Last week I was hanging out with a couple of four-year-olds as they dumped over a bin of blocks. To accompany the blocks, they also had a container of river rocks. Some smooth, some lumpy, some large and some small. The usual block structures were immediately assembled topped off with rocks for decoration. The children asked me to build with them so I wondered out loud if the rocks could be used to make a tower or structure.
One young girl took two rocks and placed them atop each other and exclaimed that they could. I asked how many did she think she could stack. She tried to add a third, much larger and lumpy, to the top of the two and it all tumbled apart. She tried to restack with the same results and eventually she figured out the balance of larger rocks on the bottom.
Rocks went up and tumbled down over and over as she grew frustrated and excited at the same time. Soon enough she called my name and pointed in excitement at her eight-rock-tall tower. Eyes all wide and mouth all smiles she clapped and said "I did it!" I said that I could see that she used her focus to build her tower. I wondered out loud if I could build a tower like that and picked up a small rock and placed it in front of me. I then added a larger rock followed by an even larger rock and the whole thing slip-slid apart. The young girl then told me that I should start with a larger rock. She said that she found a pattern (we talk a lot about patterns)..."biggest to smallest!" is what she said and then she informed me that the flat rocks worked better, the lumpy bumpy rocks were too bumpy, as she waggled her hands about to illustrate her point. Together we built another tower with much hoopla and giggles as I handed her rocks to large or too bumpy. Each time she would repeat why they wouldn't work and I smiled because this discovery would not have happened had we stuck with the uniform blocks from the bin.
*I did not have my camera with me so all pictures are from my own rock collection and adventuring. Block building and other stacking items are instrumental in teaching children math and science concepts. Be they large or small, flat, uniform or crazy shaped, there is much a child will learn through block play and stacking toys. If there is one investment to make towards your child's toybox, I would recommend blocks. You are never too old for blocks!