There are a multitude of distinctions for babies to discover between and among balls and blocks. What’s likely their first impression? Balls are round, blocks square? I suspect experiential learning of the difference between roundness and squareness marks the beginning of awareness. When a six month old grasps a ball between the palms of her hands and senses its roundness, she internalizes this basic attribute. Taking hold of a block, she’ll explore, with her senses, and internalize its squareness. Although lacking words to describe these concepts, she’s taking in and processing information.
That she uses multiple senses is important. Multi-sensory exploration leads not only to discovering more about blocks and but also to developing emerging skills. Take mouthing. Grasping and purposefully bringing a block to her mouth takes coordination. In doing so, she’s developing skills that will eventually allow her to successfully feed herself.
If the blocks are wooden, she’ll likely bang a couple together delighting in the sound. Repeatedly. Baby has discovered her actions cause reactions, and like any scientist, she needs to replicate her results. As she gains muscle control, she may vary the force of her banging and discover she can create a range of sounds, thereby developing sound discrimination.
Baby transfers both balls and blocks from one hand to the other and in stretching to reach for a ball or put down and pick up blocks, she is likely to cross her midline, an imaginary line down the center of her body. Such spontaneous crossing of the midline develops fine motor skills that strengthen hand dominance. Writing and reading both depend upon our ability to reach an arm and a leg across the center of our body to the opposite side. Crossing the midline develops our ability to track from left to right, a critical skill for reading and writing.
Just as baby delights in filling and spilling activities with balls, when she drops blocks, she’ll likely look for them on the floor. Learning object permanence, the concept that an object exists even though we cannot see it, can evolve from playing hide-and-seek while looking for a dropped block. Someone hides a block under a cover and prompts baby in a search for the missing block. Following the hints shows emerging cognitive and language skills.
We learn while playing. Play is essential. For all ages. Become an official citizen of play.
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