Researchers at the University of Delaware and Temple University studied more than a hundred 3-year-olds belonging to various socioeconomic levels. (Agencies)
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 found that by age 3, children from lower-income families were already falling behind in spatial skills, likely as a result of more limited experience with blocks and other toys and materials that facilitate the development of such skills.
Blocks are affordable and enjoyable, and they're easily used in preschool settings. Giving children - especially those from low-income families - such toys to play with can help them develop skills that will have long-lasting effects on later science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related educational outcomes, researchers suggested.
The children's spatial skills were assessed using a block-building task. Math skills were examined using a measure developed for 3-year-olds that focuses on a wide range of skills, from simple counting to complex operations like adding and subtracting.
"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," said Brian N Verdine, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Delaware and one of the study's authors.
"This is the first research to demonstrate a similar relationship in preschoolers," Verdine said.
The study is published in the journal Child Development.
Researchers at the University of Delaware and Temple University studied more than a hundred 3-year-olds belonging to various socioeconomic levels.