• Melissa from edlah.com

Makeover: Building Center

Last time we talked about dollhouses, today we will talk about building! I keep my dollhouse center and building center near each other. There is a lot of over lap between the two centers and I want it to be convienent for the kids to work in both centers if they choose.

We use to call this Block Center because it only had blocks in it. If yours is still just a block center, I am going to challenge you to break out and step it up a notch.

Normally we leave our block centers alone and don’t ever change them. Kids like blocks, but they will love the changes we are about to make!!!!

Wooden Blocks:

Yes, your building center should have some nice solid wooden blocks. These are a staple that can always stay out and can be used for tons of different pretend play situations, but don’t stop there. Did you know you can choose blocks from different parts of the world? I literally just discovered that you could buy Russian house architectural blocks! They are now on my wish list! How fun would it be to give them pictures of houses from around the world and blocks to make those houses? My mind is spinning with the possibilities!

Cardboard Blocks:

Have you tried cardboard blocks? I love these because the kids can stack them as high as they want without getting hurt when they fall. Do you let your kids knock over their towers? As long as they are building with light weight materials, You should! They love watching them crash down and they can learn a lot by watching! Just make sure to set some ground rules. The person/people that build it get to knock it down and you might want to avoid spinning kicks (those never end well). My kids can build as high as they want as long as they are using the lightweight cardboard blocks. Just be sure to remind your kiddos not to step or sit on them.

Don’t stop there!!!

Landmark Blocks:

A few years ago while teaching my All About Me Themed Unit I had the kids bring in a 3x5 picture of the front of their house. I used clear tape to tape the house pictures to the front of some of the rectangular blocks in my center and put a label with the kids name on the back of each block. My kids had a blast setting the blocks up and driving around visiting each other. It was a simple idea that ended up being a favorite activity. I have also taken pictures of landmarks and favorite restaurants and stores around the area and added those to my center as well. Sometimes the kids would even ask for a specific place in town and I would google it, print the picture and tape it on by the next day. They were always so impressed and it was such a simple process.


How about cars? Do you have Hot Wheel sized cars in your center? If not, you are missing out! Last year during my T is for Transportation Themed Unit I added a box of cars to my center with no other explanation, they loved it so much I left them out the rest of the year. My boys absolutely loved making race tracks with the wooden blocks which wasn’t even what I planed on them doing. I thought they would build a city with the blocks and drive the cars around in it. I love when they come up creative play with ideas all on their own!!!!


During different themes try giving your students pictures of things to try building. This idea first came during my K is for Kingdom Themed Unit when I decided it would be fun to have them build different castles. I just googled a ton of different real castles from around the world and hung the pictures around my Building Center. Most of their castles looked nothing like what they were trying to build, but they had fun trying. I also recently discovered castle themed block that I would love to add to my block center!

Class Pets:

We have a Hermit Crab named Shelly as our class pet. My kids asked one day if they could make a maze for Shelly in block center. Why not? They spend about 2 hours that day creating elaborate mazes for Shelly. She even cooperated and made it though a few of the mazes with the help of some treats left along the way. Obviously this totally depends on the class pet you have. Goldfish and blocks don't mix so well.

Solo Cups: Nope, I’m not kidding! My kids have a blast building with various colored Solo Cups (these ones glow in a blacklight). They break easy, but they are cheap so it doesn’t matter! I really love to use Solo Cups on the 100th day of school to build a tower with 100 cups. It’s so fun and cheap!

Nature Blocks:

During my L is for Leaves Unit we go on a walk and pick up ‘nature’ for our sensory tub. One year one of my kids asked me if they could take some of the sticks to building center. Obviously was excited about them thinking outside the box and let them, but it also got me thinking. What if I added some nature blocks to my center? It is as easy as finding a stick (1 to 2 inches in diameter) and cutting it into various sized chunks for them to stack and build with. If you don’t want to make your own, they do sell these already made. These would also make great outside building center!

Legos: Legos are another staple to any classroom. Choose the set that is safest for your students. If you teacher little kids get the larger Duplo Bricks and if you teach older students like I do, get a basic Lego Brick Box. I like the Creative Brick Box because it comes with wheels and such for making cars. Don’t forget to add some fun minifigures to go with your themes. You can find sets of legos for pretty cheap at garage sales. Keep an eye out for great deals when you shop garage sales this summer.


I know it sounds weird, but kids love to build with dry kitchen sponges cut into different shapes. Don’t knock it until you try it! This also is fun to do in your sensory center with wet sponges! When they are dry they stack fairly well like a soft block. When wet they are squishy and wiggly making building with them a whole new experience. Give it a shot! They are cheap, quiet and brightly colored. Who wouldn’t love that?


K’Nex can be expensive so you might want to keep an eye out for these at garage sales too, but they are so much fun! Your kids can literally build anything with these cool little pieces! Are you ready for your mind to be blown? Seriously, hold on to your pants: There is a K'nex kit to build a working mini rollercoster? I shouldn't be writing this post... I'm going to go broke with all these new goodies I'm finding!!!

PVC Pipes and Attachments:

Head to a hardware store and have them cut some PVC pipe into various lengths from. Buy some different attachment pieces and a nice tub to store them all in. Put it in your building center and watch your kids go crazy building with these! I love to use these during my H is for Helping Our Community Unit when we talk about construction workers.

Try getting some larger lengths of pipe and add them to your playground environment! In the summer you can even add water to the experience and have them build their own little water piping system.

PVC holds up really well and will last many years! You can paint them, drill holes in them for water play and so much more! These are fun to add to your sensory tub sometimes as well. Think of them as giant TinkerToys. Don't want to make them, no problem, Amazon has you covered. Check these out!

Marble Run:

Marble Runs are always a hit with preschoolers and teach them so much about building. I have found that the marble run is one of the things that they love to do with me as well. I help them build their ideas at the beginning of the year and get a chance to talk to them and get to know them in a way that I normally wouldn’t be able to. Marble runs can be hard for younger kids, but they do sell a toddler set that is a lot bigger and easier for little people to assemble and with larger balls that aren't the chocking hazard that small marbles can be.

A word of caution, marbles get lost easily. Make sure that the marble run you choose can fit regular sized marbles. All marble runs are not equal and some will only work with the tiny marbles they come with. Those sets tend to be cheaper, but are not worth the headache. Buy a set that any standard sized marble can be used in, like this one.

Cardboard Tubes:

Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Tubes are another super cheap items that you can add to your building center to add a new texture. I also add pieces of cardboard packing materials. These won’t last long but make a fun center for a week or two. Since they are so inexpensive it doesn’t matter.

Beware: Some states don’t allow toilet paper tubes in centers and art projects because they have been contaminated in the bathroom. Most states will still allow paper towel rolls so you could cut them off into different sizes or you can buy ‘craft rolls’ if you live in an especially strict state.


Have you tried adding a hard hat and pretend play tools? If not, these are fun ways to get your kids to jump into pretend play in a whole new way! I typically add these props during my H is for Helping Our Community Unit.

Have you tried adding little plastic animals? I add animals during my Z is for Zoo Themed Unit and sit back and watch the kids build the cutest little zoos!

As I mentioned in my post about dollhouses, I also like to add foam flames during out H is for Helping Our Community Unit and a firetruck for pretend play. It’s so fun to watch them stick the flames all over their house and then rush up with their fire truck to put out the blaze!

What props have you tried?

The take away:

As you can see, it’s not all about blocks it’s about building! You can literally build with anything! Switch things out regularly in your centers to keep things new. Give minimal guidance and see what happens! Kids are naturally very creative and will have a blast with new exciting things to play with. Remember, this is a process! Don't expect to have all of this on day one. Add an item or two each year, request things for your centers for Teacher Appreciation Day, make an Amazon wish list and give it to your room mom, it's a process.

What unique items have you had success with in your building center?


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