Journey Through Fire and to the Sea: Aboard a Plane and a Ship Built from Blocks

By Jessica Predom, Teacher  

When observing children building with blocks, you can sense their inner architect come to life. Their eyes intently watching, their hands diligently working—tilting, turning, inspecting and shifting, children adjust their pieces until they look perfect to them. Block building inspires thoughtful designs and endless possibilities. At Bing, children have many opportunities to build with blocks, which are one of five basic, open-ended materials—together with clay, paint, sand and water—offered daily at the school. 

In the 2020–2021 school year, Center PM’s children explored building with blocks as a team, which allowed them to expand their gross motor development, draw upon their empathy and come together to accomplish a shared goal. Through their play, children showed us how eager they were to unite and solve any problem.

Children at Bing have access to a variety of wooden blocks. Inside the classrooms are shelves of unit blocks, made with smooth, solid maple. Outside, on the patios and in the yards, are large blocks with hollowed-out centers that children can use to build structures large enough to get inside of.  

Constructing a large block piece requires communication, balance and a willingness to approach unexpected challenges. On a warm, sunny day near the end of January, Center PM children came together to hoist nearly every block from a cabinet to a platform nearby and prepare the space for construction. A few children discussed their design ideas while others quietly shifted their blocks into place.   

Jocelyn: “Over here!”
Veer: “I’ve got one, this is a big one!”
Jocelyn: “OK, right here.”
Max: “Our vehicle is going to be able to fly, I put wings on.”

Carrying a long block together

Excitedly, the children assembled blocks on the stage, stacking and reorganizing them. After much deliberation, a structure began to form. Next, they ran to the patio to gather additional materials, such as keyboards, binoculars and phones. Upon arriving back to the structure, they arranged their materials and hopped aboard. As more children approached, the structure evolved to accommodate them and their ideas, with new roles for each child. 

On the first day, the structure was deemed a “fire plane,” equipped with two massive “water blasters” that provided a 360-degree spraying radius. Children took turns playing the role of captain and got busy on walkie-talkies and telephones, using binoculars to spot the next fire. With speed, the children assembled their parachutes, jumped down from the fire plane and ran to the trees to quell the forest fire. At the captain’s command, they ran back to the vehicle and executed the water blasters again. There was a sense of urgency on the fire plane, as the children took turns exclaiming “Look! There’s another fire!” To which the captain responded, “No problem, we’ve got this!”

The following day, children arrived at school with the intention to rebuild and repurpose the structure. They ran out to the yard and began filling the wooden carts with the biggest blocks they could hoist. The fire plane morphed into a ship, sailing the high seas to Fiji. The captain at the helm, steering the ship with binoculars in hand, exclaimed, “Keeping going north!” Another crew mate dutifully jotted down notes on their location and informed the captain of a storm heading in their direction. Frantically, the crew worked to tighten up the ship, rearrange the computers and prepare for choppy waters. Wielding maps of the playground, they navigated their ship to the sand area, which they labeled Fiji, and disembarked. 

Danger always seemed to be lurking near this vessel, but the crew members were confident that they could, in fact, handle any issues that came their way. For several days children constructed together, each day finding a way to make sure everyone had a job. They navigated the highs and lows together, always coming back to laugh and plan for the next adventure!