How to Set Up the Blocks Center in an Early Childhood Classroom

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies
Hands down the favorite center in my classroom (with the boys) is the blocks center. If I would let them, they would go to the blocks center each and everyday. To make sure they are learning in the blocks center everyday, I intentionally put out materials to embed reading, writing, math, and science opportunities in their play. I'm excited to share my block center tricks with you. Make sure you grab your blocks center FREEBIES at the end of this post!
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How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

BLOCKS! You have to blocks in your blocks center (kind of a no brainier right). Use the blocks that are available to you and slowly grow your collection. My favorite blocks are wooden unit blocks and they are always in my center. I also have foam blocks, cardboard blocks, table top blocks, large hollow blocks, and Duplo Legos. I rotate the blocks in my center based on student interest and what we are learning about. 


How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Label everything in your center to make clean up easier. To make the labels for my unit blocks, I traced the blocks to make a paper copy and taped them to the shelf. For toys and other materials, I make my own labels by taking photographs of the materials. The word and the photo are on each label. I store my materials/toys in clear plastic tubs so students can see what is in them.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Construction props such as tools, empty pain cans, signs, hard hats, cones, construction vests, and tools belts allow students to pretend they are a real construction worker, engineer, painter, architect, or carpenter. You will hear them use rich vocabulary during play related to what they building. The paint cans are from Lows and they also have cloth construction aprons for $1. Grab some paint samples while you are there. Laminate them and put on a metal ring so painters can choose and talk about colors during play.  The Dollar Tree often has tool boxes, levels, real tools, measuring tapes, cones, and sometimes even pretend tools.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Depending on your theme, add cars, trucks, trains, and/or planes to your blocks center. These are sand play cars I found at Target during the summer.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Animals make block play more inviting for your reluctant builders. Who doesn't love animals? I sort my animals by theme or try too. I have pets, farm animals, ocean animals, polar animals, zoo animals, dinosaurs, and forest animals. You can find animals at the Dollar Tree, party stores, and often in the Target dollar spot.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Add natural materials you can find in nature. Pine cones, tree rings, rocks, fake leaves, fake flowers, shells, and sticks are inspiring for little builders. Most of my natural materials come from the Dollar Tree or Michaels becasue I know they are clean and have no little critters hiding in them. One morning I came into my classroom to find little black bugs crawling all over my block shelf after I brought some nature into our classroom. Your kiddos will be exploring nature, talking about it, and investigating it during play (aka science).

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

People blocks are fun to have. I make Me Blocks every year using an set of Jenga blocks. Just take your students' pictures, print, cut, and tape to the block. A few years ago, a student in was building in the blocks center and their best friend was absent that day. He was playing with his friends me block becasue he missed him so much. So sweet!
Doll house people are great way to infuse culture to your blocks center. You can buy doll house people with different abilities, cultures, gender, and jobs.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Signs are a must in any block center and rich environmental print. I made these signs myself. Just search for various community places on goggle images, print, cut out, and tape to blocks you have in your classroom. Don't you just love the Petco sign a student made! It's the bright orange one on top. The Places ABC book I made using goggle images too. It is fun to make signs that students see in and go to. I also have street signs on sticks in my blocks center too. City Signs and I Can Read Signs are great book about signs.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Look At What We Built is a binder with photographs of buildings students have built. Grab your FREE cover at the bottom of the post. Students will look at the book, notice something, and try to build it like their friend did. What I LOVE even more is when they go get the friend to help them build it with them! Collaboration at it's best! And when they build something amazing, they ask me to take a picture of it and add it to the book!

Books, books, and more books! I am always rotating out the books in our blocks center. There are just too many amazing books to choose from. Here are some of my favorites: When I Build with Blocks, Not a Box, Iggy Peck Architect, Jack the Builder, Block City, and Old McDonald had a Workshop.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Don't forget to have non-fiction books in your center too! Building a Skyscraper book is part of a Construction series by JoAnne Early Macken. They are my favorite and just right for preschool, pre-k, and kindergarten. She has written Construction Tools, Construction Crews, Building A Skyscraper, Building a Bridge, Building a Tunnel, and Building a Road.  

Books are also a fabulous way to infuse culture into your center. Heather Adamson wrote a series Life Around the World. It includes Homes in Many CulturesSchool in Many Cultures, Families in  Many Cultures, and Transportation in Many Cultures..

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies


It is super simple to add writing and drawing opportunities in the blocks center. Add small or large clip boards with blank paper and a caddie with writing and drawing tools. I love to add building sketch pages and blue print pages to the center. Our Sketches binder is FULL of students sketches and blue prints! Some are scribbles and some are very detailed. They ALL represent what a students were thinking and building. Don't forget scribbles are powerful too! I put my pages and paper on clip boards so they can color, draw, or sketch anywhere in the center. Little builders feel powerful when they have a clip board. Both pages are FREEBIES for you at the bottom of the post! Enjoy!

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

I forgot to share with you that I have a tub of circle blocks, small rectangle blocks, and triangle books. Using tubs makes students sort the blocks when they clean them up! There are different sizes in each tub. Students are noticing and classifying shapes by size when they build with them.

Make measurement exciting in the blocks center. I challenged students to make a tall habitat during our zoo theme. Students measured their building with string, placed it on the chart, and compared it. It created a huge opportunity for using and increasing their math vocabulary.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Like I said, I am carefully planning and putting materials out with intention in the blocks center. I am constantly rotating and changing the materials in the center based on student interest, learning objectives I need to cover, and our theme. 

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Don't these fall themed materials make you want to build a pumpkin patch? Students could use fake leaves, tractors, apples (red pom poms), pumpkins (orange pom poms), hay bales (blocks covered in yellow paper), and fall themed books. 
When you change themes, think about materials you could add to your blocks center.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

For our ocean theme, there are ocean animals, rocks, boats, water (blue gift wrapping), ocean books, and ocean photographs. Believe it or not, these photos are laminated photos from wall calendars! I grab them at the beginning of the year super cheap and the photos are always amazing.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Do you ever hear...I don't know what to build? I did all the time! To inspire students and get them thinking, I made this I Can Build poster. Now students go look at the poster when they don't know what they want to build and many do it independently. WHOO! I introduce it at the beginning of the year and it stays in my blocks center all year long.

Goodness, that was a long one! Thanks so much for reading till the end. Grab your block freebies here.  I hope you are inspired and have some new ideas for your blocks center.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

If you want the I Can Build poster for your classroom, you can get it here


Love the ideas but worried you may forget? Just pin it!
How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

Want to see my new blocks center in my new half day classroom? Check out the video below!

A few more up close photos of my shelves if you would like a peek.

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

How to set up the blocks center in your early childhood classroom (with ideas, tips, and book list) plus block center freebies

11 comments

  1. I love this post so much! I just graduated in Early Childhood and I will be teaching Pre-K in a public school this fall! I feel like I hit the gold mine with your website! Thank you for posting all of your amazing ideas!

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  2. Fantastic post and just what I need to inspire some renovation to my block center. Thanks for the freebies!

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  3. Thank you! I have about as many hollow blocks as in your photo....and I never know what to do with them (They are in the storage shed)! I love your ideas....and those blocks will be out of the shed in the fall and in the area! (as well as some other great ideas I saw in your pics!!)

    Thank you!! Thank you!!
    Sandra W

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  4. This post is awesome I want to rush to my classroom and work on my blocks / construction center. Thank you for sharing all of the photos and creative ideas.

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  5. Do you have a link to the pictures used for the I Can Build poster? Thank you for this post.

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    Replies
    1. I'm super excited you liked it! Here it is https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Block-Building-and-STEM-2075748

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. This is so inspiring!! I want to print out everything on your website so I don't forget it!! I LOVE the pumpkin patch idea.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. thank you,for the inspiration and ideals, they are just what I needed.

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  10. Love all the ideas...how you went beyond the basics to incorporate writing and other subjects! LOVE the Jenga "people!" What are the tall black tubes on the bottom of one of the shelves? FYI- If you bake or freeze the pine cones and other nature stuff it will kill the bugs. :) anne

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