Children at East Harlem Bilingual Head Start in NYC

I’d like to share a workshop and follow-up work I did at the East Harlem Bilingual Head Start Program in NYC.  This is a small example of the rich learning that occurs during children’s spontaneous block play.

In the Fall of 2011, I presented a Multi – Day Professional Development Workshop on “Enriching Math, Science, Literacy, and Creative Thinking Through Block Play” for the staff at the East Harlem Bilingual Head Start Program in NYC. As part of this workshop, I observed and photographed children in the classrooms as they were building with a variety of blocks. The following images document the children (ages 3-5) using blocks – large, unit blocks and smaller table blocks and construction sets.  The children are exploring many concepts as they construct both individually or in small groups. Although  children do not break down these concepts into various curriculum areas, teachers can observe, document, and scaffold specific concepts in children’s spontaneous block play as well as encourage children’s social-emotional growth. [see more on website]

East Harlem Council for Human Services inc; Bilingual Head Start provides comprehensive services to low income children from three to five years of age, and their families. The  program was established in 1969 to foster school readiness, while supporting the needs of the whole child including medical, dental, mental health, and nutrition. Family involvement is critical to the success of the Center and all its programs are responsive to the child’s culture, ethnicity, and language. The program currently operates twelve prekindergarten classrooms.

East Harlem council for Human Services inc; Bilingual Head Start  presta servicios comprensivos  a niños de 3 a 5 años de  bajos recursos  y a sus familias. El Programa fue establecido en 1969  con el objetivo de preparar  a los niños para la escuela elemental y también  para ayudar a sus familias  en con  necesidades médicas, dentales, psicológicas y nutricionales. La participación de las familias es fundamental para alcanzar el éxito del Centro el cual  promueve  programas   culturales, étnicos  y  de alfabetización.  El Centro cuenta  actualmente con 12 salones de clases en sus  dos sedes localizadas  en las calles 116 y 111 del  Este del Harlem.

Children creating a block structure

These are some questions I thought about as the children were building:

Mathematical Thinking

  • You are adding one more. How many blocks do you have now?
  • How many floors in your building?

Science Exploration

  • I wonder if this will stay up? Do you think this will balance?
  • Do you think your building would stay up with four floors? How would you make your building more sturdy?
  • What material is your building made of? Would it be stronger if it were made of paper?


  • Let’s look at this book about city buildings. Does this building look like the one you built?
  • Does your building have a name?
  • Does your building look like the one you live in? What is the difference?