The story of a primary school using block play to support young children's language development.

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Teachers at Dalreoch Primary School near Glasgow, Jennifer Gilchrist and Michaela McCune, were awarded a Froebel Trust grant to analyse the impact of block play and symbolic play on children's language development in Primary One (children aged 4 to 5 years old).

"The majority of the children in our school live in some of the most deprived parts of our local authority. 31% of our children are living in poverty... Research suggests that the attainment gap in literacy and numeracy between children from low income and high income households starts early. To address this, we wanted to ensure we provided a high quality, language-rich learning environment... We wanted to observe the impact of blocks on communication and language development."
Jennifer Gilchrist and Michaela McCune, Project leader

Blocks case 5

Children engaged in language-rich play with their peers, often with one child taking the lead.
Blocks case 4

Drawing and writing materials were be incorporated into the block play environment - in order to encourage children to write and draw about their symbolic play with blocks.
Blocks case 6

Teachers observed many instances of symbolic play and noticed how this type of play enhanced language development.
Blocks case 1

Children had natural conversations, learning from each other and developing their communication skills. Teachers observed children representing first hand experiences and connections.
Blocks case 2

Narrative observations and learning stories were collected to show development over time.
Blocks case 3

Children shared record keeping in a floor book dedicated to block play. This encouraged discussion and reflection on learning.

Impact

The project leaders found:

  • immediate and noticeable changes in both the depth and breadth of children’s communication and language skills whilst they played with the blocks
  • children engaged in high levels of discussion whilst creating structures together during block play
  • an increase in sophistication of children’s vocabulary and oral language as they learned new words from their peers and the adults around them
  • an increased level in children's concentration during block play which further contributed to the development of literacy skills
  • children’s confidence increased as they mastered new skills and gained new knowledge.

West Dunbartonshire Local Authority is developing a play-based approach in early primary. This research project has implications for how best to implement block play in other schools and settings with a view to developing young children's language and communication skills.