STEMpower

Why Building Blocks are Better

Commercially manufactured building blocks have been in existence for roughly 60 years or more, although their effects have not been reported until recent decades. Recent studies have confirmed that, when children are presented with building blocks, “motor skills and hand-eye coordination, spatial skills, a capacity for creative divergent thinking, social skills, and language skills” are readily developed (Jirout & Newcombe, 2015).

While any kind of interactive play with objects or others is inherently advantageous in promoting overall higher cognitive functioning, children (as early as pre-school age) who interact with blocks on a regular basis, have been shown to have higher IQs, better spatial visualization skills, and can mentally rotate objects with ease, an advanced skill that is usually developed in high school mathematics courses. The question of the exact reason as to why engaging with blocks is a preferred method of structured play is immediately raised.

Hands on interaction has long been considered an ideal activity in eliciting positive responses in children, particularly as it concerns addressing concepts in science and math. Although there are not always opportunities for them to interact through direct experiences and object engagement, creating a time for young children to play with items like building blocks has shown promise in helping to form a next great generation of problem solvers.

In psychology, there are two major types of problems: convergent (having only one solution) and divergent (having multiple solutions). In a situation requiring a convergent problem perspective, many children of average intelligence can answer the challenge easily. Such is not the case with children who do not typically interact with toys that require manipulation. In fact, even holding IQ constant, those who do not regularly play with building blocks have been shown to spend longer periods of time answering divergent problems, with some not being able to meet the demands whatsoever (Pepler & Ross, 1981). However, children who create with building blocks on a more regular basis are able to approach a problem from a more sophisticated perspective, performing better than their peers (who do not habitually manipulate blocks) on standardized tests measuring spatial intelligence (Caldera et al, 1999).

Despite construction-related toys being ordinarily marketed towards boys, PCS has created an acclaimed alternative for girls who want to build with the hope of engaging them more in STEM. With more vibrant color options, the barrier of blocks stereotypically being “boy toys” is categorically demolished through the ushering in of this product. “Girls Can Build” can provide the perfect opportunity for teachers and parents alike to get girls excited about building, learning, and growing in their STEM knowledge.

References

Caldera Y., Culp A., O’Brien, M., Truglio, R., Alvarez, M. & Huston, A. (1999). Children’s play preferences, construction play with blocks, and visual-spatial skills: are they related? International Journal of Behavioral Development; 23(4): 855-872.

Jirout, J. & Newcombe N. (2015). Building blocks for developing spatial skills: evidence from a large, representative U.S. sample. Psychol Sci. 26(3):302-10. Retrieved February 24, 2016 from http://www.parentingscience.com/toy-blocks.html#sthash.xuFYHta5.dpuf

Pepler D. & Ross, H. (1981). The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development 52(4): 1202-1210.