Colorful toy blocks can typically be found in every child's toy box. They're an easy toy for both children and parents to be entertained by, but did you know these simple toys have a bigger purpose? According to a new study, colorful toy blocks can help preschoolers with math skills now and in the future.
A group of researchers from Vanderbilt made the connection in a new study published by Early Childhood Research Quarterly. It might seem like there's not much of a connection between stacking some blocks and kicking butt in math, but a growing body of research is showing otherwise.
For their most recent study, researchers assessed 73 preschool children's repeating pattern skills, spatial skills, general cognitive skills, and math knowledge, according to a news release for the study published by Vanderbilt University. They did two assessments, as broken down by Vanderbilt: one at the beginning of the pre-K year and then re-assessed math knowledge near the end of the school year.
Researchers were motivated to begin tracking math so young because, according to Science Direct, math skills begin to develop at an early age. What researchers found at the end of their study was actually pretty cool. According to Vanderbilt, researchers found that "that patterning and spatial skills were related and were each unique predictors of children’s math knowledge at the same time point and seven months later."
Now, some people might still be wondering what blocks have to do with math, but it all goes back to patterning in particular. Math is full of sequences following a particular pattern, as broken down by Mathigon. Think back to the famous multiplication table, where students are taught to recognize the patterns behind the numbers in order to help them remember.
But, in order to recognize patterns, kids need to be taught that ability. That's where the colorful blocks come in. As broken down by Erica Zipper, one of the study's leader authors, according to Vanderbilt:
Patterning skills involve deducing underlying rules in the sequence of objects, and may also promote some counting skills. Because repeating patterning tasks do not require prior number knowledge, even preschool children can deduce underlying rules in the patterns. Developing such skills with repeating patterns at a young age may support their noticing and use of patterns and rules in numbers as they acquire basic numeracy knowledge.
The role of pattern blocks in math has been noted by child educators before. Scholastic, for example, offers a suggestions on how to use blocks in class while developing math skills. Blocks can be used, according to Scholastic, to understand concepts like fractions and area.
Earlier in 2018, Parenting Science reported on some of the other benefits of children playing with toy blocks. In addition to increasing mathematical, pattern, and spatial skills, Parenting Science reported that blocks can also increase: motor skills and hand eye coordination, language skills, creative capacity, social competence, engineering skills, and divergent thinking.
This goes to show that when you walk into a classroom, even the most inconspicuous of toys serve a purpose. If you want to work on building up your child's math skills at homes, there are plenty of YouTube videos full of cool activity suggestions, such as the one linked above.
It's wild to think of how even the most simple toys can really help children out in the long run. But, it also shows the importance of providing kids with toys as a part of the learning process. Math doesn't need to be dry and dull, as this study illustrates. Pull out some colorful blocks and have fun!