The science of building play

Toy blocks, additionally known as “constructing blocks,” are strong shapes used for building play. Some are easy planks product of wooden. Others are fancier, just like the interlocking bricks of plastic made by LEGO ® and MEGA Bloks®. However no matter kind they take, blocks can perform as highly effective studying instruments.

toddler and father playing with building blocks on the floor

Research counsel that building toys may help kids develop

  • motor abilities and hand-eye coordination,
  • spatial reasoning,
  • cognitive flexibility,
  • language abilities,
  • a capability for artistic, divergent pondering,
  • social competence, and
  • engineering abilities.

There may be additionally proof that advanced block-play is linked with increased mathematical achievement.

How does all of it occur? It’s simple to see how stacking and arranging toy blocks might stimulate a younger baby’s motor improvement. However for different abilities, it’s seemingly that youngsters have to do greater than merely transfer blocks round. Analysis means that kids profit when building play incorporates further parts, together with:

  • constructing from templates,
  • participating in cooperative initiatives, and
  • speaking with others about spatial relationships.

Here’s a assessment of the proof, with some ideas for enriching block play.

Infants – even younger infants – can hone their motor abilities by enjoying with blocks

Can infants play with blocks? Sure! However, as you’ll anticipate, block play takes totally different types relying on a baby’s age and developmental stage. Infants as younger as 6 months could take pleasure in greedy and dealing with blocks, however essentially the most basic exercise required to construct with blocks – stacking – doesn’t emerge till later.

In a examine monitoring the event of 37 infants over time, solely 16% of 10-month-olds had been noticed stacking one merchandise on high of one other. By 12 months, roughly 45% had reached this milestone, and some infants had been stacking two or extra objects. By 14 months? Most infants had been stacking, and 38% might construct buildings by stacking two or extra items (forming a three-component “tower”). However 13% of 14-month-olds weren’t seen stacking in any respect (Marcinowski et al 2019).

What are infants studying throughout these early experiences with block play? They’re honing effective motor abilities — enhancing their capability to know and manipulate. They’re additionally growing hand-eye coordination, which incorporates studying to manage the velocity with which they attain and transfer their fingers, in order that they may finally be able to slowing down as they place one block on high of one other. Such coordination might be essential for constructing taller towers (consider the sport, “Jenga”), in addition to for creating “bridges,” the place two columns are topped by a cross-piece.

By the age of 24 months, most youngsters are able to stacking 6 blocks or extra, however this capability is rooted in earlier expertise (Marcinowski et al 2019). To change into a proficient builder, your child wants plenty of apply! So it is sensible to supply your baby with blocks at an early age. Ensure they’re unhazardous and baby-safe, and your toddler can examine the tactile and visible properties of blocks — dealing with, shaking, tossing, sorting, and carrying them. Your child may additionally take pleasure in pulling down towers that you just construct, and this, too, is a priceless studying expertise!

Toy blocks promote higher spatial reasoning

We all know there are hyperlinks between spatial abilities and building play. For instance, when Yvonne Caldera and her colleagues noticed the development actions of 51 preschoolers, they found a sample: The youngsters who confirmed extra curiosity in building — and constructed extra advanced buildings — carried out higher on a standardized take a look at of spatial intelligence (Caldera et al 1999).

Different research have documented related correlations in older college kids and adolescents. When youngsters are requested to observe a mannequin to create a selected construction, the people who produce essentially the most correct creations are those with the strongest spatial abilities (Oostermeijer et al 2014; Richardson et al 2014; Jirout and Newcombe 2015; Bower et al 2020; Zhang et al 2020).

This doesn’t show that block play causes kids to develop superior spatial abilities. Possibly causation works the opposite manner. Children with superior spatial abilities could also be extra motivated to play with toy blocks! However there may be experimental proof, too – proof suggesting that we are able to enhance spatial reasoning skills by encouraging youngsters to tinker and construct.

As an example, when researchers assigned kindergartners to take part in a program of guided building play, these youngsters subsequently outperformed their friends on exams of spatial visualization, block constructing, and “psychological rotation” — the power to rotate and analyze 3-D shapes within the “thoughts’s eye” (Casey et al 2008).

And what occurs when youngsters try and reproduce a construction from a mannequin or blueprint? Researchers name this structured block play, and it could be significantly useful for honing spatial abilities. After a bunch of 8-year-olds participated in simply 5, 30-minute periods of structured block play, they confirmed enhancements in psychological rotation.

As well as, mind scans revealed modifications in the best way their brains processed spatial data. Children in a management group did not exhibit these modifications (Newman et al 2016). Learn extra about it right here.

Structured block play could improve cognitive flexibility

“Cognitive flexibility” is the power to shortly shift your focus from one related stimulus to a different. It’s clearly vital for achievement in class, however some youngsters battle with it, and sure environmental components — like low socioeconomic standing — put kids at increased threat for developmental delays.

Can toy blocks assist? Possibly. In an experiment on 69 preschoolers, Sara Schmitt and her colleagues randomly assigned some of the children to have interaction in day by day periods of structured block play. The duties had been comparatively easy at first (e.g., “construct a tower”). Then, as youngsters turned extra aware of the supplies, they got extra demanding duties (e.g., “copy the construction you see on this image”).

The researchers didn’t observe any dramatic modifications over time. However by the tip of examine, the youngsters who’d participated in structured block play confirmed larger enhancements in cognitive flexibility in contrast with youngsters in a management group. And the impact was strongest for kids from households of decrease socioeconomic standing (Schmitt et al 2018).

Toy blocks are linked with language improvement

May youngsters additionally get a language enhance from building play? That appears potential. As an example, there may be proof that very younger kids develop higher language abilities after they have interaction in common block play. In a examine sponsored by MEGA Bloks®, researchers gave blocks to middle- and low-income toddlers in the USA (Christakis et al 2007). The youngsters ranged in age from 1.5 to 2.5 years, and had been randomly assigned to one in every of two remedies:

  • Children within the therapy group acquired two units of MEGA Bloks® – 80 plastic interlocking blocks and a set of specialty blocks, together with vehicles and other people–in the beginning of the examine. The mother and father of those toddlers got directions for encouraging block play.
  • Children within the management group did not get blocks till the tip of the examine. The mother and father of those youngsters acquired no directions about block play.

Dad and mom in each teams had been requested to maintain time diaries of their kids’s actions. Dad and mom weren’t instructed the actual objective of the examine–solely that their youngsters had been a part of a examine of kid time use.

After six months, every dad or mum accomplished a follow-up interview that included an evaluation of the kid’s verbal capability (the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Improvement Inventories). The outcomes? Children within the group assigned to play with blocks

  • scored increased on parent-reported exams of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal comprehension, and
  • confirmed a non-significant pattern in the direction of watching much less TV.

It’s not clear why block play had this impact. One risk is that the youngsters didn’t actually differ in spite of everything — it was merely that folks within the therapy group perceived larger language competence of their kids. Encouraging block play might need motivated them to pay extra consideration to their toddlers’ improvement, main them to note extra indicators of verbal progress.

Nevertheless it’s additionally believable that folks within the therapy group spent extra time speaking with their kids, which might clarify the language positive aspects. In spite of everything, kids be taught to speak by participating in plenty of one-on-one conversations with different individuals. In help of this concept, researchers in China discovered that block play amongst preschoolers led to larger language positive aspects when youngsters had been inspired to talk about, plan, and construct buildings collectively (Cai et al 2022).

Lastly, there may be proof that children develop an enriched understanding of spatial vocabulary (phrases like “under”, “inside”, and “edge”) after we speak with them about spatial relationships. In a single experiment, researchers instructed moms to make use of related spatial language as they performed with their 5-year-old kids, and the hassle made a distinction: Children uncovered to this spatial speak had been extra seemingly to make use of spatial language themselves (Boriello and Liben 2018).

Toy blocks can stimulate divergent, artistic pondering

Psychologists prefer to distinction modes of pondering — convergent and divergent. Convergent pondering is what we apply after we purpose based on strict guidelines or logical rules, often in quest of the one, “right” answer. In contrast, divergent pondering is extra versatile, and applicable for conditions the place there are mutiple options to an issue (Acar and Runco 2014). Block play can contain convergent problem-solving (as when a baby is challenged to breed a selected construction from a mannequin or diagram). However when youngsters are free to create their very own designs, it’s an train in divergent pondering, and this will likely assist youngsters develop stronger artistic abilities. 

For instance, years in the past, researchers offered 64 preschoolers with a set of chunky, block-like foam items. Half of the children had been randomly assigned to play with these items in a convergent manner (becoming them, like puzzle items, into exactly cut-out openings). The opposite half had been assigned to make use of the froth items in divergent block play.

After simply three temporary play periods, the youngsters had been offered with divergent duties to finish, and the children who had beforehand engaged in divergent block play tackled these duties with extra divergent pondering and creativity (Pepler and Ross 1981).

Extra just lately, a smaller examine of 33 main college kids examined the results of weekly, two-hour periods of building play. In every session, college students (aged 6) had been coached to develop their very own, imaginative designs utilizing LEGO ™ bricks — divergent downside fixing. In addition they spent a portion of every session utilizing the blocks in a structured math lesson. In the meantime, kids randomly assigned to a management group acquired math classes that didn’t characteristic constructing blocks in any respect.

The researchers gave all the youngsters a battery of cognitive exams earlier than the intervention started, after which re-evaluated them on the finish of the college yr. What occurred?

Whereas creativity and divergent pondering scores didn’t change for youths within the management group, they improved considerably for kids in block play group. Furthermore, the children who’d acquired block play periods skilled a lot greater positive aspects in arithmetic achievement and spatial visualization (Pirrone et al 2018).

Children who’re expert with toy blocks are inclined to change into higher mathematicians

There’s a connection between block play and arithmetic. For instance, quite a few research have revealed hyperlinks between a baby’s capability to recreate particular buildings and his or her present mathematical abilities (Verdine et al 2013; Oostermejier et al 2014; Richardson et al 2014; Bower et al 2020). As well as, a examine within the Netherlands discovered that sixth grade college students who spent extra free time in building play carried out higher on a take a look at of arithmetic phrase issues (Oostermejier et al 2014).

Does this imply enjoying with toy blocks causes long-term enhancements in mathematical capability? Not essentially. Nevertheless it’s attention-grabbing to notice that the complexity of a kid’s LEGO ™ play on the age of 4 years has long-term predictive energy: Extra advanced play throughout the preschool years has been correlated with increased arithmetic achievement in highschool, even after controlling for a kid’s IQ (Wolfgang et al 2001; 2003).

And experimental research point out that kids can enhance math abilities by participating in sure sorts of block play.

As an example, as we’ve already talked about within the previous part, the experimental examine utilizing LEGO ™ bricks yielded giant results in mathematical achievement (Pirrone et al 2018), maybe as a result of the intervention included many, specific, block-supported math classes. As well as, the examine of preschoolers led by Sara Schmitt discovered proof that structured block play improved mathematical capability in a subset of the youngsters examined – these from houses of decrease socioeconomic standing (Schmitt et al 2018).

And, most just lately, Sharlene Newman and her colleagues examined the results of building play on arithmetic abilities in 8-year-olds. Forty-three youngsters had been randomly assigned to have interaction in both free block play or structured block play, utilizing blocks from an academic sport known as “Blocks Rock!”.

Children within the free block play situation didn’t expertise any notable modifications, however the story was totally different for structured block play. After structured block play, kids “confirmed important enhancements in each addition and subtraction efficiency” (Newman et al 2021). As well as, fMRI imaging (mind scans) revealed that these kids skilled elevated rapid boosts in activation in mind areas related to arithmetic processing and reminiscence (Newman et al 2021).

Cooperative building play helps youngsters enhance social abilities

Analysis means that youngsters change into friendlier and extra socially-savvy after they work on cooperative building initiatives. For instance, in research of youngsters with autism, youngsters who attended play group periods with toy blocks made larger social enhancements than did youngsters who had been coached within the social use of language (Owens et al 2008; Legoff and Sherman 2006). And analysis on normally-developing youngsters means that youngsters who work on cooperative initiatives kind higher-quality friendships (Roseth et al 2009).

Development play helps youngsters develop engineering abilities

It’s simple to see how building play might train priceless classes about structure and engineering. Builders who create small-scale buildings should deal with the identical legal guidelines of physics that constrain the design of bridges and cathedrals.

That’s why engineers and scientists construct bodily fashions: It helps them take a look at and discover their concepts. Furthermore, it seems that college students be taught greatest about bodily forces after they expertise them first-hand (Hayes and Kraemer 2017). So if we would like youngsters to develop an intuitive grasp of mechanical forces — just like the forces of pressure and compression — building play provides wonderful studying alternatives.  

LEGO ™ and MEGA Bloks ™ enchantment to many aspiring engineers, however I additionally like the straightforward, wood vegetation which you should purchase by way of these hyperlinks on Amazon: KEVA Contraptions Plank Set, and KAPLA 200 Blocks Natural Unfinished Wood Pine Planks with Storage Bin and Guide Book. (Any purchases made utilizing these hyperlinks will earn a fee for Parenting Science.)

These methods of equivalent planks have been featured as fashionable, hands-on reveals in lots of science and youngsters’s museums. However beware — constructing with them requires some dexterity, persistence, and good humor. They topple simply, and is probably not applicable for youthful kids who’re nonetheless growing these abilities.

Six ideas: Getting essentially the most out of your toy blocks

Tip #1: Have interaction younger kids by collaborating your self — and interesting them in spatial speak

The analysis above means that youngsters get extra from block play when somebody demonstrates tips on how to construct with them. Children additionally profit after we speak with them about spatial concepts. As you talk about constructing, use spatial vocabulary like “on, “above,” “underneath”, “under,” “inside,” “exterior”, “subsequent to”, and “by way of.”

Tip #2: Encourage cooperative constructing initiatives

Youthful kids typically need assistance breaking the ice, so play the a part of a celebration host to get joint constructing initiatives began.

Tip #3: Problem youngsters with particular constructing duties

Free-wheeling block play is vital. However, as we’ve seen, it’s seemingly that youngsters additionally reap particular advantages from attempting to match a construction to a template. Even 3-year-olds could also be prepared to do that…in case you persist with quite simple buildings involving solely two or three blocks (Verdine et al 2014). To get began, create a mannequin with blocks in your baby to breed. As your baby will get older and extra expert, she or he can attempt to construct utilizing pictures or diagrams.

Tip #4: Do not forget that fantasy is a priceless facet of play — even play with blocks

Development play appears so clearly mechanical. It’s simple to suppose solely of the event of sensible engineering abilities. However youngsters additionally profit from fantasy and make-believe. For instance, experiments counsel that youngsters change into extra artistic and creative when they’re uncovered to tales about magic (Subbotsky et al 2010). And inspiring preschoolers to have interaction in imaginative, fantastical, faux play could assist them develop higher govt perform abilities, like impulse management (Thibodeau et al 2016). So in case your baby’s block-play appears targeted extra on fantasy than engineering, she or he continues to be reaping vital cognitive advantages.

Tip #5: Stimulate curiosity in building by offering kids with character toys and different equipment

Is your baby a reluctant builder? Take a cue from the experiment on language abilities in toddlers: The researchers didn’t simply give youngsters toy blocks. In addition they offered kids with appropriately-scaled accent toys, like individuals and vehicles. Such toys give youngsters concepts for building initiatives (e.g., a barn for a toy cow) and encourage faux play.

Tip #6: Mix block play with story-time

Researcher Janie Heisner used toy blocks and block- equipment for example components of the tales she learn to youngsters in a preschool (Heisner 2005). After every story, the youngsters got entry to the props. This tactic appeared to extend faux play. It additionally gave youngsters concepts for issues to construct.

Extra studying

Do building toys encourage youngsters pursue careers in science, expertise, math, or engineering? Learn extra about toy blocks and STEM abilities. And for extra evidence-based details about the worth of play, see this information to academic toys and video games.

References: Toy blocks and building toys

Acar S and Runco MA. 2014. Assessing Associative Distance Amongst Concepts Elicited by Exams of Divergent Pondering. Creativity Analysis Journal 26:229–38. 

Borriello GA and Liben LS. 2018. Encouraging Maternal Steerage of Preschoolers’ Spatial Pondering Throughout Block Play. Little one Dev. 89(4):1209-1222.

Bower C, Odean R, Verdine BN, Medford JR, Marzouk M, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek Ok. 2020. Associations of 3-year-olds’ block-building complexity with later spatial and mathematical abilities. J Cogn Dev. 21(3):383-405.

Caldera YM, Culp AM, O’Brien M, Truglio RT, Alvarez M, and Huston AC. 1999. Youngsters’s Play Preferences, Development Play with Blocks, and Visible-spatial Abilities: Are they Associated? Worldwide Journal of Behavioral Improvement; 23 (4): 855-872.

Casey BM, Andrews N, Schindler H, Kersh JE, Samper A and Copley J. 2008. The event of spatial abilities by way of interventions involving block constructing actions. Cognition and Instruction (26): 269-309.

Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, and Garrison MM. 2007. Impact of block play on language acquisition and a spotlight in toddlers: a pilot randomized managed trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 161(10):967-71.

Cai L, Wu D, Zhou J, Li H. 2022. Theme-Primarily based Block Play Intervention Facilitates Chinese language Preschoolers’ Language Improvement: A Quasi-Experiment. Entrance Psychol. 24;13:741113.

English LD, King D, and Smeed J. 2017. Advancing built-in STEM studying by way of engineering design: Sixth-grade college students’ design and building of earthquake resistant buildings. Journal of Academic Analysis 110(3): 255-271.

Heisner J. 2005. Telling Tales with Blocks: Encouraging Language within the Block Heart Early Childhood Analysis and Apply 7(2).

Ferrara Ok, Hirsch-Pasek Ok, Newcombe NS, Golinkoff RM and Shallcross Lam W. 2011. Block speak: Spatial language throughout block play. Thoughts, Mind, and Schooling (5): 143-151.

Hayes JC and Kraemer DJM. 2017. Grounded understanding of summary ideas: The case of STEM studying. Cogn Res Princ Implic. 2017;2(1):7.

Jirout JJ and Newcombe NS. 2015. Constructing blocks for growing spatial abilities: proof from a big, consultant U.S. pattern. Psychol Sci. 26(3):302-10.

Kamii C, Miyakawa Y and Kato Y. 2004. The event of logico-mathematical information in a block-building exercise at ages 1-4. Journal of Analysis in Childhood19: 44-57.

Eager R. 2011. The event of downside fixing in younger kids: a crucial cognitive talent. Annu Rev Psychol.62:1-21.

Legoff DB and Sherman M. 2006. Lengthy-term consequence of social abilities intervention based mostly on interactive LEGO play. Autism. 10(4):317-29.

Marcinowski EC, Nelson E, Campbell JM, Michel GF. 2019. The Improvement of Object Development from Infancy by way of Toddlerhood. Infancy. 24(3):368-391.

Marhun M. 2020. Constructing blocks play: Mannequin reconstruction, trainer’s steerage and early childhood creativity. Journal of Early Childhood Care and Schooling, 3(1), 14–35.

Newman SD, Loughery E, Ecklund A, You C, Von Werder H, Soylu F. 2021. Structured versus free block play: the affect on arithmetic processing. Tendencies Neurosci Educ. 22:100146.

Newcombe NS, Levine SC, and Combine KS3. 2015. Enthusiastic about amount: the intertwined improvement of spatial and numerical cognition. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 6(6):491-505.

Oostermeijer M, Boonen JH and Jolles J. 2014. The relation between kids’s constructive play actions, spatial capability, and mathematical phrase problem-soving efficiency: a mediation evaluation in sixth-grade college students. Frontiers in Psychology 5: 782.

Pankratz LM. 2015. Constructing With Block: Incorporating Image Books To Inspire and Information Block Play in Kindergarten. Journal Voices of Practitioners, 64–79.

Pepler DJ and Ross HS. 1981. The results of play on convergent and divergent downside fixing. Little one Improvement 52(4): 1202-1210.

Pirrone C, Tienken CH, and Di Nuovo SF. 2018. The Affect of Constructing Block Play on Arithmetic Achievement and Logical and Divergent Pondering in Italian Major College Arithmetic Lessons. The Academic Discussion board 82: 40-58.

Richardson M, Hunt TE, and Richardson C. 2014. Youngsters’s building process efficiency and spatial capability: Controlling process complexity and predicting arithmetic efficiency. Percept Mot Abilities. 119(3):741-57.

Roseth CJ, Johnson DW, and Johnson RT. 2008. Selling Early Adolescents’ Achievement and Peer Relationships: the Results of Cooperative, Aggressive, and Individualistic Purpose Buildings. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 134, No. 2: 223-246.

Schmitt SA, Korucu I, Napoli AR, Bryant LM, Purpura DJ. 2018. Utilizing block play to boost preschool kids’s arithmetic and govt functioning: A randomized managed trial. Early Childhood Analysis Quarterly 44: 181-191.

Sprafkin C, Serbin LA, Denier C and Connor JM. 1983. Intercourse-differentiated play: Cognitive penalties and early interventions. In MB Liss (ed), Social and cognitive abilities: Intercourse roles and baby’s play. New York: Educational Press.

Stiles J and Stern C. 2009. Developmental change in younger kids’s spatial cognitive processing: Complexity results and block building efficiency in preschool kids. Journal of Cognition and Improvement (2): 157-187.

Subbotsky E, Hysted C, and Jones N. 2010. Watching films with magical content facilitates creativity in children. Percept Mot Abilities 111(1):261-77.

Thibodeau RB, Gilpin AT, Brown MM, Meyer BA. 2016. The results of fantastical pretend-play on the event of govt features: An intervention stud. J Exp Little one Psychol. 145:120-38.

Vander Heyden KM, Huizinga M, Jolles J. 2017. Results of a classroom intervention with spatial play supplies on kids’s object and viewer transformation skills. Dev Psychol. 53(2):290-305.

Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek Ok, Newcombe NS, Filipowicz AT, Chang A. 2013. Deconstructing Constructing Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Meeting Efficiency Pertains to Early Mathematical Abilities. Little one Dev. 2013 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165. [Epub ahead of print]

Wolfgang CH, Stannard LL, and Jones I. 2003. Superior constructional play with LEGOs amongst preschoolers as a predictor of later college achievement in arithmetic. Early Little one Improvement and Care 173(5): 467-475.

Wolfgang, Charles H.; Stannard, Laura L.; & Jones, Ithel. 2001. Block play efficiency amongst preschoolers as a predictor of later college achievement in arithmetic. Journal of Analysis in Childhood Schooling, 15(2), 173-180.

Yang W, Liu H, Chen N, Xu P, Lin X. 2020. Is Early Spatial Abilities Coaching Efficient? A Meta-Evaluation. Entrance Psychol. 11:1938.

Zhang X, Chen C, Yang T, Xu X. 2020. Spatial Abilities Related With Block-Constructing Complexity in Preschoolers. Entrance Psychol. 11:563493.

picture of father and son enjoying with blocks by fizkes /istock

Content material of “Why Toy Blocks Rock” final modified 12/2/2022. Parts of this textual content derive from an earlier model of this text, written by the identical writer.