According to Dr. Jamie Jirout, assistant professor of psychology at Rhodes, toys like puzzles, blocks, and board games can boost cognitive skills and spatial awareness in children. Her research with Nora S. Newcombe of Temple University is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Being able to reason about space and manipulate objects in space, such as assembling furniture and finding one’s way down a busy street, are essential skills needed in everyday life. These skills also are needed for success in certain academic subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and math. “This is important because providing children with access to spatial play experiences could be a very easy way to boost spatial development,” says Jirout.
Jirout and Newcombe analyzed data from 847 children, ages 4 to 7, who had taken the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI), a commonly used test of cognitive ability. The children’s spatial ability was specifically measured via a Block Design subtest, in which children had to reproduce specific 2D designs using red, white, and half-red/half-white cubes.
The researchers also examined survey data from parents about the children’s play behavior and joint parent-child activities. The data revealed that family socioeconomic status, gender, and general intelligence scores were all associated with children’s performance on the block design task. In addition, parents reported that boys engaged in spatial play — playing with puzzles, blocks, and board games — more often than girls.
Jirout and Newcombe are planning further experimental research, looking at children’s play in both informal home-based settings and more formal, classroom-based environments.