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4PreK Capitol Project Inspires Miniature Architects

Have you ever watched a child play with blocks? 

It’s something that almost every child does. There is something innate in the human brain that makes us want to stack and position items from our earliest age. Building with blocks is such an important skill that is tracked as a child development milestone. In the Rowland Hall Beginning School, though, blocks are more than that—they are the foundation of a transformational education. 

In the work we are doing you can see all the skills we teach the students at Rowland Hall, no matter what their age. Making a plan, organizing it, sticking with it, learning to fail, learning to make mistakes, listening to others, it’s all there.—Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher

“We have been doing block study and block building for many, many years,” said 4PreK lead teacher Isabelle Buhler. “In the work we are doing you can see all the skills we teach the students at Rowland Hall, no matter what their age. Making a plan, organizing it, sticking with it, learning to fail, learning to make mistakes, listening to others, it’s all there.” 

Block study starts out with the basics: the names and shapes of blocks, their functions, how to care for them, how to work together to build with them, and how to put them away. It doesn’t stay simple for long, though: by four years old, students in the Beginning School have transformed into miniature architects. 

“We start looking at how to make structures more stable and learn building techniques like plank and pillar, and staggering,” said 4PreK lead teacher Ella Slaker. “We start looking at buildings in books, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and talk about how we could make it better. And we look at buildings locally to see where we can identify the building techniques we are learning.” 

This year the 4PreK took advantage of the school’s central location and visited the Utah State Capitol as part of their block study. Accompanied by their fourth-grade buddies, the students walked up and down the grand stairs, counted the beehives that dot the grounds, and marveled at the high domed ceilings covered in beautiful murals. They also noticed how the marble walls are built in a staggered pattern to make them stronger, and how the soaring pillars support the planks of the ceilings and roof. They took in all these details for their next project: building models of the capitol themselves. 

“The idea was to get them thinking about it,” said 4PreK lead teacher Kirsten White. “We wanted to start with inspiring them by seeing the capitol firsthand, the inside and all around.” 

Rowland Hall preschoolers work on their Utah State Capitol project.

Left: 4PreK students work on blueprints. Right: Students draw and label their finished capitol.


Like any good architects, the students didn’t start building immediately. First, they had to draw up blueprints. Using pictures from books as well as those taken on their field trip, the students drew plans to build their capitols. Then, they decided which blocks and techniques to use to build the levels, the columns, the dome, and other aspects of the structure.

The great thing about this project is that it goes across the curriculum. When we drew the blueprints from memory and photos, it required tracing straight or curvy lines and orienting them correctly. The building process required knowing shapes and counting blocks, which falls under math skills. Building a balanced, stable, and symmetrical building engaged physics skills.—Kirsten White, 4PreK lead teacher

“The great thing about this project is that it goes across the curriculum,” said Kirsten. “When we drew the blueprints from memory and photos, it required tracing straight or curvy lines and orienting them correctly. The building process required knowing shapes and counting blocks, which falls under math skills. Building a balanced, stable, and symmetrical building engaged physics skills.”

Social-emotional learning concepts came into play during the construction of the capitol models. No child built their model alone; they all had to work either in small groups or as a class. That meant using cooperation and letting everyone have a say in how they were going to proceed. It also meant learning to deal with setbacks. 

“The collaboration is huge. It takes a lot of stamina and a lot of coaching,” said Isabelle.  “And when it falls down what do you do? You start again and you don’t give up.”

The wide range of skills being explored in this project meant that every child could have a role, no matter their learning style or talents. It’s an excellent example of how voice and choice are promoted in the classroom. Students with an eye for detail helped perfect the plans and guide the builders, while those with more adept motor skills placed blocks so they balanced perfectly in the trickier parts of the structure. 

Of course, when you ask the four-year-olds what their favorite part of the block study was, they won’t mention any of these lessons initially. The first thing they all say is that they had fun. Of course they did—they were playing with blocks. When you dig a little deeper, though, they will start telling you about the ways they built, showing you the blocks they used, and telling you how they solved problems when something went wrong. That’s when it becomes obvious that they are taking away knowledge to help them build a lifetime of learning.

Rowland Hall preschoolers collaborated to build a miniature Utah State Capitol.

A final Utah State Capitol model in Ella Slaker and Claire Shepley's classroom.

Experiential Learning

4PreK Capitol Project Inspires Miniature Architects

Have you ever watched a child play with blocks? 

It’s something that almost every child does. There is something innate in the human brain that makes us want to stack and position items from our earliest age. Building with blocks is such an important skill that is tracked as a child development milestone. In the Rowland Hall Beginning School, though, blocks are more than that—they are the foundation of a transformational education. 

In the work we are doing you can see all the skills we teach the students at Rowland Hall, no matter what their age. Making a plan, organizing it, sticking with it, learning to fail, learning to make mistakes, listening to others, it’s all there.—Isabelle Buhler, 4PreK lead teacher

“We have been doing block study and block building for many, many years,” said 4PreK lead teacher Isabelle Buhler. “In the work we are doing you can see all the skills we teach the students at Rowland Hall, no matter what their age. Making a plan, organizing it, sticking with it, learning to fail, learning to make mistakes, listening to others, it’s all there.” 

Block study starts out with the basics: the names and shapes of blocks, their functions, how to care for them, how to work together to build with them, and how to put them away. It doesn’t stay simple for long, though: by four years old, students in the Beginning School have transformed into miniature architects. 

“We start looking at how to make structures more stable and learn building techniques like plank and pillar, and staggering,” said 4PreK lead teacher Ella Slaker. “We start looking at buildings in books, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and talk about how we could make it better. And we look at buildings locally to see where we can identify the building techniques we are learning.” 

This year the 4PreK took advantage of the school’s central location and visited the Utah State Capitol as part of their block study. Accompanied by their fourth-grade buddies, the students walked up and down the grand stairs, counted the beehives that dot the grounds, and marveled at the high domed ceilings covered in beautiful murals. They also noticed how the marble walls are built in a staggered pattern to make them stronger, and how the soaring pillars support the planks of the ceilings and roof. They took in all these details for their next project: building models of the capitol themselves. 

“The idea was to get them thinking about it,” said 4PreK lead teacher Kirsten White. “We wanted to start with inspiring them by seeing the capitol firsthand, the inside and all around.” 

Rowland Hall preschoolers work on their Utah State Capitol project.

Left: 4PreK students work on blueprints. Right: Students draw and label their finished capitol.


Like any good architects, the students didn’t start building immediately. First, they had to draw up blueprints. Using pictures from books as well as those taken on their field trip, the students drew plans to build their capitols. Then, they decided which blocks and techniques to use to build the levels, the columns, the dome, and other aspects of the structure.

The great thing about this project is that it goes across the curriculum. When we drew the blueprints from memory and photos, it required tracing straight or curvy lines and orienting them correctly. The building process required knowing shapes and counting blocks, which falls under math skills. Building a balanced, stable, and symmetrical building engaged physics skills.—Kirsten White, 4PreK lead teacher

“The great thing about this project is that it goes across the curriculum,” said Kirsten. “When we drew the blueprints from memory and photos, it required tracing straight or curvy lines and orienting them correctly. The building process required knowing shapes and counting blocks, which falls under math skills. Building a balanced, stable, and symmetrical building engaged physics skills.”

Social-emotional learning concepts came into play during the construction of the capitol models. No child built their model alone; they all had to work either in small groups or as a class. That meant using cooperation and letting everyone have a say in how they were going to proceed. It also meant learning to deal with setbacks. 

“The collaboration is huge. It takes a lot of stamina and a lot of coaching,” said Isabelle.  “And when it falls down what do you do? You start again and you don’t give up.”

The wide range of skills being explored in this project meant that every child could have a role, no matter their learning style or talents. It’s an excellent example of how voice and choice are promoted in the classroom. Students with an eye for detail helped perfect the plans and guide the builders, while those with more adept motor skills placed blocks so they balanced perfectly in the trickier parts of the structure. 

Of course, when you ask the four-year-olds what their favorite part of the block study was, they won’t mention any of these lessons initially. The first thing they all say is that they had fun. Of course they did—they were playing with blocks. When you dig a little deeper, though, they will start telling you about the ways they built, showing you the blocks they used, and telling you how they solved problems when something went wrong. That’s when it becomes obvious that they are taking away knowledge to help them build a lifetime of learning.

Rowland Hall preschoolers collaborated to build a miniature Utah State Capitol.

A final Utah State Capitol model in Ella Slaker and Claire Shepley's classroom.

Experiential Learning

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