Saturday, August 27, 2005

Diversion & Digression


I feel rather proud of today's construction. It is largely of my own design. The doorway and two lowest blocks on either side being based on an example in Exploring Learning : Young Children and Blockplay
I rather enjoyed the creative process.

I began by thinking that pattern of blocks could be repeated rather attractively, adding the tall think pillars for dramatic effect. Then I worked out how to use the balance of the larger blocks (again using the 36 blocks of Froebel's #6) for roofing.

I like it.


Earlier I spent some time with the Wedgits. I had been backing off for a bit because the bright colors are a bit too much for me to allow extensive use. Sensory issues are a large problem for most, if not all, folks on the Autistic Spectrum, though they certainly aren't exclusive to us.

In addition to bright colors, noise can be a problem, and the Wedgits are appallingly noisy if the structure collapses.

Today I was able to wear my new noise-canceling headphones while playing, and they helped immensely. My psychiatrist had encouraged me to get them so that I would be more willing to tackle power tool projects, among other things, and I think he was very right.


I am now wondering if I will be more willing to explore risky structures with my larger Unit Blocks if failure won't be so distressing. It has been quite routine for me to pack up and put away whatever I have been playing with if there was a noisy crash.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Froebel Gift 6

I did Froebel's Kindergarten Gift 3, consisting of 8 cubes, a while ago, and had intended to do the Froebel block set Kindergarten Gifts in order, but here I am sneaking ahead to number 6.

This set is the most fun, and seems likely to have been the inspiration for Unit Blocks, which enlarged these linearly by almost three times and added additional shapes. The three block shapes here remained the core of early Unit Block sets, per evidence in after Harriet Johnson's 1933 work; reprinted, abridged, in The Block Book

If I had a little more gumption and skill, I'd like to make a full set of unit blocks this size (about 1"x2"x1/2" for the larger rectangular pieces). They are nice to play with on the coffee table.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ankerstein 6

A small project today.

I've made this one before, at least once and maybe twice. And I think I made the same mistake - easily rectified once it was found.

Simple buildings from simple plans are good at times, but should they be included here?

If you are enjoying any of my posts - especially if you enjoy some types of posts more than others, I would welcome your comments. Simply click the "x comments" link at the end of a post, or email me.

And as always, clicking on almost any image provides an enlarged view.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Am I wandering a little astray to include Wedgits in this blog?

Most of what I do here is devoted to basic building blocks in wood or stone, though some of the structures get a bit elaborate, especially the Ankerstein and Kappla.

In contrast to the mellow tones of natural wood or artificial stone, Wedgits can seem a bit gaudy. And they can violate the implicit "gravity rule" with a clever interlocking trick (not used in today's structure).

I find that they fall somewhat in the spectrum of my blockplay activities, though, so here they are for what is probably a one-time appearance.

The other day I had a moderately severe PTSD trigger reaction. I came home and built simple Wedgit designs from one of the pattern card decks. It was very effective therapeutically - sort of a cross between Tangrams, Binary Arts (Rush Hour, Leapin' Lizards, Lunar Lockout, etc), and Building Blocks. Good tactile feedback, interesting structural challenges at various levels of difficulty.

I recommend them for younger children of any inclination, and for older children and adults who might be inclined to appreciate such things - or benefit from them. Those inclined to scoff are encouraged to find a display set in a store, or a friend with a set, and build a few designs.

Good Block Play

[created 8/21/05; modified 5/13/07]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Many Arches

This is from a design (illustration 5.3) in my current favorite book: Exploring Learning : Young Children and Blockplay
A little girl is described as spending several days exploring what she could do with just two Unit Block shapes, and three drawings scattered through the book indicate that she is devoting herself to the Roman Arch (sometimes known as the "unit arch") and the Half Arch.

The mixed designs show her using 16 Roman Arches and several half arches. This design shows 20 Roman Arches, which I think is an error: from other discussions in the book, I think that there were only 16 Roman Arches available - 8 each from two large unit block sets that were mixed together. My guess is that some or all of the lateral pieces in the lower part of the design (yellow blocks in my reconstruction) were half arches, and the artist creating the ink drawing from the rough sketch misinterpreted.

It is a lovely design, surely even more attractive with the proper arch proportions providing an opening exactly one-half the length, with one-quarter length bases at each side. My blocks, combining smaller, cheaper sets, have the opening too wide and "feet" too narrow, so the proportions suffer, especially in the side lobes at the top, which should not overlap.

A big question for choosing block sets is "how many pieces?" Which breaks down into "how many different pieces?" and "how many of each piece?" We can't help but wonder what this child would have done with a few more, or many more, roman arches instead of 16 (or 20).

On the other hand, it is often in the struggle against limitations that creativity blossoms best.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Corbelled Cantilever Bridge

Yes, it is a little tentative in the middle, where the weight of the cantilevered blocks is right at the limit of the corbel counterweighting.

Still, it is providing a clear span of four blocks in length.

And it is a bridge, and bridges are fun.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Ankerstein 8

Back to Anchor Stones for another set 8 (6 + 6A) tower.

Perhaps my least favorite so far, and not just because it isn't a bridge. I'm a little too clumsy to be able to relax building tall towers, and this one is a little fussy here and there, especially in the upper reaches.

I really do like Anker blocks though.

With all the reading, thinking, and experimenting I've been doing about free form creative block play, I really wanted to do something today strictly from a plan.

Nice to do, and I think it has its own benefits.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Block Play as Language

The blocks are the vocabulary, how they are placed, piled, built, is the syntax. Techniques that work become the block builders grammer. Block play becomes a means of nonverbal expression for the child (or disabled adult). Blockplay benefits from careful guidance and assistance in developing that grammer, but is most beneficial to the young child, and possibly to the disabled adults if freedom to express is left unconstrained. [See the outstanding Exploring Learning : Young Children and Blockplay edited by Pat Gura.]

Most of my block building at least begins with copying a published example. Is this a failure of originality, or more akin to reading aloud, or singing a favorite song? Early most mornings I sing a short song about my cat. It is the process of my daily recreation of my ability to speak. Afterwards, I am usually more able to interact verbally with my wife. Occasionally, I will read aloud from a page in a German book. Afterwards, my ability to speak German, or even to comfortably read silently, is clearly enhanced.

Doesn't it make sense that by building established patterns with blocks, I am exercising the grammar of block play, and thus exercising that nonverbal portion of the brain? Perhaps there would be benefits to more consistantly following up rote building with original building, even if not on the same scale.

It has become very clear that after a session of block play, copying or creative, I am much more able to communicate in writing, as this blog testifies, and verbally as well.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


A correspondent recently made reference to my "creativity," referring to my block designs, and leaving me more than a bit nonplussed.

I tend to think of my block play as a pleasant activity that provides me some of the rewards of creative activity, without making demands of actual creative design. Brain damage has put what I consider "creativity" much further from my grasp than it used to be.

Most of what I do is construction from existing plans, perhaps adapting them a bit after the critical design aspects are in place - sort of like a cook tweaking the herbs and spices in an established recipe.

So a big chunk of my biweekly therapy session today was spent discussing types of creativity, my attitudes toward creativity, etc.

When I do create original designs, I tend to be working closer to the beginning of the list of "stages in block building."

I think I benefit greatly from the availability of these various stages, so that I can "play" at different levels as my capabilities - my mental capacities - fluctuate from day to day.

And as I read about block play and early childhood education, I realize that my blogging, here in, very much parallels what teachers are having their young charges do in telling or writing a story about their block projects, after they are built.

Therapy on the hoof. Right here in front of you.

And also, I hope, some ideas that you can take away for use with young children - or developmenatlly disabled or brain damaged older children or adults.

Ah. Ideas. Creativity.

[today's blocks are from Froebel's Kindergarten Gift #6]

Stages in Block Building

  • Carrying - blocks are carried around, not used for construction. This is the activity of the very young child. (It is also the occasional activity of many adults, though they might not recognize it as such.)
  • Rows & stacks - children make horizontal rows or vertical stacks.
  • Bridging - two blocks with a space between them, spanned by a third block.
  • Enclosures - children place blocks in such a way that they enclose a space.
    Bridging and enclosures are among the earliest "technical" building problems that children solve. These building skills develop shortly after a child begins to use blocks regularly.
  • Decorative Patterns - when children have acquired a more facile ability with blocks, decorative patterns appear in their block play. These patterns are usually very symmetrical. Buildings are generally not named at this point.
  • Naming for Play - naming structures in relation to their function for dramatic play begins. Before this, children may have named their structures but now the names are related to the function of the building.
  • Naming and Use for Play - children's buildings now symbolize actual structures. The structures may be reproductions of known buildings or creations of their own design. There is a strong impulse toward dramatic play around the block structures.
[after Harriet Johnson, 1933; reprinted, abridged, in The Block Book]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


One of the themes of Kapla is the long skinny pieces, but the other is simply having large numbers of pieces, all exactly the same size and shape. Dr. Drew's not-so-skinny, not-so-long Discovery Blocks share that characteristic of a single block shape, as does my tower for today.

My blocks in today's tower are a smaller version of the unit block, at 15 mm x 30 mm x 60 mm. Dr. Drew's are 1/2"x2"x3", Kapla are 8 mm x 24 mm x 120 mm. In ratios, that is 1:2:4, 1:4:6, 1:3:15.

Dr. Drew's Discovery Blocks are still available as "pure" sets, but longer "planks" are also available, apparently a later acknowledgement of certain design and construction "imperatives."

Working with such a restricted subset of blocks on hand can add interesting variety to the block play experience, and is surely educational as well.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kapla hogan

I've been wondering how a hogan doorway could be done with Kapla blocks, which lack the short pices one would use in other systems.

It seems like it works fine.

New Anchor Blocks, Old Plan

Yes, the plans that come with modern Ankerstein sets are reproductions of old plans themselves, but I have gone a bit older, and a little further afield, for this one.

From the scans of small caliber (KK = Klein Kaliber), Old Series (AF = Alte Folge) set number 8, this is from page 6. CDrom, or online.

Anchor kept adding different, ever more specialized, stones, especially in the large caliber (GK = Grosse Kaliber), new series (NF = Neue Folge -- there's also an NS = Neue Serie, but enough of that for now).

I often like to go back to the designs for the simpler stones. This example was built with sets 6 and 6A, but there are no stones not found in a 6, and very little not found in a 4 -- just more of them.

Building it with a 6 and a 4 would require only a little creative substitution.

I think anyone with a set 4 should seriously consider getting a set 6 as a next step, rather than a 4A: it gives them extras of the most useful stones; it gets them into the standard full-size box that will match the expansion sets from 6A on; and if the set 4 turns out to not be earning its keep after one has moved on with 6A, 8A, etc, the set 4 would make a great gift to get someone else into Anchor building.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Unit & Anchor redux

Continuing yesterday's program of building Anker Blocks designs with Unit Blocks, but moving on to a bit larger structure, and this time with the same structure in Ankerstein for comparison.

Since my Unit Blocks are a smaller "table top" size, I have used small caliber KK Ankerstein, so the size difference is comparable to standard large caliber GK stones used with standard sized Unit Blocks, understated here by about 11%.

Studying this OA Richter plan sheet turned up a "KK" annotation, although it is filed under GK-NF on both the CDroms and at the download site. It also has the older double height column pieces, instead of the later single height. Not a big deal. One of the charms of the Anchor plan sheets is that they are so widely usable with different sets, providing you don't come up short on stones.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Unit Block building from Anchor plans

The other day I showed a simple structure from an Ankerstein plan sheet. Today I built three of the structures from that sheet using Unit Blocks instead of Anchor Stones.

We can get away with making up the "larger" sizes of Anchor blocks with double thicknesses of unit blocks because the latter are so much larger for equivalent blocks: the standard 1 3/8 x 2 3/4 x 5 1/2 unit block is equivalent to an Anchor #15, but twice as long, twice as wide and twice as thick.

I've used two different methods of substituting pairs of unit blocks and half-units for the specified Anker Block #5, which is one and a half unit blocks long: in two of the structures I have overlapped pairs of unit and half-unit blocks, providing a little extra stability and perhaps improving esthetics; in the other I have used the half-units as cap and base to a pillar of paired unit blocks.

Relatively few of the simpler Anchor structures use the length of the #5 structurally (on this plan sheet, it is mostly the crosses), but if you need them, I am sure our friends at Barclay Blocks would be happy to make you some "Sesqui-Unit Blocks," and perhaps even add them to their line.

For the steeple, Anchor #288, I used a pair of ramps, back to back. That only provides the taper in one direction, but I think it still looks good. Cutting the other tapers into a sacrificed pair of ramps would not be beyond most casual home woodworkers. Aleternatively, Barclay Blocks would probably be willing to make these as well.

The low step in one picture is a block from another set, substituting for an Anchor #69. Barclay Blocks has this in unit block size as a "Short Narrow Roof Plank."

The plan in my earlier post can be seen in enlarged form, as almost all the images here, by clicking on it. An even larger version is available online under Downloads of anchor material: Neue Folge building and layer plans: 00.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Sun blocks

When I finally got together the set of Unit Blocks to do the Walker stuff, that also meant I finally had a set of blocks large enough and stable enough to be used outside on a wobbly table.

So I dragged the wobbly table out of the garage, set it on the grass under the cherry tree, and built the bridge from the Walker book, with a few modifications, of course.

My assistant seems far more interested in a bird in the apple tree.