About Us — About Carolina Pratt Unit Blocks
We are serious about making the best wooden blocks in the world for your children to play, build, learn, and imagine.
What can you build with Carolina Pratt Unit Blocks?
Healthy infants, toddlers, children, adults, schools, churches, and communities.
With our Hard Rock Maple Standard Unit Blocks, we are building a better future — and so can you.
Continue reading to learn how…
We believe in Unit Blocks.
- We believe in the value of play. Creative play should be a part of every child’s day, and every child’s school day.
- We believe in providing natural, flexible, durable toys to build healthy and imaginative children.
- We believe that safe, durable unit blocks should be available to all children, schools, and families.
- We believe that socially and environmentally responsible business practices are good for business, for our community, and for our customers.
- We believe that giving unit blocks to infants, toddlers, preschooler, school children, and their adults will make the world a better place.
We manufacture the best unit blocks using the finest materials.
We hope you’ll spread the word about Carolina Pratt Unit Blocks to your friends, schools, churches, and families.
We make Wooden Unit Blocks because they inherently teach every subject matter.
Unit blocks set with blocks large and small help children develop gross and fine motor skills. Unit blocks are tools for building stories, developing language and conversational skills, confidence, and social competence through micro and macro dramatic play and through the simple act of giving words to describe what have been built.
Unit blocks teach proportions and math through hands-on, intuitive, self-correcting exploration.
Unit blocks encourage imagination, planning, experimentation, and problem solving. There is no one right way to play with unit blocks.
Although blocks have a fixed size and relationship to other blocks, teachers and parents will tell you that there are no limits to how young minds can play, create, imagine, and discover with a good set of unit blocks.
We use Hard Rock Maple because it is the safest material for little hands and mouths.
Hard Rock Maple, Hard Maple, Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, call it what you will, it’s the same tree used to produce Maple Syrup, which is recommended (as is brown rice syrup) for allergy avoidance diets. Allergies to maple syrup, the concentrated sap, are rare. Allergies to maple wood are virtually unknown. Compared with birch and walnut, it’s the safest domestic hardwood for teethers. Maple wood is naturally anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and insect resistant without being toxic to children. Maple’s tightly interlocking grain and outstanding hardness make it the safe and durable wood of choice for preschool equipment as well.
In contrast, rubberwood and other Asian hardwoods used in toys and furniture are not naturally mold and insect resistant, so those hardwoods are routinely treated with chemicals after harvesting to prevent losses due to mold and insect damage. The most common family of chemicals is recognized by the European Union to be carcinogenic. Although the final products look good on the shelf, we don’t believe this wood is appropriate for our youngest hands and mouths.
We also recommend against foam, cardboard, and plastic unit blocks. In addition to any health concerns, their light weight makes them far too easy to knock over, which is frustrating for young builders.
We source FSC®-certified hardwood.
We're FSC®-certified through our new FSC® group certification program at the Center for Forest and Wood Certification at the University of Kentucky. Our certification number is SCS-COC-004068-BK. Our license number is FSC® C109876. Although we've always used FSC®-certified Hard Rock Maple, we've opted to be externally certified as part of our commitment to responsible forestry.
We choose FSC® certification for the wood that goes into our unit blocks because FSC® inspection with a verifiable supply chain supports sustainable forestry for the health of the youngest generation and for generations to come.
The Forest Stewardship Council® has specific standards and chain of custody requirements that encourage not only sustainable forestry but also safe, legal, and socially responsible practices worldwide.
FSC® 100% is the most rigorous FSC® certification. It requires specific forest management standards (including training and certification for loggers) and complete segregation of the wood from the point of origin, at each point in the supply chain, through to the final manufacturer. (Retailers are not generally certified.) FSC® 100% wood must be separated from non-certified wood at every step along the way, even if the FSC®-certified wood came from the same land or a similar source. We purchase FSC® 100% whenever it is available. However, at this point in the implementation of FSC® standard in the United States, few lumber distributors have facilities to completely segregate FSC® 100% from the rest of their wood and don't receive enough FSC® requests to abandon un-certified wood, and preferred to mix their raw lumber from certified and non-certified sources, which is allowed under the FSC® Mix Credit certification. It's at the distributor level that the supply of FSC® 100% gets mostly converted to FSC® Mix Credit.
Additionally, we've found it difficult to find FSC® 100% Hard Maple in thicknesses greater 4/4 (nominally 1 inch, which only works for our half-thickness planks). We have had sporadic success locating 6/4, but standard unit blocks are best milled from 7/4 to produce straight longer blocks with minimal visual character marks. We have not been successful in sourcing 12/4 (3" thick) FSC® 100% Hard Maple. Sawmills typically prefer to certified their 12/4 as FSC® Mix Credit because it makes the handling easier. That said, if you know of a source for FSC® 100% Kiln-dried Hard Maple, please let us know.
FSC® Mix Credit® allows a lumber distributor to purchase a quantity of FSC® 100% or FSC® Mix Credit, put it in or near a pile of FSC® Controlled Wood (not from an FSC® certified forest but likely to be compliant with all FSC® requirements), and be able to sell the unsegregated wood as FSC® Mix Credit up to the quantity of FSC® 100% and FSC® Mix Credit originally purchased. Because FSC® Mix Credit is the defacto standard for lumber distributors in the United States and Canada, we often buy hard maple with FSC® Mix Credit certification when FSC® 100% is unavailable. Because we have both FSC® 100% and FSC® Mix Credit in our unit block stock, so our inventory of wood is considered to be FSC® Mix Credit.
FSC® Mix (%) requires a specific certificate for certifying wood that comes from non-FSC®-certified forests as FSC® Controlled Wood, meaning that it hypothetically comes from sources that are expected to be FSC® compliant (not illegally or irresponsibly logged). FSC® Controlled Wood can then be mixed, up to 50%, with FSC® 100% certified wood by the certified party. So you could start with 1000 board feet of FSC® 100% wood and 1000 board feet of non-FSC® wood and create 2000 board feet of FSC® Mix 50% wood. We aren't certified to do this and would rather not anyway because it doesn't match our goals.
FSC® Mix is different from FSC® Mix Credit. FSC® Mix, a certification designed for the paper industry, is a more easily achieved because this standard may include a mix of FSC®-certified virgin material, Controlled Wood, and recycled fiber. Controlled Wood is expected to be equivalent to FSC® 100% but is not directly verified from the source; it is certified retroactively based on the expected and existing legal, ecological, and social environment of the country or region of origin. FSC® Mix may include recycled wood, recycled paper, or recycled wood fiber (what this certification was designed for) and may have some amount of FSC® 100%, FSC® Mix Credit, or FSC® Mix % wood or fiber. According to online documentation of our competitor Community Playthings, this is a certification that they have chosen for their wooden block sets which are made from a combination of soft maple and fiberboard pieces.
Both FSC® 100% and FSC® Mix Credit certifications can be used by schools and facilities to achieve 100% of goals for LEED Credit-Opportunity Contributions for Certified Wood and Low-Emitting Materials. FSC® Mix (%) can also be used, but LEED credit is limited to the FSC® Mix (%) percentage claimed.
We recognize that FSC® certification alone is insufficient stewardship and that there is credible criticism of the Forest Stewardship Council®. One criticism is that there is a monetary incentive for independent certifiers to over-certify acreage of their largest customers and that the process favors large, less sustainable operations. FSC® is attempting to address these issues with some of their new certification programs for groups of small acreage landowners and crafts people.
More specifically, FSC® permit holders have been caught logging primary and old growth forests, replacing them with monoculture tree plantations, which we do not support due to ongoing concerns about lost biodiversity from clear-cutting and weather instability caused by excessive atmospheric carbon. “Untouched natural forests store three times more carbon than previously estimated and 60 percent more than plantation forests…logging [untouched natural forests] resulted in more than a 40 percent reduction in long-term carbon capacity compared with unlogged forests.” (We choose to source our wood from previously logged areas in the United States.)
On the positive side, FSC® has more recently declined to renew FSC® certification of organizations flagged by local environmental watchdogs as violating FSC® guidelines.
We generally like our competition — Unit Blocks we’ve purchased.
When we bought them, we loved our Standard Unit Blocks from Community Playthings and the special Unit Block shapes from Barclay Blocks, which, like our Carolina Pratt Standard Unit Blocks, are safe for all ages.
We have a Quarter School Set from Community Playthings (G461 for 180 pieces) in the foyer at the house. We developed our Carolina Pratt Unit Blocks Quarter Classroom Set (CP61 for 190 piece) based on the Community Playthings set plus our own in-depth observations of our own children and friends’ block play. A quarter classroom unit block set has enough pieces, and large enough pieces, to build kid-size tables, chairs, and forts as well as many smaller structures — and for several children to play together. Community Playthings is widely believed to be among the best available and is used in preschools worldwide. They manufacture to a tolerance of 1/100 of an inch and have the perfectly rounded edges that we prefer in our own blocks. What this set lacks we’ve added to our CP Rx sets, as our natural remedy to fill in ”the missing blocks“ in their ”standards“ standard unit block sets.
That said, we're extremely disappointed to discover that our set of Community Playthings blocks was made of inferior soft maple, which Community Playthings appears to have switched to for greater profit margins within the past ten years. We have seen older unit blocks and trucks from them made with real hard maple, but not anything made within the past ten years. Buyer beware!
We also own lots of specialty Unit Block pieces from Barclay Blocks, which allows you to buy Standard Unit Blocks a la carte. We love the Nested Arches, Big Nested Arches, and the Huge Column Kit, particularly the gorgeously “discolored” seconds which we think are beautiful.
Barclay Blocks uses real hard rock maple, just like we do. Though it's not FSC® certified, which is an indication of responsible forestry, their wood is beautiful. Their edges are not all nicely rounded like our blocks and those from Community Playthings. Their curved cuts (nested arches, unit arches, roman arches, et cetera) will show bandsaw marks only partially sanded out, but we completely failed to notice this until we started making blocks ourselves.
We also have three (3) sets of Melissa and Doug 60 Standard Unit Blocks which we have to keep out of the common areas of the house and away from resident and visiting infants and toddlers due to the wood used. They are cheap as far as piece count goes, and fit in a small space equal to 30 standard unit blocks. The cases they come in are perfect for your CD collection, but, other than that, we don't have much use for them.
We learn from the choices made by other wooden unit block companies.
We have a lot to say about unit blocks. It’s because we continuously listen, learn, play, and experiment — directly and indirectly by watching others.
Melissa & Doug — They’re everywhere. Melissa & Doug Unit Blocks are nicely machine-rounded, but are disproportionately weighted toward smaller pieces; the hole in the arches is accurately cut to 1-3/8-inch radius, just like the Community Playthings arches, but, unlike the Community Playthings blocks, are consistently positioned off-center, an minor issue which does not interfere with building.
Melissa & Doug 60 Standard Unit Blocks are less expensive by piece count but more expensive by volume. Although it seem like you’re getting more for less, you’re actually just getting less.
That said, it did seem like a good deal to us. When our daughter was an infant, we purchased three sets of Melissa & Doug 60 Standard Unit Blocks (LCI 503), not respecting the “Ages 3+” notice on the label. At the time, we cringed at the Styrofoam inserts shrink wrapped into the box used to fake the appearance of more unit block volume. At the time, we did not know about the industry-wide practice of adding toxic chemicals to rubberwood and other southeast Asian hardwoods to prevent insect damage and mold.
We now cringe at the memory of her gnawing on these blocks. This is clearly something that we could have avoided if we had taken the 3+ label more seriously. We just didn’t know any better at the time.
Our daughter, now three, seems to be unharmed. She still plays with her three sets of Melissa & Doug 60 Standard Unit Blocks. With all three sets, our daughter has just enough for her to build a house or school room for small figures, but not enough for her to build larger kid-sized structures.
We still buy Melissa and Doug products, but now we realize that the products are manufacture in southeast Asia and are not all created equal. Many of their products live up to my standards; some do not. Though family owned, they are still huge company — one of the biggest and fastest growing in the toy industry. Inconsistent quality and unfamiliarity with local forestry practices can be a symptom of being a fast growing business that outsources almost all production to Southeast Asia.
Community Playthings and the Bruderhof Communities — There is a troubling aspect to the “community” part of Community Playthings. Community Products LLC, doing business as Community Playthings, is owned by Bruderhof Communities, a 501(d) corporation, which is the legal entity of the simultaneous admirable and disturbingly hierarchical Bruderhof religious community that manufactures products for preschoolers and handicapped children as a means of supporting their community. Their endeavors and public efforts are admirable. Drugs and other vices are prohibited. Family is central to community life. Members do not have bank accounts. The proceeds of all work are held in common. The elderly and infirm are cared for and contribute as they are able.
However, the peace in their communities and compliance to unity of opinion is, at times, coercively enforced, with the reality of expulsion from the community, with absolute isolation from children, parents, and family members, for the unrepentant sinner (a member of the Bruderhof who will not give up an opinion differing from the leadership).
Although the Bruderhof officially do not believe in divorce, they have split husbands and wives and families by removing one or both parents from the community, with no visitation or communication, according to critics, former members, and adherents. The family members that remain are said to suffer the loss of community standing; the emotional weight of isolation from still or previously beloved family members falls heavily on the children. This form of isolation, particularly isolating young children from their parents, is contrary to what we believe is in the best interests of families and children. Former members report instances like this dating back to community upheavals 50 years ago. There are also more recent reports. We are not clear whether this practice continues to this day. (If you are a former Bruderhof member who would like to dispel any of these statements, please contact us via email. Please show by example that the Bruderhof is tolerant of differing opinions, even about the Bruderhof.)
We recognize that, among the Bruderhof, women are subservient to men. We also understand that sexuality of any sort, beyond the marriage of one man to one woman, is prohibited, which, although not unexpected in a fundamentalist Christian high-devotion community, is obviously of concern when it comes to the potential for mistreatment of gay and lesbian youth and adults.
We are also concerned about reports that academics and publishers have been threatened with the sort of legal and extra-legal pressure that only a large and very profitable organization can bring down upon an individual or small business.
We are clear that Community Playthings provides outstanding resources for preschools and early childhood educators and that quality and safety are more important that expediency.
We clearly have mixed feelings about the Bruderhof: admiration and respect, mixed with concern and apprehension.
Barclay Blocks — We much prefer building floors and roofs with the half-thickness blocks like the ones we found initially at Barclay Blocks. The half-thickness unit blocks are consistent with the Standard Unit Block philosophy because they can be added together to make a whole unit — which allows children (and their adults) to build more stable structures with self-correcting blocks.
We also prefer half-thickness blocks for roads or sidewalks because they are much more functional and realistic — and, at half the Standard Unit thickness, more economical, which is ultimately more environmentally responsible than the full-thickness intersections offered by Community Playthings and others. Because they’re precisely half thickness, 11/16 of an inch, they’re still compatible with Unit Blocks construction, not just suitable as a workspace.
Barclay Blocks is in many ways the opposite sort of business from Community Playthings. They are experimenters. They have the largest variety of block shapes and sizes anywhere. And, unlike Community Playthings, the proprietor will freely tell you if you ask too many questions, “Please don’t buy from us. We don’t want to process your returns.” At the same time, he’ll correspond with you about Unit Blocks.
The only downsides to Barclay Blocks are that shipping is not included, their wood not FSC® certified, which is an indication of responsible forestry, edges are not all nicely rounded, and curved cuts (nested arches, unit arches, roman arches, et cetera) may show bandsaw marks.
We took their queue on the pre-milled Hard Rock Maple stock and sourced our own from a nearby FSC®-certified mill. We’ve gone a slightly different route (ha, ha) by using a router to round the edges of every wooden block we make, instead of the belt sander approach.
We also use domestic Hard Rock Maple certified by the Forest Stewardship Council®.
Featured Standard Unit Blocks: Carolina Pratt Wooden Block Sets
We recommend these sets of wooden blocks for Toddlers, Preschools, Elementary School Classrooms, and Private Homes.
We’re a Proud Member of the Handmade Toy Alliance. We’re also an FSC®-certified manufacturer, which applies to products marked as FSC®-certified. The Forest Stewardship Council® promotes responsible forestry and use of forest products through third-party monitoring and verification. Our FSC® certification number is RA-COC-007619-BK. Our FSC® license code is FSC® C133487.