted because, until recently, they haven’t been challenged.”

Natural, recognizable spaces welcome children and allow them to relax and deeply experience the moment without unfamiliar distractions. A child who is calm, at peace and centered will be able to experience and remember information better than a child who is constantly distracted, uncomfortable and forced into focus.

Beautiful, realistic elements are vital for creating a classroom space that promotes positive cognitive learning. In this thoughtful webinar session, Creating Nature-based Classrooms: Breaking the Aesthetic Code of Early Childhood Environments, Sandra Duncan and Jody Martin encourage teachers to break the traditional aesthetic code by bringing the outside in and creating nature-based experiences for young children to enhance their learning potential.

Click here for a full recording of the webinar.

About the Presenters:

With almost 50 years of experience in the early care and education field, Dr. Sandra Duncan has extensive experiences in publishing curricula and teacher resources, playing with young children, training early childhood professionals, teaching at the university level, designing professional development programs, working with parents and CDA candidates and authoring articles and books.



Jody Martin has 34 years of extensive and diverse experience in the early childhood field. She taught preschool, directed a child care center, and worked at the corporate off1ces of two national child care companies. She is presently the Professional Learning Content Manager for Frog Street Press. Jody has authored several courses for online training companies, written several articles for early childhood publications and authored several books.

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Introducing IO Blocks Makerspace

Guidecraft is proud to introduce IO Blocks Makerspace as a free online resource for teachers, educators, and students interested in combining technology and design with the limitless opportunities of Guidecraft’s original building toy system, IO Blocks. Curated lessons on familiar subjects; such as insects, robots, and bridges, encourage children to explore the world around them using IO Blocks and 3D printed pieces of their own creation.

IO Blocks are Guidecraft’s friction fit building system influenced by virtual world design elements. Each of the 11 unique shapes are designed to a 1:1 ratio standard building unit. While playing with the toys, children become familiar with many concepts vital to understanding STEM concepts such as spatial and number sense, structure, and balance. These characteristics make IO Blocks an ideal physical model for introducing children to digital 3D design and product and part creation.

The IO Blocks Makerspace Community was created to deliver a complete platform to teachers and librarians interested in integrating 3D design into their curriculum. Students are asked to solve problems or tasks presented to them using their classroom’s IO Blocks set. Using 3D design programs, students can download and tinker with original IO Blocks shapes to create unique IO Blocks pieces that help accomplish their prompt or task. At the end of each lesson, students will have used problem solving, creativity, technical skills, and perseverance to accomplish their task.

Everyone is encouraged to share their designs, builds, and unique lessons on the Guidecraft IO Blocks Makerspace Community. All lessons and inspirational Makerspace submissions can be found there. The lessons and shape files (CADs) for the IO Blocks pieces may be download directly from the website. For more information about the IO Blocks Makerspace page, or to become a part of the IO Makerspace Community, please visit

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The Impact of Natural Elements on Early Learning Spaces: A Global Perspective

Join’s Webinar on Monday, May 21, from 3-4pm EST as our very own President, Gary Bilezikian, takes us on a global tour of Early Childhood Education from New Zealand, to Thailand, to Chile, to China — in search of nature-based environments that promote a holistic educational model. You’ll learn how the legal, cultural, political, and religious frameworks impact and shape our understanding of the environment. Gary will also discuss great products and ideas that will inspire how you think about your environment, as well as provide ideas and strategies to enhance organic experiences within the built environment.

Eight lucky attendees will win $250 worth of early childhood education products for their classrooms. Register here to sign up to participate in the session and please join Classroom Management for Early Learning Community to learn more about events like these.

Click here for a full recording of the webinar just in case you missed joining us live on Monday. See the webinar for more details on the chance to win Guidecraft products for your classroom!


Gary Bilezikian, President of Guidecraft

Gary Bilezikian, President of Guidecraft

About the Presenter:

Gary Bilezikian is a graduate of Pratt Institute’s Art and Design Education program. He taught art in the New York City public schools, was a children’s book author and illustrator, and founder of children’s new media, and furniture companies. For the past 20 years he has worked in product development, design, supply chain and compliance on children’s products in both the consumer and early childhood education markets. As President of Guidecraft, a provider of STEM-based toys and early childhood education furniture, his work focuses on the global early childhood education environment, and working towards a universal set of ideas and standards. He works in the United States and internationally with ECE distributors, as well as designers, architects, and educators to implement new ideas, products and strategies into the preschool landscape. He’s married to the fine artist Heidi Lanino, and lives in the Hudson Valley in New York State with their wonderful kids and pets.

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Introducing Block Science

Introducing a new kind of block play: Block Science.

Our entire Block Science system, which debuts this year, is created around physics to harness the energy of play. It is designed to be used with all standard unit blocks and every set includes Concept Cards, or visual cues that show the correlation between the world we live in and how we can shape that world and the related concepts using the Block Science system.

The Foundation Sets exercise early engineering concepts, collaboration, and the study of matter, motion and mathematics. Plastic building and roadway clips stabilize builds, drawbridges and loops to enable taller, sturdier and movable tracks and builds. Simplified, wooden cars with plastic wheels easily glide across the solid wood tracks while carrying algebraic people designed for mathematical and dramatic play activities.

This pioneering extension of the unit blocks system adds a rich layer of cognitive development to traditional classroom block play. To see samples of the Concept Cards, or for more information about the Block Science Foundation Sets and corresponding Unit Blocks Sets, please visit our Block Science Inspiration Page.

Sherry Artemenko, founder of Play on Words, an award-winning speech therapy site where Play Advances Language, experienced our Block Science system first-hand at the New York Toy Fair. To watch her review, please click here.

If you would like to shop our entire Block Science system and corresponding products, please click here.

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