having them share their expertise as well as their con-
cerns. Family members can be rich resources if they
have cultural stories to share, experiences building dif-
ferent kinds of structures, or knowledge about places
to visit. Also, encourage family members to work as
classroom volunteers. Some families may be able to
help in the classroom on a regular basis; others may
come in just for special occasions such as field trips or
special events. They can serve as invaluable assets
when you take the class outdoors, providing children
with the adult guidance they need to help them focus
and observe more deeply. Indoors, family volunteers
can assist with small group explorations and ensure that
an environment of respect for buildings and structures
is maintained while children’s curiosity is promoted.
Let parents know what they can do at home with
their children. For example, they might build together.
Suggest different building materials and experiences
they might share. In addition to blocks, families can
build with paper cups and sponges. They might also
want to build a fort out of blankets and chairs. Family
outings are another great way for children and families
to see the science in their communities. Suggest places
to go. For example, a trip to a local skyscraper or large
auditorium can spark children’s curiosity about tall
towers and large expansive enclosures. Such activities
can reinforce and extend the science children are
learning in the classroom, while helping children and
families see science phenomena in their daily lives. It
is also helpful to provide sample questions that fami-
lies can use to spark children’s thinking and questions.
The “Families Building Structures” handout included
on p. 84 of the resources section provides families
with ideas for activities and thoughtful questions they
can ask their children. You might also provide families
with a list of children’s books that relate to the science
concepts they are learning. See the “Books and Web
Sites”section (p. 82) for some suggestions.
How to Use This Guide
Building Structures with Young Childrenincludes three
stages that will guide you in promoting children’s ex-
ploration of building materials and structures and their
use of inquiry.
Getting Ready. To facilitate this exploration, you will
need to prepare. This section will help you to explore
the science concepts embedded in this exploration.
This section will also help you prepare the physical
environment and think about routines and schedules
that support children’s inquiry into building structures.
Open Exploration. During this stage, children ex-
plore a variety of building materials at a number of
building centers. These initial explorations are in-
tended to encourage children to find out how they can
build with these various building materials. During
this stage, children will also look at books and images
of different kinds of buildings to inspire their block
play. This is the time to encourage children to follow
their interests and try things out. Resist the temptation
to share your own ideas about balance, stability, and
characteristics of materials. Instead, encourage chil-
dren to follow up on their ideas and try new things.
Focused Exploration. After children have had mul-
tiple opportunities to openly explore a variety of
building materials, they are ready for focused explo-
ration. During this stage, you encourage children to
think more about how the materials and designs they
choose make tall towers taller, or enclosures bigger.
Your role is to deepen children’s understandings by
asking probing questions, encouraging children to
represent their work, and creating opportunities for
discussion and reflection. Extension activities—such
as a field trip to a nearby construction site, the sharing
of an interesting book or reference material, or a visit
from a structural engineer—take place about once a
week throughout “Focused Exploration.” These experi-
ences motivate children to continue their explorations
in new ways, provide new information, and connect
their work to their lives outside of school.
“Focused Exploration” includes two different studies.
The towers study focuses on helping children look at
the ways their choice of building materials, designs,
and strategies affect a tall structure’s stability. The en-
closures study focuses on helping children look at the
ways their choice of building materials, designs, and
strategies affect the strength of the walls, roofs, stories,
and other things they add to their enclosures.
Each step of “Open Exploration” and “Focused Ex-
ploration” includes the following sections:
The CORE EXPERIENCESprovide a rationale for the
step—what science ideas you will be focusing on, why
this is important for children, and how this step relates
to the overall exploration.
The PREPARATIONsection will help you get ready for
each step as you consider your classroom schedule,