Last weekend Turner Toys attended Essex Junction’s Annual Block Party – a great community tradition in our hometown. In addition to putting out many of our fabulous educational and wooden toys, we made giant alphabet blocks for the kids to play with. We used color in lieu of alphabet letters but I’m calling them alphabet blocks because they were cube-shaped like classic alphabet blocks. Each side had a different color so they could be lined up like part of a Rubik’s cube or a preschool block puzzle. They were a hit and it was great fun to see how kids played with them. It was especially fun to see that they appealed to kids of different ages.
- Stacked them
- Knocked them down
- Played tag
- Solved the puzzle
- Danced around with them
Giant Alphabet Block Tutorial
Here’s a tutorial on how my friend, Sue, and I made the blocks:
Figuring out what we wanted (size, materials, look)
- Theme – I wanted a color puzzle where the blocks could be arranged into a wall of color. Harder than it sounds.
- Block size & material: You can buy oversized wooden blocks but we settled on using 9 x 9″ cardboard boxes for our cubes. They were inexpensive and lightweight. We nixed the 12″ because they might have been too big for toddlers to handle and bigger kids might have sat on them and crushed them. We went with cardboard because it’s light and durable compared with styrofoam or other materials that might have chipped or crumbled with use. This was important because we were using them on an asphalt surface rain or shine!
- Choose and test your materials! Sue experimented with gluing felt and different textured and smooth papers onto cardboard. The modge podge glue bled through the felt and anything “cloth-like”. In all cases, the modge podge darkened the color. We went with a light card stock and applied the glue underneath and also over to see the effects. It darkened the paper color and gave it a striated texture that was a little tacky & sticky. If you don’t like the tackiness you could always try a clear varnish coat.
- 6 cardboard 9×9″ boxes
- modge podge
- brush to apply modge podge
- packing tape to seal the boxes
- newspaper or other filling for the box
- paper cutter
- Fiskars corner rounder
- water bottle sprayer
- Draw out your plan for each box & the overall theme. I wanted to make sure that the colors lined up exactly on each box so I made a small diagram. Nothing fancy.
- For the colored area on each block side: Sue made a paper template. Again, we played with the size because we discovered that our 9×9″ box was 9.5 x 9.5″! Important to do your measuring! We went with an 8×8″ template because we wanted to see the edges of the “cube”.
- We used a corner rounder on each sheet thinking that a) it would look nice (which it did) and b) it would prevent the edges fraying (which we think it did). Your choice.
- Using the template, cut out 6 pieces of paper or whatever material you are using. Remember to figure out how many of each color or pattern you need if you’re trying to arrange them in a theme. For example, I needed 6 sheets of 6 different colors to make my set.
Steps to making the alphabet blocks.
- Construct the box using clear plastic tape (you could use colorful tape or duct tape if you wanted). Before taping up the final side, I added some crumpled newspaper. Sue thought this would give it some heft. You can experiment.
- You can either paint the adhesive directly to the box or the back of the paper. I modge podged the entire block face because I wanted to give the corners some extra strength. Then I placed the paper where I wanted it.
- When we noticed that the paper was wrinkling we lightly sprayed the back of the paper with water before applying it to the box. It seemed to help.
- I added a top coat to the entire block face.
- It took 20-30 minutes to dry.
- Textures – Kids love tactile toys! Think about sand paper, felt, textured or smooth wall paper, fabrics, etc.
- Colors or Patterns– Primary, cool, hot colors and/or patterns? Stripes, dots, stars…..?
- Theme – Do you want to supplement the inherent open play of blocks with an overall theme? Think of a block puzzle where each face makes an an overall image, or color or pattern.
- Quantity of Blocks – The possibilities are endless. Most block puzzles are 3 x 3 (9 blocks). I ended up with a 3 x 2 (6 blocks) mostly because I ran out of time. I was going to stop at 4 blocks but thought that the extra 2 blocks would exponentially increase the fun!
- Complexity– I’d thought about drawing simple line images like apples across all 6 blocks. Then, the blocks would have to be arranged to complete the image. Or, you could make it a sorting game – all animals on one side, all fruit on another.
What other toys have you made?