"Long before it's in the papers"
January 27, 2015


Playing with blocks may boost math skills

Sept. 24, 2013
Courtesy of the Society for Research in Child Development
and World Science staff

Play­ing with blocks may help preschool­ers de­vel­op math and spa­tial skills, which sup­port lat­er learn­ing in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy and en­gi­neer­ing, ac­cord­ing to a new stu­dy.

For low-income preschool­ers, who lag in spa­tial skills, such play may be es­pe­cially im­por­tant, the re­search­ers said. The study is pub­lished in the jour­nal Child De­vel­op­ment.

Re­search “has shown that ex­pe­ri­ences like block build­ing and puz­zle play can im­prove chil­dren’s spa­tial skills and that these skills sup­port com­plex math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lem solv­ing in mid­dle and high school,” said Bri­an N. Ver­dine of the Uni­vers­ity of Del­a­ware, one of the stu­dy’s au­thors. “This is the first re­search to dem­on­strate a si­m­i­lar rela­t­ion­ship in preschool­ers.”

More than 100 three-year-olds of var­i­ous so­ci­o­ec­onomic lev­els took part in the stu­dy. Chil­dren who were bet­ter at cop­y­ing block struc­tures were al­so bet­ter at early math, the study found. Among the skills tested were wheth­er chil­dren could fig­ure out that a block be­longs above or be­low an­oth­er block and wheth­er they aligned the pieces.

The study al­so re­ported that by age 3, chil­dren from lower-income fam­i­lies were fall­ing be­hind in spa­tial skills, likely as a re­sult of less ex­pe­ri­ence with blocks and oth­er toys and ma­te­ri­als. Par­ents of low-income tod­dlers al­so re­ported us­ing few­er words such as “a­bove” and “be­low” with their chil­dren, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors said.

They as­sessed chil­dren’s spa­tial skills us­ing a block-build­ing task, and math skills us­ing a test de­vel­oped for 3-year-olds that fo­cus­es on a wide range of skills, from sim­ple count­ing to adding and sub­tract­ing.

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Playing with blocks may help preschoolers develop math and spatial skills, which support later learning in science, technology and engineering, according to a new study. For low-income preschoolers, who lag in spatial skills, such play may be especially important, the researchers said. The study is published in the journal Child Development. Research “has shown that experiences like block building and puzzle play can improve children’s spatial skills and that these skills support complex mathematical problem solving in middle and high school,” said Brian N. Verdine of the University of Delaware, one of the study’s authors. “This is the first research to demonstrate a similar relationship in preschoolers.” More than 100 three-year-olds of various socioeconomic levels took part in the study. Children who were better at copying block structures were also better at early math, the study found. Among the skills tested were whether children could figure out that a block belongs above or below another block and whether they aligned the pieces. The study also reported that by age 3, children from lower-income families were falling behind in spatial skills, likely as a result of less experience with blocks and other toys and materials. Parents of low-income toddlers also reported using fewer words such as “above” and “below” with their children, the investigators said. They assessed children’s spatial skills using a block-building task, and math skills using a test developed for 3-year-olds that focuses on a wide range of skills, from simple counting to complex operations like adding and subtracting.