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Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, University of Delaware – Block Play and Math Ability

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Roberta Golinkoff of the University of Delaware explains why playing with blocks could give your child a better chance of developing math skills. 

Roberta Golinkoff is the H. Rodney Sharp Chair of the School of Education and Director of the Infant Language Project at the University of Delaware. She is also a member of the Departments of Psychology and Linguistics and the author of a number of books on language acquisition in infants.

About Dr. Golinkoff

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Dr. Roberta Golinkoff – Block Play and Math Ability

North Americans love technology.  If it talks to us, requires a charge, and responds to a touch, we gotta have it.  But is the same true for our kids? Although they love these devices too, should parents be tempted to forgo purchasing those colorful blocks and puzzles that have been staples in children’s toy chests for centuries?  A study we conducted suggests that opting for an electronic toy over that block set might be a big mistake. Playing with blocks may be crucial for helping preschoolers develop “spatial thinking,” or envisioning where blocks go in relation to other blocks as they build.  . Putting block structures together and taking them apart may yield important lessons for math, where after all, we add parts and take parts away all the time.

We asked 3-year-old girls and boys to copy 6 structures we built out of blocks. So, for example, we showed each child a block structure made out of 4 blocks and asked them to make the same thing.  We gave them the exact number of blocks they needed, but all separated.  Not so simple for a 3-year-old.  For one thing, the blocks have little pips on them.  If a child puts a block over the wrong pips, they made a mistake. And children have to notice whether a block in the model is horizontal or perpendicular to the block on the bottom.  

We found that both boys and girls who were better at copying the block designs were also better on nonverbal math problems. Experiences with building blocks may turn out to be building a foundation for understanding math!

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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