Outdoor Learning and Play
How construction play can benefit children's physical and mental development.
The Benefits of Construction Play in Early Years
Junk model robots, kitchen roll binoculars, towers made from blocks and boxes turned into rocket ships are often familiar sights within early years settings.
Construction play can really help to extend children’s ideas and imagination.
Constructive play occurs when children use toys, loose parts or materials to build or create something new.
Successful construction requires various skills such as: planning, drawing, cutting, assembling, moulding, stacking and testing.
The term 'constructive play' is an important stage in the development of skills mentioned in Jean Piaget’s research.
Constructive play often takes the form of hands-on learning where children are posing questions, testing ideas and making decisions.
When experimenting with a variety of learning materials children explore and discover.
Piaget saw constructive play as a transition from functional to symbolic play. Before children begin to construct, they will have explored a range of materials in order to know how to effectively use them.
When involved in exploratory play children use their senses for investigation and discovery. Simple actions will be repeated such as banging blocks together or moving them from one place to another.
This phase helps children to prepare for constructing which requires more purposeful movements. Children learn to manipulate materials to achieve a desired outcome and can be provided with a great sense of achievement.
Constructive play helps children to make sense of the world, they develop problem solving and social skills and improve their fine motor development.
Young children often gravitate towards constructive play when given a choice in the classroom.
As educators, if we support this type of play and enhance our provision it can lead to academic and social success.
In this blog I will explore the many benefits of construction play and how it can be supported and enhanced.
Encourages Collaborative Working
There is definitely something very special when children come together to create.
Often children will work together in pairs or small groups when engaged in construction play. They will learn to listen, take turns and co-operate with members of their team.
Simple actions such as passing each other the correct pieces of the toy train track allow children to engage with each other and to contribute towards a shared goal.
A Tuff Spot Table is the perfect size and shape to encourage collaborative working. Children can sit, stand and crouch around each of the sides and storage boxes containing construction materials are easily stored and accessible underneath.
Construction play doesn’t stop at Early Years, Pentagon’s Year 6 Leavers Bench encourages children to work together in groups, carefully following instructions, to construct their own useable product.
Develops Language Skills
Children will begin to learn new vocabulary through constructive play. When engaged in social interactions complexity of vocabulary increases and children learn how to respond in appropriate ways.
Adding clipboards, paper and pencils to a construction area allows children to draw and write about their ideas.
Some learners may like to create their own mini booklets instructing others how to make their construction. Pupils may voice their ideas to an adult who can scribe or video children’s thoughts which allows students to create links between spoken and written word.
Children can video each other and if a copy of the recording is made, peers can listen to advice on ‘How to make a police station’.
When children are involved in enjoyable, active learning they use language linked to real-life scenarios and conversations are meaningful.
Learning to Solve Problems
Problem Solving skills are developed in constructive play as children establish which methods give their desired result and which do not.
Children begin to visualise the types of models they would like to make and they learn how to construct using boxes and cardboard whilst making decision about the number of windows or wheels to include.
Children learn to adapt their approach, take advice, test ideas and reassess. They develop resilience and will learn how to apply these skills to other areas of their lives.
A major advantage of constructive play is that it allows children to develop creativity. When experimenting with different materials and discovering new uses, possibilities become endless and lateral thinking is encouraged.
Introduces Mathematical Concepts
Important mathematical concepts are introduced in construction play. Children will begin to use vocabulary linked to spatial reasoning such as below, on top, next to, besides, above.
Pupils may begin to measure their models, talking about how big, long, wide their construction will need to be.
An understanding of size can take place in a purposeful context. Constructive play can also teach children about shapes, sorting, matching and classifying.
Pupils may sort bricks by colour or type when building their zoo. Wooden cylinders may be gathered in one pile whereas cuboids gathered in another to use for different parts of their house construction.
Enhances Motor Skills
Children move many parts of their bodies as they build. Crawling, stretching, grabbing and pulling help them to exercise their developing muscles.
Using wooden blocks and plastic bricks is useful for developing children’s fine motor skills as fingers become coordinated and connect to grip. Moving blocks or adding to structures develops skill and precision.
Adult Support in Constructive Play
Pupils who engage in constructive play will often require some level of adult support when using materials and a variety of tools.
Adults can help children when using materials: to join items together, to test ideas, solve problems, develop imagination or refine a design.
Often this is done through meaningful conversation with pupils where adults, listen, ask and answer questions, help children to record or start to formulate their ideas and by creating opportunities for constructive play using a variety of accessible resources.
As children progress in constructive play adults can support play without directing. Building alongside children and modelling the process helps to extend children’s knowledge and models specific skills and resources needed.
Practitioners will show and guide children when using small hand tools and modelling taking constructions apart including cardboard boxes allows children to see how models are made.
How to set up a ‘Construction Area’ in your classroom?
Gathering a wide range of building materials and loose parts is a great place to start when developing a construction area. Some of the best construction materials are open ended and inexpensive.
- Tubes – A variety of tubes are a great resource for stacking, colouring, cutting, tearing and sticking. They can be used for buildings and make great chutes.
- Stones – Stones can be stacked, arranged to make patterns, painted and grouped. They make brilliant pathways and stepping stones.
- Logs and tree pieces – Logs can be stacked and used to make some amazing structures. As these items are not uniform children begin to learn about size, shape and texture which adds a wonderful sensory element to play.
- Twigs and sticks – These natural items can be compared, arranged in order of size, used to create frames for pictures or to create structures with clay or play dough. Sticks make great frameworks when stuck together, pupils could make structures for plants to grow up.
- Crates and planks of wood – Larger items work really well in the outdoor environment where children learn to work as a team and develop their ideas. Children learn to share and cooperate as they make decisions about their rocket or treehouse.
- Boxes – A selection of different sized boxes make a great resource for creating new items when combined with different materials.
Create a ‘Tinker Table.’
Setting up a ‘Tinker Table’ can be a really beneficial classroom space. Pentagon’s Construction Table would be ideal for this as it provides a designated area for construction play inside or outside the classroom and resources are easily stored underneath which allows pupils to self-select.
You could include items such as play dough, nuts, bolts, washers, springs, padlocks, shells, beads or seeds depending on your current topic.
Pupils will improve their fine motor skills by handling and manipulating the objects and use words such as twist, turn, pull, screw and place. Shapes and containers that fit together and can be stacked such as plastic cups can provide endless building opportunities.
Take Construction Play Outdoors
In the outdoor environment construction play takes a larger scale. Providing a variety of boxes, foil blankets, different materials, and camouflage netting will inspire children to create caves and forts using Pentagon’s Den Making Posts.
Having access to real life photographs of building such as bridges, towers, local landmarks or even the Sphinx can inspire children and improve geographical knowledge.
A box of measuring equipment including tape measures, trundle wheels, sand timers and numbered blocks provides opportunities for children to measure the height and width of their creations or to find out who can build a tower in the quickest time?
Hard hats, safety goggles and tools will encourage role play within the construction area and allow children to fully immerse themselves in imaginary play.
It may be useful to display some question/challenge prompts in the construction area to act as starting points. These could include: Is it possible to include a window in your building? What can you build with 12 bricks? Can you build a house for the teddy? How tall can you make the beanstalk before it falls down?
Sometimes pupils may feel disappointed when their creation inevitably needs to be deconstructed. Taking a photograph and adding this to a classroom display or booklet shows children that their work is valued and can be a useful reference point for others to follow which can also be shown to parents.
Children just love to build and to create. A variety of materials, tools and adequate space to build allows children to make sense of the world and imagine possibilities.
Pupils become ‘the experts’ when building their constructions which can be as tall, long or complicated as they choose.
As young children explore materials they will begin to wonder and question: What will happen if I put this here? How long do I need to make it? If I add water what will this look like?
Quite often children become deeply engaged when constructing, they persevere to create their particular version because they want to make a ramp for their cars or a set of binoculars to use outside.
Concentration can increase and children can spend long periods of time engaged in play.