Stages of block play

Stages of block play
J places a cylinder block on a structure of unit and hollow blocks

The stages of block play are fascinating. There have been studies that show that no matter what age children are introduced to blocks they follow the same stages in the same sequence. It’s so cool.

  1. The first stage of block play is simply holding blocks & transporting them around. This is the only stage that is specific to very young children (under 2). At this stage the blocks are not used for construction, but they might end up in a pile far from their shelf!
  2. Next children will begin building simple structures by stacking blocks or making rows. This stage is full of repeated movements and organization.
  3. The next stage of block play is bridging. Or placing 2 or more blocks spaced apart and then placing another block on top to make a bridge-like structure. This takes more visual reasoning than stacking since it requires figuring out how to space the blocks so that the bridging block will sit steadily.
    The important thing to note here is that the stages of block play (except stage 1) continue and build upon each other. A child doesn’t stop stacking blocks when they start building bridges, instead they add bridging to their bank of possible ways to build with blocks.
  4. Next, children begin to build enclosures. They organize and build with blocks in a way that encloses a given space.
    Bridging and enclosing are the first big building problems children try to solve! They can happen simultaneously and usually pretty soon after consistent block play is introduced.
  5. Once children establish a certain level of comfort with unit blocks they begin to build structures full of symmetry and patterns! This is when they begin to decorate their structures purposefully.
  6. Shortly following stage 5, children often begin to give their structures names related to their function for dramatic play. Like “this is a house” so they can play out that scene.
  7. The final stage of block play is representation. At this stage children build to represent real structures from their lives.

One more thing- these stages don't exist as a way to measure a child's skill with blocks! They are simply another way to think more deeply as parents and teachers about how children are working with a material. They provide us with context to help us support the child's play!