How to Set Up the Blocks Center in an Early Childhood Classroom
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Hands down, the favorite center in my classroom (with the boys) is the blocks center. If I would let them, they would go to the blocks center each and every day. To make sure they are learning in the blocks center every day, I intentionally put out materials to embed reading, writing, math, and science opportunities in their play. I’m excited to share my block center tricks with you.
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BLOCKS! You have to have blocks in your blocks center (kind of a no-brainer, right). Use the blocks that are available to you and slowly grow your collection. My favorite blocks are wooden unit blocks, and they are always in my center. I also have foam blocks, cardboard blocks, tabletop blocks, large hollow blocks, and Duplo Legos. I rotate the blocks in my center based on student interest and what we are learning in class.
Label everything in your center to make cleaning up easier. To make the labels for my unit blocks, I traced the blocks to make a paper copy and taped them to the shelf. Labels visually show students (and teachers) where the items belong. It makes cleaning up easier and helps students be independent in your classroom. They won’t have to ask you for what they need because they will be able to find it themselves in the center. Don’t forget to have words paired with a picture on your labels! Grab my Classroom Labels HERE with real photographs!
Construction props such as tools, empty paint cans, signs, hard hats, cones, construction vests, and tools belts allow students to pretend they are a real Construction worker, Engineer, Painter, Architect, or Carpenter. You will hear them use rich vocabulary during play related to what they are building. The paint cans are from Lowes, and they also have cloth construction aprons for $1. Grab some paint samples while you are there too! Laminate them and put them on a metal ring so Painters can choose and talk about colors during play. The Dollar Tree often has toolboxes, levels, real tools, measuring tapes, cones, and sometimes even pretend tools.
Depending on your theme, add cars, trucks, trains, and/or planes to your block center. These are sand play cars I found at Target during the summer.
Animals make block play more inviting for your reluctant builders. Who doesn’t love animals? I sort my animals by theme or at least try to. I have pets, farm animals, ocean animals, polar animals, zoo animals, dinosaurs, and forest animals. You can find animals at the Dollar Tree, party stores, and often in the Target dollar spot.
Add natural materials you can find in nature. Pine cones, tree rings, rocks, fake leaves, fake flowers, shells, and sticks are inspiring for little builders. Most of my natural materials come from the Dollar Tree or Michaels because I know they are clean and have no little critters hiding in them. One morning I came into my classroom to find little black bugs crawling all over my block shelf after I brought some nature into our classroom (ugh!) Your kiddos will be exploring nature, talking about it, and investigating it during play (aka science).
People blocks are fun to have. I make Me Blocks every year using a set of Jenga blocks. Just take your students’ pictures, print, cut, and tape them to the block. A few years ago, a student was building in the blocks center and their best friend was absent that day. He was playing with his friends me block because he missed him so much. So sweet!
Dollhouse people are a great way to infuse culture into your block center. You can buy dollhouse people with different abilities, cultures, gender, and jobs.
Signs are a must in any block center and rich environmental print. I made these signs myself by searching for various community places on google images. All you do is print, cut out, and tape to the blocks you have in your classroom. Don’t you just love the Petco sign a student made?! It is the bright orange one on top. The Places ABC book I made using google images too. It is fun to make signs that students see and go to. I also have street signs on sticks in my blocks center. City Signs and I Can Read Signs are great books about signs.
Look At What We Built is a binder with photographs of buildings students have built. Grab your FREE cover at the bottom of the post. Students will look at the book, notice something, and try to build it like their friend did. What I LOVE even more is when they go get that same friend to help them build it with them! Collaboration at its best! And when they build something amazing, I take a picture of it and add it to the book!
Books, books, and more books! I am always rotating out the books in our blocks center. There are just too many amazing books to choose from. Here are some of my favorites: When I Build with Blocks, Not a Box, Iggy Peck Architect, Jack the Builder, Block City, and Old McDonald had a Workshop.
Don’t forget to have non-fiction books in your center too! Building a Skyscraper book is part of a Construction series by JoAnne Early Macken. They are my favorite and just right for Preschool, Pre-k, and Kindergarten. JoAnne Early Macken has written Construction Tools, Construction Crews, Building A Skyscraper, Building a Bridge, Building a Tunnel, and Building a Road.
Books are also a fabulous way to infuse culture into your center. Heather Adamson wrote a series called Life Around the World. It includes Homes in Many Cultures, Schools in Many Cultures, Families in Many Cultures, and Transportation in Many Cultures..
It is super simple to add writing and drawing opportunities in the block center. Add small or large clipboards with blank paper and a caddie with writing and drawing tools. I love to add building sketch pages and blueprint pages to the center. Our Sketches binder is FULL of students’ sketches and blueprints! Some are scribbles, and some are very detailed. They ALL represent what a student was thinking and building. Don’t forget scribbles are powerful too! I put my pages and paper on clipboards so they can color, draw, or sketch anywhere in the center. Little builders feel powerful when they have a clipboard. Both pages are FREEBIES for you at the bottom of the post! Enjoy!
I forgot to share with you that I have a tub of circle blocks, small rectangle blocks, and triangle blocks. Tubs help students sort the blocks when they clean them up! There are different sizes in each tub. Students are noticing and classifying shapes by size when they build with them.
Make measurement exciting in the block center. I challenged students to make a tall habitat during our zoo theme. Students measured their buildings with string, placed it on the chart, and compared them. It created a huge opportunity for using and increasing their math vocabulary.
As I said, I am carefully planning and putting materials out with intention in the blocks center. I am constantly rotating and changing the materials in the center based on student interest, lessons I need to cover, and our theme.
Don’t these fall-themed materials make you want to build a pumpkin patch? Students use fake leaves, tractors, apples (red pom poms), pumpkins (orange pom poms), hay bales (blocks covered in yellow paper), and fall-themed books. When you change themes, think about materials you could add to your block center!
For our ocean theme, there are ocean animals, rocks, boats, water (blue gift wrapping), ocean books, and ocean photographs. Believe it or not, these photos are laminated photos from wall calendars! I grab them at the beginning of the year super cheap, and the photos are always amazing.
For props and ideas for the block center on tons and tons of themes, check out THIS post or click the photo below.
Do you ever hear…I don’t know what to build. I used to hear it all the time! To inspire students and get them thinking, I made this I Can Build poster. Now students go look at the poster when they don’t know what they want to build, and many do it independently! I introduce it at the beginning of the year, and it stays in my block center all year long. I also put out themed I Can Build posters and charts to continue inspiring and challenging students for every theme!
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If you want the I Can Build posters for every theme, grab them here.
If you want to teach students the science behind building and construction, be sure to check out All About Building in my TPT Store HERE.
Love the ideas but worried you may forget? Just pin it!
A few more up-close photos of my shelves if you would like a peek. This was my full-day classroom.
hey, i’m jackie!
I’m Jackie, your go-to girl for early childhood inspiration and research-based curriculum.