The manufacturing of blocks began in the late 18th century, although children played with homemade blocks and built with natural materials for many centuries before this.
Blocks and construction toys, modular in form and open-ended in use, have always been associated with “learning” and “education.”
The relationship between children’s block play and learning has a long and distinguished history, beginning in the late 17th century with John Locke’s concept of the “alphabet block” that combined learning and play and continuing into the 19th and 20th centuries with educators such as Friedrich Froebel, Maria Montessori, and Carolyn Pratt. Extensive research has shown that block play provides a rich learning context for young children’s social development, physical knowledge, language acquisition, mathematical concepts, and creative thinking.
Educational Toys in America: 1800 to the Present (pdf)
Toying with Architecture: The Building Toy in the Arena of Play (pdf)
Blocks as a Tool for Learning: An Historical and Contemporary Perspective, Karen Hewitt (pdf)
posted with permission from the NAEYC www.naeyc.org