Behold the Humble Block! Tools of the trade from NPR. To say that blocks have been around a hundred years as is claimed in this article on NPR is an understatement. Friedrich Froebel used blocks as an instructional device with children as early as the fist part of the 1800s. His block sets were a part of his invention of Kindergarten. His blocks were also unit blocks in that they all could be used in association with the blocks from each other set. What Caroline Pratt did in her "unit blocks" was make them larger, with a rectangular block being the primary component rather than the cube. Being larger meant that a group of pre-primary and primary school kids could more easily build things cooperatively rather than as personal constructions, and Froebel's blocks had been criticized by some because they were so small that some small motor skills had to be developed to be most successful in their use.
But then, who ever heard of small motor skills being a bad thing? Playing with blocks would even help in the development of penmanship. Frank Lloyd Wright got his start in architecture through the use of Frobel's blocks, and a bit of research would have informed the authors of this segment, that blocks had been around and used in education for two centuries, not one.
The following applies to both play with blocks and causes one to reflect on the amount of pressure that is applied to the very young to begin reading. Just think how much easier it is to pull a rope than to push one.
"A large part of the educational waste comes from the attempt to build a superstructure of knowledge without a solid foundation in the child's relation to his social environment. In the language of correlation, it is not science, or history or geography that is the center, but the group of social activities growing out of the home relations. It is beginning with the motor rather than with the sensory side... It is one of the great mistakes of education to make reading and writing constitute the bulk of the school work the first two years. The true way is to teach them incidentally as the outgrowth of the social activities at this time."-- John Dewey, from The University Record, The University of Chicago Press, 1896Make, fix and create...