Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Good old-fashioned blocks, those smooth rectangles and squares that become fanciful structures in children’s hands, are enjoying a resurgence. The New York Times, citing a growing realization that something valuable is lost when there’s no time for play time, finds a renewed interest in blocks is “sweeping through some elite swaths of New York’s education universe.”

“While many progressive private and public schools have long sworn by blocks, more traditional institutions are now refocusing on block centers amid worries that academic pressure and technology are squeezing play out of young children’s lives,” the Times reports.

“Studies dating to the 1940s indicate that blocks help children absorb basic math concepts. One published in 2001 tracked 37 preschoolers and found that those who had more sophisticated block play got better math grades and standardized test scores in high school. And a 2007 study by Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, found that those with block experience scored significantly better on language acquisition tests.”

National school supply companies, the Times notes, are adding to their block-related products. And a block workshop at a recent early education conference at the 92nd Street Y filled so quickly, conference organizers added a second session.

“Ms. [Fretta] Reitzes, who runs the youth center at the 92nd Street Y, said many educators were embracing blocks as an antidote to fine-motor-skill deficits and difficulty with unstructured activity, problems that they blame on too much time in front of screens and overly academic preschools,” the Times reports. “Sara Wilford, director of the “Art of Teaching” graduate program at Sarah Lawrence College, sees it as an obvious backlash. ‘There are so many schools where children are seeing less and less play,’ she said. ‘And I think parents are getting that that is not going to help them.”