The reason I call these blocks “school unit blocks” (affiliate link) is because these are the type of blocks that are most often found in early childhood classrooms and centers. They can, however, definitely be purchased for use at home. I know, as I purchased them for my kids years ago and was never sorry. (My mother on the other hand thought I was crazy that I needed money to do things in my home and was spending it on blocks for my kids.)
There are many types of blocks. You can buy a large set which could be very costly or a smaller version of the larger set. If you have the space and want to make an investment it is a very worthwhile one. (Especially for boys. Even though I have found that, yes, girls will play with them, but it’s the boys who will spend hours with them.)
Aside from keeping the children busy for hours there are also tremendous learning aspects to these blocks that I am going to show you:
6 math activities for kids using these unit blocks
The blocks themselves teach math concepts
The blocks themselves are made in mathematical proportions as you can see in this image below of Melissa & Doug Blocks (affiliate link) and are great to use in math activities.
In this image, you’ll see that they call the smallest one a unit, the second one 2 units, etc.
As you can see, these can easily lead to lots of math calculations and familiarity with basic mathematical concepts.
As you help the children to organize the blocks and even to clean up you will be teaching them math when you refer to the blocks by their names.
Please hand me the double unit, or I need 3 halves.
This may lead to how many units make a quad or one quad equals to how many units.
Children will see that when they run out of one size they can fill in with multiples of other sizes.
The children get used to using these terms and before they know it they are adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.
Incorporate math skills when cleaning up unit blocks!
When the children clean up it is the perfect time to incorporate math skills. Aside from using the correct block names, you can have them stack the blocks in groups of 3, 4 or 5 or more and help them count them as they stack.
They can then put the blocks away by matching the blocks to a direct copy of the blocks that you have placed on the shelf where they belong.
Use task cards with unit blocks
Here are 4 task sheets I created to help you do these activities with blocks. I, in general, don’t like worksheets for kids as they are too abstract, but when you give them activities and then the worksheets it is the perfect way to segue into worksheets.
The first one is used to measure the children with a particular size block.
A child lies down on the floor and the other children lay the blocks from toe to head to see how many blocks long they are. Write their name on the sheet and next to it and how many blocks long they are.
This can, of course, get more interesting if you decide to measure them with different size blocks.
This sheet is a measurement activity and you will need a scale with 2 sides like this Balance Scale (affiliate link) for this activity (or make your own). It is a beginning measurement activity and you may need to make your own sheet with block sizes that work.
You simply put the same block that is shown on one side and then see how many of the other is needed to balance the scale.
This sheet is full of patterns. The children have to take a sheet to the blocks and recreate the patterns with the blocks onto the floor. If you have a way of enlarging these sheets to a really big size then they can do the patterns on top of the sheets themselves.
You could also tape a shape on the floor or table and have your child fill it up with blocks in any pattern they choose.
Continue the pattern
This activity is a different kind of pattern. Create a block pattern on a long, thin strip of paper (hint, trace an outline of the blocks on a piece of paper to make them true to size) and have them just continue the patterns using the blocks shown.
Enjoy. I hope these ideas help you come up with more of your own.
For more learning with blocks (including math!), try Blocks of Fun with 44 block activities for kids!
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