Blocks, Imaging and Sharing — Spring Staff Development Day
By Emma O’Hanlon, Assistant Teacher
Enter any classroom at Bing Nursery School and there are shelves upon shelves of wooden blocks — all kinds of blocks — unit blocks and hollow blocks — ready and waiting for children to come and build. Children spend hours constructing castles, forts, roadways and other elaborate structures. Blocks offer a wonderful medium for children’s play. But what do children gain as they work with blocks?
In “Build and Build: The Cognitive Benefits of Blocks,” Bing’s assistant director Jennifer Winters posed this question to teachers at the morning session of spring quarter’s staff development day. Having presented the topic with Bing director Jeanne Lepper at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in Chicago in November, Winters revisited the subject with Bing teachers to inspire reflection on their interactions with children in the block area and to maximize their understanding of blocks as an important material for the classroom curriculum. The presentation included the history of blocks, the developmental stages of block building and cognitive growth facilitated by play with blocks. • Children use blocks as a form of communication. • Children gain self-awareness and social skills through joint projects in the block area. • Children practice scientific thinking when as they classify, compare, inquire, interpret, observe, predict and test ideas with blocks. • Children engage with math in the block area; they count, contemplate shape and form, and construct structures based on concise mathematical relations.
• Children partake in dramatic play, applying imagination to objects created with blocks and engaging in representations and reflections of their own experiences, fantasies and information.
Teachers reviewed their role as facilitators in the block area, discussing appropriate practices and reflecting on their responsibilities as teachers in the classroom at large.
Staff development day continued with a presentation by Heather Erba of the Stanford Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory on her latest study on autism research and brain imaging. She discussed the mission of her research, relevant study findings and research procedures when conducting brain-imaging studies on young children. While Erba’s findings have yet to be analyzed, teachers were updated on the latest techniques and current work conducted outside of Bing’s research rooms.
The staff development sessions ended with presentations by each teaching team including classroom projects and new ideas for curriculum:
• The Two’s class teams updated the staff on the children’s ever-growing social, language and physical skills, as well as their latest interests and use of basic materials.
• The West AM team followed with a presentation on the use of woodworking in the classroom and the children’s responses.
• The West PM team presented their children’s interests in maps, including activities such as mapping the yard and new songs teachers had created in response to the children’s mapping.
• The Center AM team discussed their project on birds, sharing the story of how their project emerged from the presence of a red-tailed hawk and a robin’s nest in their yard.
• The Center PM team talked about their project on games, facilitating the growth of their classroom community and helping children make social connections and find new friends.
• The East AM team presented their project on caring for others, sharing a book of children’s ideas about caretakers and teaching the staff songs about caring for use in the classroom.
• Finally, the East PM team closed with their children’s keen interest in block building, focusing on the social aspects of blocks.