Can lego article time magazine Lego bricks and other construction toys boost your child’s STEM skills
Can lego article time magazine Lego bricks and other construction toys boost your child’s STEM skills
To see what how tricky these tasks can be, suppose we present a young child with some plastic, Lego-like bricks and ask her to reproduce this design: The kids had to look at letters of the alphabet and determine whether they were flipped or merely rotated. Construction play is fun, and the elements of construction — wooden blocks, repurposed cardboard boxes, Lego bricks®, Lincoln Logs®, Mega Bloks® — are incredibly versatile. Children are free to create whatever they imagine, and, as they grow, they can use the same construction materials, year after year. In fact, building things for fun seems to be intimately connected with real-world achievement. image of girl with Legos by opens in a new window Michael McCauslin / flickr “Legos are a good introduction to communicating ideas with physical objects,” notes Tiffany Tseng, an engineer in the MIT Media Lab. “Putting things together and taking them apart got me interested in how things work, and by the time I was an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.” Not yet. We need more research — randomized, controlled studies — to establish causation. In a brain scan study, Sharlene Newman and her colleagues asked 8-year-old children to perform a mental rotation task. This might reflect the fact that preschoolers have trouble thinking about an object in multiple ways — for instance, thinking of a brick as both a building unit and as something that can be subdivided into several smaller units . Borriello GA and Liben LS. 2017. opens in a new window Encouraging Maternal Guidance of Preschoolers’ Spatial Thinking During Block Play. Child Dev. 2017 Mar 13. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12779. If you have young children, spend some time playing alongside them, and strike up a conversation about their projects. Use spatial language as you consider together how to orient your pieces. Studies show that kids pick up on our use of language, and this may help their develop their spatial skills . Content of “Lego bricks and other construction toys” last modified 10/2017 Vander Heyden KM, Huizinga M, Jolles J. 2017. Effects of a classroom intervention with spatial play materials on children’s object and viewer transformation abilities. Dev Psychol. 53:290-305. In Verdine’s experiment, kids made more errors on designs that incorporated a greater number of bricks. They also made more mistakes when designs required positioning bricks in more than one direction. But in the mean time, there is good reason to think that structured block play has intellectual benefits. But not all play is free-wheeling. There is another way to have fun with construction toys, and it might help children develop a form of non-verbal intelligence that is crucial for achievement in many STEM fields. But they outperformed the control group on a second spatial test — one asking children to imagine themselves moving around an object and seeing it from different angles . Levine SC, Vasilyeva M, Lourenco SF, Newcombe NS, and Huttenlocher J. 2005. Socioeconomic status modifies the sex difference in spatial skill. Psychol Sci. 16:841-5. After just five, 30-minute sessions — spread over a period of approximately 12 days — the researchers re-tested the children’s mental rotation abilities. And something had changed. For more information about honing your child’s spatial skills, see this list of opens in a new window evidence-based tips. For instance, in observational studies, kids who spend more free time playing with puzzles or building blocks score higher on tests of spatial ability . This alternative type of play is called structured block play, and it’s what happens when children try to recreate a construction by consulting a model or blueprint. Grissmer DW, Mashburn AJ, Cottone AJ, Chen WB, Brock LL, and Murrah WM, et al. 2013. Play-based after-school curriculum improves measures of visuospatial and math skills and classroom behavior for high-risk K-1 children. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, Washington, April 2013. Given all the metaphors about Lego bricks used in scientific research – on topics ranging from nanoparticles to synthetic biology—it seems likely that construction toys have inspired people in many other fields too. But then the researchers divided the children into groups. Some kids were assigned to participate in a series of structured block play sessions, using the opens in a new window Blocks Rock! STEM Building Blocks Educational Game . Other kids were assigned to play the word game, Scrabble. There were no differences between groups at baseline. The kids had been carefully matched for gender, age, mathematics test scores, parental education level, and prior amount of spatial play. LaMore R, Root-Bernstein R, Schweitzer JH, Lawton JL, Roraback E, et al. 2013. Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation Economic Development Quarterly 27: 221-22. So if you are going to spend money on toys, construction toys a good investment. The ability to visualize three-dimensional objects. The ability imagine and manipulate spatial information in your head. As the children performed the task, their speed and accuracy were recorded. In addition, the researchers measured their brain activity by functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. And needless to say, this is only part of the story. Before and after the intervention, the children’s spatial abilities were tested in two ways. Then their performance was compared with that of 70 children in a control group. Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, lego article time magazine Newcombe NS, Filipowicz AT, Chang A. 2013. Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Dev. 2013 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165. Kids in the “Blocks Rock!” group showed statistically significant improvements in speed and accuracy. There is also the testimonial evidence of adult scientists and engineers. Engineers frequently say construction toys inspired their careers. Keep in mind, this was a small experiment, with only 14 kids in each group. For example, they will have an easier time if they can rotate a geometric shape in their mind’s eye . Categories Cognitive development , Education , Learning , Play Share It Visit the opens in a new window Parenting Science Store. Other research has reported that boys outperform girls in spatial tasks, but only among children from middle- and higher-socioeconomic backgrounds . Kids with strong spatial skills are probably more attracted to toys and pastimes that involve construction, analysis, and blueprints. So we can’t be sure that structured block play  causes  intellectual improvements. Kids must analyze what they see, perceive the parts that make up the whole, and figure out how the parts relate to each other. To be really successful, they may also need to think quantitatively — to count. So it’s hardly surprising that young children don’t perform on these tasks as well as adults do. Their brains are still developing. But performance isn’t merely a question of age. It also depends on experience. Can lego article time magazine Lego bricks and other construction toys boost your child’s STEM skills
Can lego article time magazine Lego bricks and other construction toys boost your child’s STEM skills
Uttal DH, Miller DI, and Newcombe NS.  2013. Exploring and Enhancing Spatial Thinking Links to Achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics? Current Directions in Psychological Science 22:367-373. In addition, many children didn’t seem to recognize the importance of counting pips to figure out if the bricks were aligned properly. This play is beneficial for development. As I explain elsewhere, block play may opens in a new window foster a wide range of abilities , including motor skills, spatial skills, language skills, and divergent problem solving. image of alternating staircase made from Lego bricks by Diomidis Spinellis What’s needed is experimental evidence, and such evidence is accumulating. Among children from low-income homes – where opportunities for construction play are more limited – researchers observed no gender difference. As I explain elsewhere, there is evidence that  opens in a new window toy blocks can promote language development, problem-solving skills, and cooperation. Moreover, their brain scans revealed increased activity in areas linked with spatial processing — a pattern consistent with the possibility that these kids were learning to solve mental rotation problems in a new way . And it helps if kids can imagine what an object would look like from another angle. It seems simple, but consider what she needs to do. Psychologists speculate that high-income boys reap the benefits of two environmental advantages: Diamond A, Carlson SM, and Beck DM. 2010. Preschool children’s performance in task switching on the dimensional change card sort task: separating the dimensions aids the ability to switch. Dev Neuropsychol. 28:689-729. When Brian Verdine and his colleagues tested more than 100 three-year-olds with a model like this, only 40% of the children were able to match the design perfectly. Jirout JJ and Newcombe NS. 2015. Building blocks for developing spatial skills: evidence from a large, representative U.S. sample. Psychol Sci. 26:302-10. In an American survey of high-achieving college graduates, adults holding degrees in STEM fields were “far more likely than the average American” to have extensive experience with “hands-on” crafts and hobbies, including woodwork, mechanics, and electronics. Individuals reporting a lifelong participation in such activities were more likely to have produced inventions that yielded patents . Wolfgang S, Stannard L, and Jones I. 2003. Advanced constructional play with LEGOs among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics Early Child Development and Care 173 : 67-475 In that study, kids who participated in construction activities showed a subsequent boost in spatial ability, as measured by their scores on the spatial portion of an IQ test . And more recently, researchers assigned 70 kids to perform several classroom spatial activities, including some construction tasks. image of boy with Legos by opens in a new window Hydro-xy / flickr An array of evidence indicates that such opens in a new window spatial skills can be improved through play.
Levine SC, Ratliff KR, Huttenlocher J, and Cannon J. 2012. Early puzzle play: a predictor of preschoolers’ spatial transformation skill. Dev Psychol. 48:530-42. For other, more complex patterns, the completion rate was under 10%. Why? The three-year-old brain exerts less executive control, and has less opens in a new window working memory capacity . This means kids find it harder to keep track of several different things simultaneously. But the results jibe with the outcome of an earlier study , where kindergartners were assigned to build certain structures — like walls of a specified height — with blocks. The kids assigned to spatial play showed no special improvements in mental rotation ability. Newman SD, Mitchell Hansen T, and Gutierrez A. 2016. lego newspaper article