“Go Build Something”

When one of my children comes to me with the inevitable, “Mom, I’m booored”, one of my go-to suggestions is, “Go build something.” When I say this, I’m thinking inside the box: blocks. Or Legos. Tower…maybe a house. This is as far as my multi-tasking mom brain goes. But when a child hears “build”, to her it can mean almost anything. A fort. A ship. A robot. A bridge. And the materials, well, just look around. I’ve seen kids build with board game pieces, tupperware, magnets, toothpicks, sugar cubes, dry spaghetti, and, of course, a deck of cards.The National Building Museum in Washington, D. C.

Hard at work building with classic toys.Not to say blocks aren’t some of the most awesome toys ever. My children and I recently went to the National Building Museum and spent all afternoon in their ongoing interactive exhibit, “Play Work Build.” It’s a perfect example of combining fun and learning – the large space includes exhibit cases of historical building and block sets to view as well as three spaces for actual building. First, a table of classic Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. Next, a massive light table surrounded by a trough of small scale foam blocks and tubes for tabletop building. And finally, a three-sided building wall space with life-size foam blocks from Imagination Playground. The whole place was an imagination playground.

I watched while my three girls tried to collaborate with each other to build a house out of the life-size pieces. When their visions differed, they brought in other nearby peers for consultation, and often this led to tangential projects in new groupings, which was fascinating to watch. They tried, they failed. They brainstormed, shared, listened, and tried again. They learned how pieces fit together, and how they didn’t. They reveled in their successes, only to quickly move on to more ambitious and collaborative creations. They put to practice what one of the walls of the exhibit stated regarding block play:

blog4“Within each stacked stone, balanced stick, and knotted rope, children begin to process the basic laws of physics and principles of architecture. Among other lessons, they are able to explore the limitations of gravity, the concepts of balance, and the aesthetics of design.”

My 8- and 10-year-olds finally got that house built, with the help of some new friends, then knocked it down (barely missing a nearby toddler, phew!) and asked another new friend if they could help him with his monster. Meanwhile my 4-year-old built herself a chair, then, experimenting with the blocks and tubes, turned it into a blood pressure machine like you see at the pharmacy. She played with that for at least 20 minutes. When they bored of large block play, they moved to the small block table, creating walking men, cars, roller coasters, and a perfect log cabin.

Troughs of royal blue small scale blocks await young builders.Play is the work of children. Building is one of the most natural and creative forms of play. Next time your child claims boredom, try: “Go build something.” And see what happens.

Is your child interested in architecture or design? Check out these awesome sites:

  • Kids Think Design – Learn about all kinds of design, meet a designer, and complete design projects
  • archKIDecture – Read kid-directed architecture articles, complete projects, and share lessons
  • Science Kids – Learn awesome facts about buildings like the Taj Mahal and engineering feats like bridges and dams
  • Google “spaghetti bridge” and be amazed at the awesomeness

Kari Hickman is a mother, an educator, and a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. She lives in northern Virginia, where she loves to take her three daughters on learning adventures. Kari is a shameless chocoholic and newly into sci-fi audiobooks.