There’s a reason most little kids would rather play with the box a gift came in than the gift itself. A box needs no instruction manual, there’s no wrong way to use it, and the possibilities for play are endless. Boxes and simple building blocks epitomize unstructured play, an important part of early education. Recent studies have suggested that children who play with building blocks score higher in math classes and standardized tests than their non-block-playing peers and also may develop language skills more readily.

If you don’t already have a set of blocks for the classroom, start collect gift boxes for painting or wrapping. Once you’ve got a nice assortment of shapes, try out these five simple block-play activities, designed to improve language acquisition and exploration.

1. Organize blocks by size, shape, and color. This activity introduces students to basic vocabulary words and concepts like matching and classification.

2. Build the tallest block tower possible. This activity encourages teamwork and problem solving while developing fine motor skills.

3. Use blocks to represent real-life places or things. This activity introduces students to symbols and gives them an opportunity to explain the relationship between the actual place or object and its symbol.

4. Create a cityscape or roadway system. This activity encourages cooperation and collaboration.

5. Tell a story using the blocks. By creating a unique environment for storytelling, students are also building confidence and communication skills.