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.