"The classic 'Toy Block' unlocks all the development"

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

Playing can bring a spectrum.....

This Research paper has been published on the official site of Ahmedabad Design Week.


The article aims at focusing over-all development of children with the help of toy blocks. Playing with blocks can help children develop their vocabularies, improves math skills, and even teaches them about gravity, balance, and geometry. They learn how to describe colours, shapes, sizes, and positions as they build various structures and explore their creativity. Nevertheless, the child makes associations, learns about problem-solving and spatial relationships. With increasing complexity, the children also improve their concentration level and cognitive thinking. The paper supports the statement, that block play is very beneficial not only for physical, emotional, and social development, but also for motor skills, hand-eye coordination, language skills, a capacity for creative, divergent thinking, social competence, and engineering skills. Promoting hand-eye coordination at an early age is very important and it can be achieved by playing with building blocks. Building block toys are directly related to motor skills. While growing, toys become an extremely important part of child’s lives. Playing can bring a spectrum of emotions to children as they develop understanding. With building block toys, children can feel happy, energized, inspired, motivated, joyful and more. Block toy encourages children to make friends and cooperate and is often one of the first experiences a child has playing with others. Blocks are a benefit for the children because they encourage interaction and imagination. Creativity can be a combined action that is important for social play. Keywords: Spatial relationships, Cognitive thinking, Colour, Language development, Math skills.

Introduction: With smartphones taking over everything, the old-fashioned building block toys have been under-estimated. This age-old toy is as important as technologically advanced modern games. Children can develop a variety of skills and developmental abilities with these building blocks as a part of their toy collection. Very few toys, even in their simplest form, offer the same advantages blocks do, from emotional growth and resilience to art and visual-spatial practice to the more obvious engineering aspects. The aim of the paper is to depict blocks as the ultimate toy for development in all areas. Research confirms playing with building blocks is not only fun, but it’s also really brainstorming. Blocks, though deceptively simple, are perhaps the most versatile toy ever designed. Blocks help children learn to take turns and share materials, develop new friendships, become self-reliant, increase attention span, cooperate with others, and develop self-esteem. Block play requires fine and gross motor skills. Why are these blocks so special? Because, when used well, they enhance five major, interrelated aspects of child learning, namely: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and intuitional development in children.

Physical development. From the simplest pile of blocks to the complexities of the cantilever, develops both large and small motor coordination and sensitive eye-hand integration. Furthermore, because they respect others’ work, Children learn to maneuver with finesse between crowded buildings, achieving balance, control, and spatial awareness.

Social development. Block building invites group work. When children create a structure together, they not only seek each other’s help but learn to esteem different skills and opinions. Group building and play also promote getting along with others, satisfaction in contributing to the group, and responsibility not only for yourself and your work but for the whole group and its combined effort.

Emotional development. Blocks are a dramatic material to work with. Even a small child can make something that stands out in three-dimensional boldness, thereby deriving a sense of stature and power. The firm, clean, and squarely cut, blocks are consistent, predictable, and nonthreatening. Because construction asks for the creative initiative, it affords satisfaction. These emotional components of unit block experience invite a child’s participation in its safe mini-world of play, allowing expression and sometimes resolution of difficult feelings. Unlike Lego, blocks don’t link together. Kids have got to work hard to fit and balance them, honing and testing your skill, persistence, and patience.

Intellectual development. Block building involves concrete operations such as one-to-one correspondence, counting, matching, sorting, fitting blocks to spaces, and using fractional parts of a whole in meaningful relationships, all with that creative child purpose so important to motivation. They encourage productive thinking and experimentation; a child often rebuilds until satisfied. And block building is problem-solving. Blocks require verbal representation and interchange among the children. Blocks develop successful language use and reading readiness. And group dramatic play with blocks can be central to the entire classroom learning experience from preschool through age 6.

Intuitional development. These blocks deftly made from natural wood, have a good feel and heft for young hands. Unlike realistically detailed toys, which precisely dictate recognition and use, blocks convey nonrepresentation and simplicity along with the friendly warmth of wood. They appeal to a child’s inner resources for intuition, fantasy and imagination, compassion, and insight. In good block building play, children learn through their own initiative, their own action, and discovery. ­

1. Toy blocks promote better spatial reasoning and enhance cognitive flexibility Toys may seem fun and interesting, but new research shows that specific kinds of play are actually associated with the development of particular cognitive skills. Data from an American nationally representative study show that children who play frequently with puzzles, blocks, and board games tend to have better spatial reasoning ability, forming a link between spatial skills and construction play. Being able to reason about space, and how to manipulate objects in space, is a critical part of everyday life, helping us to navigate a busy street, put together a piece of furniture, even load the dishwasher. And these skills are especially important for success in particular academic and professional domains, including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

While previous research indicated that spatial play activities might foster children’s spatial reasoning, relevant data from a large and diverse sample were lacking, says Jamie Jirout. When the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI), used a common test of cognitive ability, revised and standardized, it provided Jamie Jirout and co-author Nora Newcombe of Temple University a golden opportunity to study children’s spatial play and spatial thinking. Jirout and Newcombe analyzed data from 847 children, ages 4 to 7, who had taken the revised WPPSI, which included measures of cognitive skills that contribute to general intelligence. The children’s spatial ability was specifically measured via the commonly-used Block Design subtest of the WPPSI, in which children were asked to reproduce specific 2D designs using cubes that have red, white, and half-red/half-white faces.

The researchers also examined survey data from parents about the children’s play behavior and joint parent-child activities. The data revealed that family socioeconomic status, gender, and general intelligence scores were all associated with children’s performance on the block design task. Children from the low-socioeconomic status group tended to have lower block design scores compared to children from either the middle- or high-socioeconomic status groups. And boys tended to have higher block design scores than did girls, though only after several other cognitive abilities, such as vocabulary, working memory, and processing speed, were taken into account. These findings show that spatial play specifically is related to children’s spatial reasoning skills. This is important because providing children with access to spatial play experiences could be a very easy way to boost spatial development, especially for children who typically have lower performance, such as girls and children from lower-income households.

Another study by Yvonne Caldera and her colleagues, observed the construction activities of 51 pre-schoolers, discovering a pattern. The kids who showed more interest in construction and built more sophisticated structures performed better on a standardized test of spatial intelligence (Caldera et al, 1999). The same pattern has been reported by others (Oostermeijer et al, 2014 and Richardson et al, 2014). That probably explains some of the patterns, yet there is also a good reason to think that construction play has developmental effects.

When researchers assigned kindergartners to participate in a program of guided construction play, these kids subsequently outperformed their peers on tests of spatial visualization, block building, and the ability to rotate and analyze 3-D shapes in the “mind’s eye” (Casey et al, 2008). The ability to quickly shift your focus from one relevant stimulus to another is called cognitive flexibility. It’s clearly important for success in school. But some kids struggle with it, and certain environmental factors like low socioeconomic status put children at higher risk for developmental delays.

Sara Schmitt and her colleagues randomly assigned some kids to engage in daily sessions of structured block play. In early sessions, the tasks were relatively simple (e.g., “build a tower”). But as kids became more familiar with the materials, they were given more demanding tasks (e.g., “copy the structure you see in this picture”). The researchers didn’t observe any dramatic changes over time. But by the end of the study, the kids who’d participated in structured block play showed improvements in cognitive flexibility, and this was especially true for children from families of lower socioeconomic status (Schmitt et al, 2018). Also, the experimental study tested the effects of structured block play, the sort of play we engage in when we reproduce a structure from a model or blueprint, a group of 8-year-olds participated in just five, 30-minute sessions of structured block play, they showed improvements in mental rotation. In addition, brain scans revealed changes in the way their brains processed spatial information.

2. Builds a better understanding of Colour, Shape, and Size Shapes are another one of those seemingly simple topics that have big implications for children and adults. Think of all the symbols and signs we can recognize just by the shape, even without words. Octagons are stop signs. The upside-down triangle is a warning. Hearts mean love and stars are usually a good thing. Shapes are such an important first step towards literacy and math skills. It can help them practice shape recognition, problem-solving skills, and spatial relations, all in one little toy. Colour, size, and shape are the 3 most obvious attributes that young children start to notice, and are able to identify and use to categorize objects. They are the basis of mathematics, reading, and science. Sorting by color and shape prepares children for much of their future learning. Colour words are some of the earliest words that children learn. Colour is used to identify objects around the house, sort clothes and work out who they belong to, use crayons, and many other activities. Shape sorting is a common toddler activity, identifying blocks, emphasize matching by shape.

At its most basic, the concepts of same and different are being tested (Different colours but same shape and vice-versa). Size is important too. The world is divided into big and little, and short, long and middle-sized. Sorting is a simple activity that uses basic maths concepts. It’s about being able to observe things, comparing the similarities and differences, and classifying them. Sorting things into groups of the same colours, or shapes or sizes all the red toys, all the square blocks, or all the little spoons. The world is full of things that can be sorted one way or another. The more practice the toddler has, the more familiar they’ll be with these basic maths ideas. The most important thing children can be allowed to do to encourage early maths development is play. Toddlers need lots of different containers for play large, small, round, square, tall, and short some that nest neatly and some with lids. They need a separate set they can fill and empty when they take a bath. Containers may not seem like toys to us, but in a toddler’s hands, these ‘toys’ can teach maths concepts. Sometimes the simplest toys are the best for learning. The more things toddlers can do with a toy, the better. Blocks of all different sorts and sizes are great examples of the simplest toys that teach many things to young children.

3. Toy blocks are linked with language development Early childhood represents a critical period in the development of young minds. The newborn brain triples in size between birth and 2 years of age. The long-standing presumption has been that certain activities during this period promote optimal development and that others may hinder it. The development of memory and the roots of impulse control and language can be acquired through imaginative play. Block toys today claim to improve children’s language development.

Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and the Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and colleagues conducted a pilot study involving 175 children age 1.5 to 2.5 years. One group of 88 children was mailed two sets of building blocks and two newsletters with suggestions for parents about activities that families could do with the blocks (for example, sorting them by colour). The other group of 87 children did not receive any blocks until after the conclusion of the study. Parents, who were told only that they were participating in a study of child time use, completed a questionnaire about basic demographic information at the beginning of the study and provided time diaries that tracked the activities of their child during two 24-hour periods during the trial. Parents completed another questionnaire by telephone six months after enrolment that included assessments of their children’s language and attention.

92 families (53 percent) returned at least one diary entry and exit interviews were completed by 140 families (80 percent). Of those who received the two sets of blocks during the study, 52 (59 percent) had block-play reported in their diaries compared with only 11 (13 percent) of those in the other group.

In this pilot study, they found that distributing blocks was associated with significantly higher language scores in a sample of middle- and low-income children, (Christakis et al, 2007). On average, children who received blocks score 15 percent higher on their language assessment than those who did not. The results suggest that a program that distributes blocks may be effective in promoting development. The researchers speculate that the kids in the group assigned to play with blocks scored higher on parent-reported tests of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal comprehension, and showed a non-significant trend towards watching less TV.

It’s not clear why block play had this effect. One possibility is that the children didn’t really differ after all it was merely that parents in the treatment group perceived greater language competence in their children. Encouraging block play might have motivated them to pay more attention to their toddlers’ development. But it’s plausible that parents in the treatment group spent more time talking with their children, which could explain the language gains. Children learn to talk by engaging in lots of one-on-one conversations with other people. There is also evidence that kids develop an enriched understanding of spatial vocabulary when we talk with them about spatial relationships.

In one recent experiment, researchers instructed mothers to use relevant spatial language as they played with their 5-year-old children, and the effort made a difference: Kids exposed to this spatial talk were more likely to use the spatial language themselves (Boriello and Liben, 2018).

4. Kids skilled with blocks tend to become better mathematicians Playing with blocks is more than just child’s play, it can also help preschoolers develop their math skills, according to a new study. Building with blocks helps children improve their spatial abilities basically the ability to manipulate 2D and 3D objects in your head, which could help them do better at math and science later in life. Happily, kids usually love playing with blocks, and since blocks are easy to use and don’t cost much to buy, giving little one's blocks to play with can help them develop skills that will have long-lasting effects on later learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Toy blocks may be especially important for preschoolers from low-income families since they often lag behind in spatial abilities.

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Temple University looked at more than 100 three-year-olds from across socioeconomic levels and gave them various skill tests using blocks. For instance, the kids were given a block-building task and asked to figure out whether a block belongs above or below another block and whether certain blocks aligned with other pieces. The researchers examined the tots’ math abilities by looking at skills such as simple counting to complex operations like adding and subtracting and found that children who did well in games involving building with blocks (such as copying block structures) had better math skills.

The study also found that pre-schoolers from lower-income families were already falling behind in spatial skills, probably because they had less opportunity to play with blocks and other toys that encourage the development of those skills. It could also have something to do with the fact that parents of low-income toddlers reported using significantly fewer words such as “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,” (Verdine et al, 2013).

Conclusion: The simplest and oldest of toys can be massively helpful to children. It is so important for a young child to learn, to develop language, social, and motor skills. But sometimes spatial reasoning skills get swept under the rug. Basically, spatial reasoning is the ability to construct, manipulate, and operate objects in a way that makes physical sense. For instance, learning to put bigger, heavier blocks at the bottom and smaller blocks at the top is a form of spatial reasoning. We use our spatial reasoning skills to follow directions on a map, navigate a crowded grocery store, or properly arrange furniture in a room. Most importantly, spatial reasoning abilities have a strong connection to math and science skills. Playing with blocks can increase the ability to understand sizes, shapes, and patterns. Block play can also lead to increased skills in counting, adding, subtracting, and sorting. Playing with building blocks can also help a child grasp the idea of spatial words and phrases, such as above, beneath, top, bottom, under, and over. Repetition of words and concepts builds vocabulary and helps them learn the sequence of words. All children learn to imitate before learning to talk, and playing with toys helps imitation. By all accounts and proven results, these benefits of structured-block play have been proven over and over again through various scientific studies, brain scans, and extensive research.

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