The Science of Play

We Should Understand the Science of Play.

The science of play proves that there is more to children just enjoying the fun of building things. Play with blocks and other construction toys is more than just play!

It’s universal, and it’s powerful: Play with toy blocks and other construction toys can change the way kids think. Building projects stimulate creativity, and sharpen crucial skills.

Parents and teachers need to design environments that encourage and enhance problem solving from a young age. Construction toys and play environments encourage this.

We know they can help kids develop:

  • motor skills and hand-eye coordination,
  • spatial skills,
  • a capacity for creative, divergent thinking,
  • social skills, and
  • language skills.

Pretend Play

Children can integrate construction into play scenarios and there is evidence that it can advance math skills in later stages of their education pathway.

Several studies have reported very strong links between spatial skills, awareness and construction play.

Children who show more interest in construction– and build more sophisticated structures– tend to perform better on standardized tests of spatial intelligence (Caldera et al 1999).

Building structures encourages children to test spatial relationships and mentally rotate objects in the mind’s eye. Such practice leads kids to develop superior spatial abilities and there is clear evidence to prove this.

When  kindergarten children are randomly assigned to engage in guided construction play, we know these children outperform their peers on tests of spatial visualization, mental rotation, and block building (Casey et al 2008).

Structured Block Play

We know that when children participate in sessions of structured block play, they showed improvements in mental rotation — the ability to rotate and analyze 3-D shapes in the “mind’s eye.”

Play with toy blocks and math skills

Block play has been linked with math skills, too. We know that play with LEGO blocks during the preschool years can increases mathematics achievement in high school, irrespective what IQ the children may have (Wolfgang et al 2001; 2003).

It also works for older children. Even 6th grade students who spend more free time in construction play perform better on mathematics word problems (Oostermejier et al 2014).

Play with toy blocks and creative, divergent problem-solving

Psychologists recognize two major types of problems.

  1. Convergent problems have only one correct solution.
  2. Divergent problems can be solved in multiple ways.

Because kids can put together blocks in such a wide variety of ways, block play is divergent play and it prepares kids to think creatively and better solve complex problems.

Play with toy blocks and cooperative play

We know that children become friendlier and have better interpersonal skills when they work on cooperative construction projects. It is clearly evident that children who work on cooperative projects form higher-quality friendships (Roseth et al 2009).

Play with toy blocks: Do they promote language development? Maybe so.

Kids who play with blocks:

  • score higher on parent-reported tests of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal comprehension, and
  • showed a non-significant trend towards watching less TV

While it’s not clear why block play has this effect. It could be that kids who spent more time playing with blocks also had more opportunities to talk with their parents. Alternatively, block-play itself might help kids develop skills important for language development like the ability to plan and recognize patterns or predictions.

Everyday Experience

The most compelling evidence that construction play is helpful in learning comes from everyday experience. We know that people learn from practice, and builders who create small-scale structures must cope with the same physics that constrain the design of large real-life structures.

The reason why engineers and scientists build physical models is that it helps them test and explore their ideas. If you want to understand how the forces of tension and compression work, hands-on experience with construction is invaluable.

Play Tips: Getting the most from your construction blocks

  • Engage young children by participating yourself.

Demonstration and modelling helps children learn faster.

  • Stimulate pretend play with character toys and other accessories.

Additional toys, like people and cars gives children  ideas for construction projects and it encourages pretend play that mimics real life situations.

  • Combine block play with story-time

After reading stories children are even more encouraged to pretend play. It gives children ideas for things to build.

  • Challenge kids with specific play and building tasks.

While free play is very important children also reap special benefits from trying to match structures to a template. You can use pictures and diagrams to inspire or guide a construction project as it creates models and encourages different types of experiments.

  • Encourage cooperative play and building projects

As we have already noted, cooperative building can help kids forge better social skills

  • Remember that fantasy is a valuable part of play

Construction play seems so practical and logical however we need to remember the importance of  fantasy and creativity. Children become more creative and inventive when they are exposed to creative stories . The play can include fantasy as well as construction as this will reap important cognitive benefits.

Source: Adapted from


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