How to use Construction Play to support Holistic Cross-curricular Learning in the Early Years and Early Primary
Construction Play is a theme that all children simply love and engage in from their very early years. It helps children express themselves by interacting with the world around them, choose resources for their play, experiment with laws of nature, understand cause and effect and feel self-empowered by seeing their creations coming to life!
Construction Play is very easy to organise and finding cost-effective resources to support it should not be a problem regardless of your location. Apart from enhancing children’s holistic development, this kind of play can also help teachers easily cover many areas of curriculum. In this article we are going to explore how Construction Play theme supports holistic development and how it can help you easily cover cross-curricular learning goals.
What is Construction Play
The first thing that usually comes to our minds is that it’s all about buildings and blocks. Construction Play goes far beyond that.
In the early years and the early key stage Construction Play refers to activities in which children use various resources, tools and toys to build and create structures.
These structures might resemble things children see in their everyday world or might be completely imaginary. In the early years children prefer to follow their creativity and construct things that might serve their own intrinsic purposed are most often imaginary. While doing this and observing the world they add more realistic elements to their projects thus building more meaningful connection with the world around.
Construction Play might be about constructing, designing, building houses, train tracks, dens, shelters, random structures, machinery, roads, bridges, towers, vehicles, caves etc. Variety of materials might be used for this purpose such as all kinds of bricks and blocks (plastic, wooden, all shapes and sizes), fabrics, cushions, cardboard boxes, ropes and strings, small objects, furniture, planks, pebbles, sand, water etc. Such items can be easily found and ideally they should be offered as resources to support Free Child-led Play, which is completely directed and orchestrated by children. To do this effectively, it’s best to organise dedicated Construction Play Stations and fill them with inspiring resources that children can access anytime.
Occasionally, teachers may organise dedicated pre-structured activities, collaborative projects to invite children to build specific structures such as eg. dens, bridges or solve problems using Construction Play as a platform, for example “how to cross a river/obstacle” using resources offered.
How Construction Play activities support Holistic Learning
Construction Play activities are fantastic to holistically support children’s creativity and self-expression, reasoning and problem solving, predicting change, fostering fine and gross motor skills, understanding of the world, cause and effect, basic laws of physics and gravity.
Creativity & Innovation
Whatever children build and create they either usually have rough ideas in their mind what they want to achieve or they may also go with the flow or get inspired with the resources offered and adjust their structures on the way. It’s a platform that promotes creativity, self-expression and the spirit of innovation.
Reasoning & Predicting
Construction Play activities offer plenty of space for learning about basic laws of physics and gravity. Children will have a chance to observe what makes a construction strong and stable and what makes it collapse, which helps them make their own assumptions and predictions and as a result perfect their planning and building process.
Fine & Gross Motor Skills
Fine and gross motor skills are equally supported – working on bigger structures and projects children will be moving around, lifting, pushing, pulling, transporting from one place to another, which helps them stay physically active and fit. More precise projects that require use of smaller items and fine motor skills helps children develop precision, improve their hand-eye coordination and concentration.
Construction Play is an excellent platform to promote Role Play and children will naturally take advantage of the context pretending they are builders, construction workers, designers etc. Such combination supports social-emotional learning as it empowers children and helps them build positive self-image. On top of that there will be lots of opportunities for collaboration, team work, communication and building positive relationships.
Team Spirit & Collaboration
Construction Play enhances team spirit in a unique way as children will usually want to achieve certain goal by working together. Intrinsically motivated, they will learn how to assign tasks among each other, recognise and appreciate each other’s gifts, strengths and natural talents. If used in a smart way these talents can contribute to the overall positive outcome for everyone and completion of their project.
Sense of Empowerment
What is immensely important at this stage is that Construction Play offers children sense of empowerment and is a great confidence booster as they become Creators of the world. Children observe how they can bring their visions to life relaying completely on their own or by collaborating with other children.
Experiments & Decision Making
Children eagerly respond to authentic materials that are made available and they feel empowered to be able to use real life resources such as wooden planks, cushions, chunky blocks, pebbles, blankets, clay bricks etc. Such resources help children learn about their unique properties and decide how they might be used to achieve certain purpose. This requires experimenting with construction materials, finding out how and if they can go together and what kind of adjustments need to be added to complete their goal. Such experiments also allow children to decide what kind of construction materials they prefer and are most enjoyable to work with.
This way Construction Play helps children learn about their individual preferences and offers opportunities to decide about their learning journeys through choices, decisions and experiments. It’s a truly empowering experience!
What areas of curriculum Construction Play helps cover
Construction Play is a perfect platform for cross-curricular education and because it is based on Experiential Hands-on Learning it only makes it more effective. It works great both for the early years and the early primary and the depth depends on children’s age and stage of development and their interest in the theme you are offering. You may cover simple concepts such as “what sinks, what floats” or go a bit deeper with older children and discuss things in more detail.
History & Culture
Construction Play activities and projects might easily help you cover certain aspects of history and in particular to demonstrate the types of buildings, vehicles, machines, designs, bridges and structures that were typical for specific periods in time. Your students will definitely be excited to build pyramids, ancient temples, castles or bridges. Then, it is easy to discuss building materials used for these structures but also any aspect related to these periods such as traditions, people’s lives, foods, historical events etc. which go beyond construction itself.
Climate and geography affect living conditions of people. Construction projects can be effectively used to discuss how people protect themselves from cold, heat, earthquakes etc. by constructing weather-proof buildings, vehicles or structures. It is also a great way to stimulate children’s creativity and the spirit of innovation as they may come up with interesting ideas and solutions to every day challenges.
Science and technology
Working with various construction materials, learning about their unique properties and seeing how they affect each other and the construction itself is one of the things that Construction Play projects help children explore and experience. Apart from that you can cover basic laws of physics, gravity and refer to modern technology that uses the principles of science and discuss examples of inventions and projects that affect our everyday life.
There are loads of possibilities as each type of construction project will require using different technologies, machines, tools and understanding of the environment in which it will be built and the needs it has been designed to satisfy. For example, constructing a bridge will be completely different from building a skyscraper, a road or a raft, which is something that you can help your students understand. To build a bridge they may use wooden blocks, planks or any other natural material and then check how strong their construction is. To make it more realistic you can invite children to build it over water, for example.
You may also use mobile apps which demonstrate bridge construction and allow your students to try how it works and then try to apply their understanding in the real world. Such projects can be pre-structured for children, which means you offer resources and prompts but leave children to take care of their creations. Your role would be to monitor, guide and respond to their cues and needs.
Setting up dedicated play stations whether indoors or outdoors filled with resources and let children use them as they wish will help children take responsibility and ownership of their learning and respond to their most inspiring ideas and needs.
Similar to history and geography construction projects can be used to refer to and demonstrate various cultural and religious practices around the world and explore how they affected the way people construct their homes, temples, vehicles, roads etc. Again, the depth of such explorations and discussions will depend on children’s age and stage of development. With younger children you refer to basic concepts to help them understand the world around. With older ones, you can probe further and offer more details and check how eager they are and to what extend they wish and need to explore certain concepts.
Weighing, estimating, measuring distance, recognising shapes among other aspects of maths curriculum are naturally embedded in Construction Play projects and planning. You may easily use this platform on everyday basis to practice maths skills and to introduce specific tools that will help your students to calculate, estimate, compare and measure. Adding various resources such as cups, containers, measuring tools or different types you can help children naturally develop mathematical skills and awareness and also support them in using such tools on everyday basis with great confidence. This way Construction Play becomes a fantastic platform to practice mathematical skills that is based on strong intrinsic motivation to understand, learn and apply mathematics to solve every day problems.
How to best offer Construction Play
When planning construction projects for your students you can decide to just offer resources as and let your students use them in their own way to achieve whatever they want. This will allow them to experiment and express themselves. The best way to do it is to dedicate some space, room, corner whether indoors or outdoors and fill it with inspiring resources related to Construction Play so that Child-led Self-directed Learning might take place.
You may have many different types of Construction Play areas – one may be filled with sand, construction vehicles, buckets, wheelbarrows etc. Another, may be offering construction blocks or various shapes and sizes such as huge foam blocks to build dens, castles or fortresses or simple wooden blocks, magnetic blocks, wooden planks, blankets etc.
Before offering any kind of resources always perform initial risk-assessment to make sure the items are safe to use. In our Active Learning Booster Teacher Training we show you how to design inspiring Construction Play corners and what resources to use to offer hours of learning and engagement.
Another alternative is to have a specific goal in mind, offer resources, some hints but no instructions and encourage students to achieve the intended goal. For example, ask your students to build a dam or a bridge. To make it more contextualised and engaging offer a back story – explain what happened, why the dam is needed – it may be a made up story or something based on current real life events. Children will eagerly add more details into the story and the Construction Play may easily transform into a meaningful Role Play scenario.
Finally, you may decide to provide step-by-step explanation and ask your students to follow. The first two options – Child-led Play and Pre-structured Activities will be more effective and especially for the early years stage as they encourage creativity, reasoning and applying previous knowledge and understanding but there will be occasions when you might need to use the latter.
Construction Play is one of children’s most loved learning theme and as such offers so much possibilities to support them in their learning and growth in a meaningful and personal way. Teachers can easily take advantage of this context and use to provide rich cross-curricular and holistic learning environment that helps cover tangible learning take-aways.
WHAT TO DO NEXT:
In our Active Learning Booster – Self-paced online hands-on Teacher Training we show educators how to design inspiring Construction Play corners to enhance Self-directed Play & Learning, what resources to use to offer hours of meaningful learning and engagement and teach you how to spot tangible learning take-aways and cover cross-curricular learning goals.
Start your journey today – you access the first training module of Active Learning Booster for FREE.
The training is aligned with the EYFS framework, NVQ CCLD and Playwork. You will also receive certificate of completion outlining all learning take-aways.