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What are Alphabet Blocks?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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Alphabet blocks are children's toys which are designed to encourage creativity and learning while enriching the play environment. They consist of cubes which are imprinted or carved with letters of the alphabet. It is not uncommon to see alphabet blocks with symbols, as well, such as ducks on the D blocks, or mooing cows on the M blocks. Most toy stores carry alphabet blocks, and they can also be ordered through companies which specialize in children's toys.

A complete set of alphabet blocks typically includes 26 blocks, with each block representing a letter of the alphabet. The blocks are traditionally made from wood and carved, with brightly colored paints accenting the letters and the edges of the blocks. The blocks may include lower and upper case versions of the letters, numbers, or even different letters on different faces of the same block. Ornaments are usually included on at least one face.

Themed alphabet block sets are available in addition to the basic alphabet block kit. Some may pertain to specific holidays, or they may have a theme like “on the farm” or “at the zoo.” Themed blocks encourage children to start building associations; even if kids aren't ready to start spelling yet, they can start to associate the letter “Z” with “zebra,” for example. Alphabet blocks are also available in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and other non-Roman alphabets.

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When children play with alphabet blocks, they are exposed to the alphabet in a way which encourages play and exploration. As kids start to think about the fact that letters represent sounds which can be built into words, they can start exploring words in a safe, playful environment. Alphabet blocks are designed to be easy to handle and manipulate, making it easy for children to use them. Adult supervision is still recommended, as the edges of alphabet blocks can hurt if a child falls on the blocks or throws a block at another child.

One concern with alphabet blocks is the paint. Unscrupulous companies sometimes use paints which could be toxic if chewed or handled excessively. It's a good idea to select blocks manufactured by a reputable company, and preferably a company which is willing to explicitly state that its blocks are non-toxic. If you aren't sure about the safety of an alphabet block set, ask the staff of the toystore or the manufacturer for additional information. Lead-based paints in particular are very dangerous to young children, and it's better to be safe than sorry.

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kylee07drg
Post 4

Alphabet blocks are such a common children's toy that people often use them in the design of their shower invitations or ads for toy stores. I work at a newspaper as a graphic designer, and I have some alphabet block clip art that I use rather frequently.

One store sells children's clothing, and they like for me to spell out their store name in alphabet blocks. They use this as a sort of unofficial logo.

I once had to design an entire page of photos of babies that were having their first Christmas. My boss told me to use an alphabet block border with safety pins and teddy bears placed in between the blocks at certain intervals.

This just goes to show how iconic this toy is. Alphabet blocks have been around a long time, and I believe they are here to stay.

OeKc05
Post 3

@StarJo – I also have a fear of toxic paint in my daughter's toys. That is why my husband and I make most of her toys ourselves.

He is good at woodworking, and I enjoy painting. It took him many months, but he carved her some wooden alphabet blocks himself, and he did all 26 letters.

He carved an upper case on one side, a lower case on another, and two different things that started with that particular letter. So that she wouldn't primarily associate 'g' with 'giraffe,' he also carved a bunch of grapes on one side.

I painted every block with non-toxic, water-based paint. Once it dried, it was set, so I didn't have to worry about it oozing off if she got it wet.

StarJo
Post 2

I am very cautious when it comes to painted toys, so I have been hesitant to purchase any alphabet blocks for my son. I just don't trust the manufacturer to use paint that is safe for him.

So, I was delighted when I found some unpainted alphabet blocks while shopping at an arts and crafts store. They were plain wood, and the letters and symbols had already been embossed into the blocks.

I got to choose the paint, so I knew exactly what was in it. I painted the blocks myself, so I had the peace of mind I needed to allow him to play with these educational toys. I would recommend these to anyone who feels uneasy about painted toys, because it is the only surefire way to know what is in the paint.

Perdido
Post 1

My husband tends to be a bit overprotective when it comes to our toddler, and what he did to her alphabet blocks illustrates that. He was afraid that she might pierce herself with the edges of the blocks, so he sanded each one down and repainted them all.

I find it amusing that he is actually the one who wound up stepping on one coming down the stairs one night. He was glad that he had sanded them down before this happened, because all he got was a slight bruise, rather than broken skin and a wound.

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