Space for Two in the Block Area

At what developmental stage is it appropriate to expect children to share? 3 years old? 4? 5? And what about siblings? My sisters and I still have a little bit of angst towards sharing (terrible, isn’t it? And we’re adults!)

Well I can tell you that at 3.5 and 19 months, Jack and Sarah rarely share. They are kind to each other, Jack will give Sarah something if he thinks she will enjoy playing with it, but only if he isn’t already using it. Sometimes they will play together if neither of them want what the other one is playing with; sometimes they will play side-by-side, and on occasion I will catch them playing with something together…occasionally. But for the most part, when one of them has something and the other one wants it, it generally ends in a ‘MINE!’ 

This behaviour is very unnerving for me. I really don’t like seeing them argue. I know that it is important for them to learn how to negotiate different social situations but I also know that at this stage it would be very unrealistic for me to expect them to share. When they are older? Absolutely. But not now.

Jack has been very interested in blocks lately. Unfortunately for him though, Sarah still finds much joy in knocking down blocks. This has caused a lot of frustration in our house recently.

I think it is very important for Sarah to feel included; if Jack is building blocks then she wants to build blocks too. For her to be included and for the experience to be a harmonious one, Sarah needed her own space. I came across this little piece of timber when I was cleaning out the laundry, the perfect size for Sarah. Now she can play alongside her brother. 

My husband and I have also been very conscious about giving Jack and Sarah the words they need to work through a situation. I recently came across Dr. Laura Markham’s peaceful parenting blog and have been busily taking notes. More and more rather than screaming mine and snatching, we are hearing Jack say:

‘I’m still playing with this Sarah. When I am finished you can have a turn.’

‘Would you like to play with this one, Sarah?’

And just this morning I heard (and my heart sang)…

‘When you are finished with that Sarah, may I have a turn please?’ 

What a difference a little piece of timber can make? A little space for them to each play. They played happily all morning.

When he Fails: A little lesson with blocks

‘Mummy! I CAN’T DO IT!’ Followed by a scream of frustration and then usually a block is thrown across the room.

Jack is so focussed on blocks at the moment. He will sit in the block area for seemingly ages building. Usually this level of concentration is reserved for his drum kit. He is completely invested in building these houses, they must be just how he wants them, and only he can build them.

But blocks are blocks. They are different shapes, different sizes, they don’t all fit together simply, they fall down. And that is where the problem lays.

teaching children to handle failureJack has strong emotions, he becomes frustrated when things don’t go as he planned, even seemingly small things. Sometimes it is difficult for me to be empathetic towards him as it seems that what has upset him is so small and easily fixed with a little bit of patience.

But I know that even though the fact that the round block won’t stay on top of the rectangular one seems small to me, it is not small to Jack. It is frustrating and upsetting. It is important to him to have that block on there, it’s part of his plan.

So what do we do? I can’t have him throwing blocks across the room, and I don’t want him to feel helpless when something isn’t working. I want him to know that mistakes happen, they should happen, they need to happen, that’s how we learn and create and discover new things and new ways of working. The blocks will fall, many times, but when they fall you will learn something new and you’ll be able to use that next time you build.

‘Expect mistakes and problems….Model resilience. Show a calm confidence that your child will find a way. Encourage him to step back and think about his options; if necessary, brainstorm with him. Give him the time and support to solve his own problems.’ ~ Lori Pickert, Project-based Homeschooling

So I sit near Jack or at least in ear shot of him. Sometimes he will ask for help and at those times I’ll sit with him and ask him what he is trying to do. It’s tempting to tell him the reason, that rectangular block is too narrow to have the other one sit on top, but what good would that do? I already know that, but he doesn’t. He needs to find that out for himself. So I try to coax out of him what he is doing and why it isn’t working.

‘What is happening Jack?’ 

‘Why do you think that is happening?’

‘What would you like to happen?’

‘What else could you try?’

Other times he doesn’t ask for help. He starts to repeat the same motion over and over, and as the block continues to fall off, becomes more and more frustrated ending in him knocking down his whole building and throwing a block across the room.

At those times, I need to intervene. He needs to know that he could hurt someone if he throws blocks and that he also needs to be respectful of our belongings. I’ve learnt a lot from Janet Lansbury about setting limits in a calm manner. So with a firm but gentle hand I usually try to stop him from throwing the block and say;

‘I won’t let you throw the block. I can see that you are frustrated.’

What is making you frustrated?’ 

Once he has calmed down we can usually work through it together. I can see this being an ongoing challenge; failure, or at least the perception of failure. I just hope that both Jack and Sarah learn that failure to do something is not a failure in them, that all things come with practice.

A Reggio-inspired Block Corner

I’ve been having a bit of a think lately, and a bit of a read, well actually quite a bit of a read. I’ve been reading a lot about how the materials we select for our children and the way we offer them reflect our view of children. What do we believe to be true about children? What do we expect from them? And how is this reflected in the materials and types of activities we offer them? We have such a profound influence on our children; how we view them really can limit or enhance them.

Sometimes (or more often than not) our view of children is cultural, societal, unconscious. But it is reflected in the way we act towards our children, how we speak to them, what experiences we offer them.

I believe my children to be capable, to be able to create their own play, to have enough innate inquisitiveness to not require overstimulating toys, preferring instead open-ended toys which appeal to their developing senses and need for sensory exploration.

However as I was having a look around the playroom, I realised that, while I like the room, what I thought was my view of my children wasn’t being shown as clearly as I would have liked. The room needs to evolve, to change with them, to continue to challenge and inspire them. They are worthy of this.

So, I had a bit of a think and moved things around a little bit. I was particularly thinking about the blocks. Everyone has blocks. But what are our expectations of blocks? How do we expect children to use them? Ours were just in a basket and no real attention given to them.

When I was thinking about the playroom as a space for Jack (3.5yrs) and Sarah (16mths) to play and learn and build on their skills, extend their knowledge, their imagination, I thought about presenting things differently to encourage them to play with familiar materials in different ways. This was more in tune with my view of them, inquisitive with a deep desire to know, to understand, to learn. 

It’s a small change, but I think this new block corner encourages them to engage, to build, to create. The mirror offers a different perspective to challenge their thinking, and the platform gives them a nice sturdy surface to build.

I also put out the Duplo blocks and board next to the natural blocks. I moved the tinker-table outside (this is where I intended it to go anyway) so we can use it for nice messy endeavours. I moved the books into the shelves and put the floor cushions near the block area to encourage Jack and Sarah to sit and stay a while.  

This is what we have on the shelves at the moment. I usually rotate them every few weeks depending on the kids’ interests, but today I added the vase. I really love fresh flowers and these native Proteas are just gorgeous. I thought Jack and Sarah would enjoy them too.

So a few little changes to the playroom, making it, I think, a more inspiring environment for Jack and Sarah. I’m looking forward to tackling our outdoor play area, that is one space which definitely needs a dose of inspiration.


Reggio activities with mirrors and loose parts - An Everyday Story

We have a range of mirrors which I use in provocations for Jack and Sarah. You can read more about using mirrors in this post: Mirrors & Buttons – Mirrors in a Reggio-inspired Home You can use mirrors as a … Continue reading

Reggio Materials

Why are materials so important? Materials have the potential to draw you in, make you want to stay a while, explore a little (or a lot), try new things, create and wonder. They also have the potential to completely turn you … Continue reading