Block play could im­prove your child’s math skills

Iran Daily - - Society -

Semi-struc­tured block play among preschool-age chil­dren has the po­ten­tial to im­prove two skills — math­e­mat­ics and ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing — crit­i­cal to kinder­garten readi­ness, ac­cord­ing a new study by Pur­due Uni­ver­sity re­searchers.

“As an early child­hood ex­pert, I feel like I’m con­stantly be­ing asked by par­ents and teach­ers, “What can I do with my child to sup­port their school readi­ness skills’?” said Sara Sch­mitt, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Hu­man Development and Fam­ily Stud­ies, sci­ wrote.

“What I find my­self say­ing a lot, among other things, is block play. But there’s ac­tu­ally not a lot of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence to sup­port this state­ment, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to math­e­mat­ics and ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing development. That’s why I wanted to do this study: I wanted to un­der­stand if th­ese sug­ges­tions I was mak­ing to par­ents and teach­ers were ac­tu­ally valid.”

The study, which has been pub­lished on­line in Early Child­hood Re­search Quar­terly, found that a semi-struc­tured block play in­ter­ven­tion im­proved math skills, such as nu­mer­acy, shape recog­ni­tion and math­e­mat­i­cal lan­guage, and two in­di­ca­tors of ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing, in­clud­ing cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­ity and global ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing.

Ex­ec­u­tive func­tion­ing is the abil­ity to pay at­ten­tion, re­mem­ber and use en­vi­ron­men­tal in­put, and in­hibit nat­u­ral re­sponses in fa­vor of more adap­tive ones.

Chil­dren of par­ents with low ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment ben­e­fited the most from in­ter­ven­tion par­tic­i­pa­tion, ac­cord­ing to the find­ings, sug­gest­ing block play could be most im­pact­ful on stu­dents with lower so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds.

“Blocks are ubiq­ui­tous in early child­hood class­rooms and at home, and gen­er­ally, adults feel com­fort­able with them. Our study sug­gested that play­ing with blocks in a semi-struc­tured for­mat may im­prove th­ese im­por­tant skills,” Sch­mitt said.

“We could be onto some­thing that could have a lot of im­pact, es­pe­cially for chil­dren in fam­i­lies with a lower so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus, at lit­tle cost and with lit­tle train­ing.”

Chil­dren from three to five years old as­signed to the in­ter­ven­tion group par­tic­i­pated in 14 small group play ses­sions last­ing 15 to 20 min­utes. Stu­dents were given sets of wooden blocks vary­ing in shapes and sizes and were pro­vided short prompts prior to each ses­sion, which be­came pro­gres­sively more dif­fi­cult.

“We started very sim­ple and then, by the end, we were ask­ing them to do very com­plex things,” Sch­mitt said.

“For ex­am­ple, in the first ses­sion, we asked the chil­dren to build a tower. By the end of the in­ter­ven­tion we asked them to repli­cate pic­tures of com­plex struc­tures we had built pre­vi­ously. We think th­ese prompts helped chil­dren to en­gage with math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts and also prac­tice their ex­ec­u­tive func­tion skills more so than they would have with­out the prompts. “

Two to three 20- to 30-minute as­sess­ments, which were ad­min­is­tered in a quiet space be­fore and af­ter the se­ries of in­ter­ven­tions, re­vealed a pat­tern of growth among chil­dren who par­tic­i­pated in semi-struc­tured block play.

“It’s not just block play, it is in­ten­tion­ally us­ing block play to fa­cil­i­tate the development of th­ese skills,” Sch­mitt said.

“The take­away is not just putting the child in front of a set of blocks and walk­ing away, or hav­ing blocks be avail­able dur­ing free play. It’s giv­ing a lit­tle bit of struc­ture and a goal for the child, which I think re­ally elic­its th­ese skills.”

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