I was recently reading some research by the Russian psychologist, A. Luria, about using blocks with children. While we usually assoicate blocks with more 'free-play' activities, his research suggested that there are several ways that we can effectively use blocks to help children develop citical thinking skills. Free-play with blocks is essential and helps children develop creative and cricital thinking skills. Since we know that there are more nerve connections between the fingers and the brain, it makes sense that hands-on activities, such as blocks, are essential for developing cognitive thinking. It is always a joy to watch what children will do with blocks, esepcially with blocks that are new to them. The skills that this type of play may not emphasize are the skills of organization and analysis. He decides what he is going to build without analyzing whether he has enough blocks or the correct type of blocks. When he is forced to stop on his project because he doesn't have the right materials, most of the time he will decide to create something else or start over. Another important aspect of playing with blocks is the more organized method where the child decides to build something that he sees visually. Sometimes the container will provide pictures or an instruction book that will encourage children to make certain items. This involves a new set of skills as the child analyzes how to put the pieces together to create the structure. What A. Luria suggests in his research is that we can do that with basic unit blocks, as well. I have just been writing activities to use with mats that have outlines of strutures so children can recreate the shape with basic blocks. This can also be done with 3-dimentional shapes. Given the fact that all new guidelines, preschool and primary grades, ask children to know the difference between 2- and 3-D shapes, this activity can be useful for children. The bottom line is that we must use blocks routinely with children, both in organized activities and when the child has free access to creatively organize his play.