Unit blocks or something else?

Unit blocks or something else?

Should I buy standard unit blocks OR should I pick a different block set?

If you’re just starting your family’s block collection should you buy standard unit blocks or should you go for a different block set? Maybe you've had your eye on something by Grimm's, Haba, or Lovevery?

Personally my preference is unwavering - I’ll always recommend standard unit blocks for both home and classroom use. In my opinion and my experience standard unit blocks are unmatched in their open endedness, as well as their ability to promote mathematical thinking. They are perfectly varied in shape and size and their large size is also just SO enticing to builders young and old alike! 

So why even take the time to talk about other kinds of blocks?

Listen, I LOVE unit blocks, but the truth is that all block play has the potential to be magic and if you want that Grimm’s Large Stepped Pyramid I get it. I’d rather take the time to help you understand how to best support meaningful play with whatever set you feel passionate about than ignore alternatives to standard unit blocks altogether! 

Here's a little table I put together with some basic points:

So, overall if mathematical block play is important to you you may want to stick with standard unit blocks. It's totally possible to build a really fantastic mathematical block collection with other block sets, but it'll take research and effort. I've done some of that work for you, but it's just impossible to me to review each and every set out there. It baffles me daily to find how some block brands don't even follow one mathematical standard over their own sets.

Why do we care about mathematically designed blocks?

Mathematically designed blocks allow for children to plan and problem solve effectively. They can run out of one shape and keep building by creating it with other blocks. This gives children much more control over their block play and encourages mathematical and scientific thinking to happen naturally through play. Zero adult intervention required. This is a really big piece of the magic of block play.

Tips for creating a mathematical non-standard unit block collection

If you choose standard unit blocks you don't have to do much work to build a really fun and varied collection - just by choosing standard unit blocks you can be pretty sure your blocks will be beautifully mathematically designed. Otherwise, here are a few tips for building a meaningful, mathematical block set with cube-unit block sets.

  • Choose a standard and stick to it - I recommend 4x4cm since there are some really fantastic sets that follow this unit size!
  • Research new sets before you buy them to make sure they follow your chosen standard.
  • Look for variety in shapes without wavering from your standard unit - it can be tempting to buy everything pretty but IMO it's worth it to stick to your standard!

I'f you've decided you'd like unit blocks and need guidance in choosing a set please check out my unit block buying guide. If you're thinking you'd like a different set, I'm currently working on a guide to buying 4x4 blocks and will link it here when it's ready. So please check back for it soon!