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Alternative Block Play

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Blocks have become a staple in early childhood classrooms because building is a treasured activity among young children. Beyond the pleasure of creating, blocks provide countless opportunities for learning. Not only do children explore physical properties such as size, shape, weight, and symmetry, but they also work with friends to plan, negotiate, and problem-solve. In block play, you can observe progression and increasing complexity in children’s actions, especially when incorporating alternative materials and loose parts with block play. Check out these alternative block play ideas from Thrifty Teacher’s Guide to Creative Learning Centers, and watch as children develop creative expression, problem-solving, social interactions, language use, and more! 

Basic Blocks


  • Box: cardboard, tissue box, or other sturdy box
  • Newspaper
  • Colorful paper or fabric
  • Images (optional)
  • Maps or calendars (optional)
  • Clear packing tape or contact paper

What To Do

  1. Find a sturdy box.
  2. Stuff it with wadded newspaper.
  3. Wrap it in decorative paper or fabric, or decorate it with photos, images of architecture, maps, old calendars, wrapping paper, or children’s artwork.
  4. Cover with wide, clear tape or clear contact paper for durability.



  • Cardboard tubes, such as paper-towel tubes or butcher-paper tubes
  • Colorful paper
  • Utility knife (adult use only)
  • Clear packing tape or clear contact paper

What To Do

  1. Cut the tubes into a variety of lengths. Shorter tubes will hold more weight, but longer tubes make great tunnels for toy vehicles. The children will love discovering this!
  2. Cover each tube with colorful paper.
  3. Cover the tubes with clear packing tape or contact paper for durability.
  4. Encourage the children to explore ways to use the tubes in the block center.

Translucent Blocks


  • Wooden stacking-game pieces
  • Hot-glue gun (adult use only)
  • Colorful plastic dividers or folders
  • Scissors

What To Do

  1. Use hot glue to make frames using wooden stacking game pieces.
  2. Cut squares from plastic dividers or folders to fit the wooden frames.
  3. Glue a divider to one side of a frame, then sandwich another frame on top.
  4. For added durability, squeeze wood glue into all seams

Create Alternative Blocks

Many common materials can be turned into blocks that will promote creativity in children’s play. For example, coffee cans or egg cartons can become a set of large blocks. Children will delight in using these nontraditional building materials. Try incorporating some of the following materials into your block area:

  • Large sponges
  • Dominos
  • Coffee cans (make sure any sharp edges are covered with duct tape)
  • Plastic butter or yogurt tubs
  • Cereal boxes
  • Food boxes and containers
  • Egg cartons
  • Pool noodles

More Activities to Try