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Playing with Blocks May Boost Math Skills in Children

Update Date: Sep 24, 2013 02:56 PM EDT

Playing with blocks may help improve spatial and math skills in preschoolers, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that preschoolers who play blocks developed skills that support later learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Researchers said that that playing with blocks might be especially important for low-income preschoolers, who lag in spatial skills.

The latest study involved more than a hundred 3-year-olds of various socioeconomic levels. Some of the skills tested were whether children could figure out that a block belongs above or below another block and whether they aligned the pieces. Children's spatial skills were assessed using a block-building test and their math skills were measured using a method developed for 3-year-olds that focused on a wide range of skills from simple counting to complex operations like adding and subtracting.

Children who were better at copying block structures were also better at early math, according to the study.

The study also found that by age three, children from lower-income families were already falling behind in spatial kills. Researchers said that this might be because children of lower-income families had less experience with blocks and other toys and materials that facilitate the development of such skills. The study also found that parents of low-income toddlers reported using significantly fewer words like "above" and "below" with their children.

"Research in the science of learning 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," study author Brian N. Verdine, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Delaware, said in a news release. "This is the first research to demonstrate a similar relationship in preschoolers."

The findings are published in the journal Child Development

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