Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What are Unit Blocks?

Unit blocks are a particular kind of wooden building block. They usually come in sets and are often seen in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Unit blocks are sometimes also called standard unit blocks or kindergarten blocks. They are are large wooden toy blocks for children, but they're also something more. The unit block principle was developed by educator Caroline Pratt in the early 1900s. She was the founder of the City and Country School in 1914 in New York City. Pratt believed that open ended play materials allowed children recreate the world around them. Today this is conventional thinking. But still, what's so special about "Unit Blocks"? Unit blocks are an important part of childhood play because they allow a child to discover and learn much more than an ordinary set of blocks. The very essence of the unit block is to allow the child to learn about fractions and multiples naturally as part of block play. A unit block is a standard size. The standard unit block is 5.5 inches long, 2.75 inches wide, and 1.375 inches thick. A set of unit blocks consists of several unit blocks along with other pieces that are multiples or fractions of the unit size. For example, a double unit block would be 11 inches long. Smaller sizes are made in various fractions of the standard unit such as half unit blocks which are 2.25 inches long. The dimensions of all other block shapes, including the columns, the pillars, the triangles, the curves, are proportional to the length, width and height dimensions of the “unit block”. The fixed dimensional relationship between the "unit" and the other block shapes creates an environment in which children develop motor skills and absorb math concepts such as length, volume and fractions while wholly engaged in the creative freedom of block play. Through block play activities children naturally discover the relationship between the different standard unit block shapes. They learn while playing that two Unit Triangles make a Unit Block, two Unit Pillars equal one Unit Block, and so on. Unit blocks are available in several different types of wood. The original unit blocks were made of hard maplewood. Today you can find them in birch, beech or rubberwood as well.

GummyLump.com has Unit Blocks by Melissa & Doug, One to Ten Toys, and Guidecraft. Guidecraft also makes mini unit blocks. The mini unit block sets are miniature versions of unit blocks but maintain the same proportional standards.

Today's unit blocks are also available in colorful rainbow stained glass, or shimmering water (shown above) or other options from Guidecraft. Additionally, Guidecraft makes "block mates" which are used with unit blocks to create fun animals out of the unit blocks!

1 comment:

Jannine said...

I am always amazed at the math skills children learn and model as they play with unit blocks. Learning through play is awesome!

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