When children manipulate their environment to create things, they are engaged in constructive play. Experimenting with materials, they can build towers with blocks, construct objects with miscellaneous loose parts, play in the sand, and draw sidewalk murals with chalk. Children learn basic knowledge about stacking, building, constructing, and drawing, discovering which combinations work and which don’t.1
Constructive play focuses the minds of children through their fingertips to invent and discover new possibilities. It is a form of hands-on inquiry where children seek to learn something they don’t already know by physically manipulating materials. They have a natural desire to find out things for themselves, and children build knowledge through active questioning and information gathered as they engage in constructive play.2
By the age of two, children are able to play for longer periods of time at one activity. They move from functional play, where the child uses materials in simple, repetitive, and exploratory ways, to constructive play with purposeful activities that result in creation. Children’s desire to create is satisfied with open-ended materials, such as blocks, paints, scissors, paste, paper, carpentry tools, wood, sand, and water.3
On the playground or in classrooms, sand boxes offer a great opportunity for constructive play. Using shovels, buckets, and other containers and toys, children have an endless number of opportunities for exploration. Playing with sand encourages the imagination and creativity of children.4
Constructive play develops imagination, problem-solving skills, fine motor skills, and self-esteem.5 Research has shown that block building can help children learn important spatial relationships needed for mathematics.6 Children who are comfortable in manipulating objects become good at manipulating words, ideas, and concepts. Creating gives children a sense of accomplishment. Controlling their environment empowers them, especially since there is no right or wrong in their creation. Constructive play helps children develop character virtues, such as tenacity, flexibility, creativity, courage, enthusiasm, persistence, and adaptability. Social interaction and shared imaginations are often involved in constructive play, which leads to children learning to cooperate, stay on task, self-regulate, and be more responsible.7
- 1. “Types of Play.” Child Development Institute. < http://www.childevelopmentinfo.com/development/p11.shtml > 27 Aug. 2010.
- 2. Drew, Walter F., James Christie, James E. Johnson, Alice M. Meckley, and Marcia L. Nell. “Constructive Play. A Value-Added Strategy for Meeting Early Learning Standards.” Young Children. July 2008: 38-40.
- 3. Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1992. p. 80.
- 4. Frost, Joe L., Pei-San Brown, John A. Sutterby, Candra D. Thornton. The Developmental Benefits of Playgrounds. Olney, MD: Association for Childhood Education International, 2004. p. 208.
- 5. “Why Do Children Play?” Mesa Community College. The Developmental Psychology Student NetLetter. < http://www.mesacc.edu/dept/d46/psy/dev/Spring98/earchild/index.html > 27 Aug. 2010.
- 6. Op. cit., Drew.
- 7. Op. cit., Child Development Institute.