Can Lego, Blocks, and Puzzles Improve your Child’s Math Skills?

Written By Paige Bosse

 A staple in most classrooms and homes, legos, blocks, and jigsaw puzzles are also known as constructive play. Any other toy can fit in this category if it involves manipulation, construction, and motion of objects. But just how important is this constructive play on a child’s schooling down the line?

stem, blocks, spatial ability, girls in stem

 In this study, the authors were examining the relationship between constructive play and its impact on performance in mathematical word problems. A key part of these word problems is what is known as mental rotation, the process in which you can mentally rotate an object in your mind. This study worked with 6th grade children to determine if their performance on math word problems increased if they engaged in more constructive play. The students were read 14 math problems aloud and had 3 minutes to come up with their answer.

 An example of one of the questions used:

            “ At each of the two ends of a straight path, a man planted a tree and then every 5 feet along the path he planted another tree. The length of the path is 15 feet. How many trees were planted?”

Their parents were also given a questionnaire to fill out regarding the extent to which their child engages with constructive play activities, specifically playing with Lego, blocks, and jigsaw puzzles at home.

The children’s spatial ability was then measured using a picture rotation task. This includes being given 4 pictures of the same animal in a row. The first picture would be in proper orientation, with the remaining three to the right being either rotated, mirrored, or both. The children had 1.5 mins to determine which of the pictures were only rotated.

The results of the study found that spatial ability greatly influenced their ability to solve math word problems (by about 32%); meaning that there is a direct relationship between those who engage in more constructive play and those who performed better on math word problems. By encouraging construction play at home and in the classroom can greatly lead to improvements in spatial ability as well as increased performance in various school subjects.

From the Abstract

“The scientific literature shows that constructive play activities are positively related to children’s spatial ability. Likewise, a close positive relation is found between spatial ability and mathematical word problem-solving performances. The relation between children’s constructive play and their performance on mathematical word problems is, however, not reported yet. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether spatial ability acted as a mediator in the relation between constructive play and mathematical word problem- solving performance in 128 sixth-grade elementary school children. This mediating role of spatial ability was tested by utilizing the current mediation approaches suggested by Preacher and Hayes (2008). Results showed that 38.16% of the variance in mathematical word problem-solving performance is explained by children’s constructive play activities and spatial ability. More specifically, spatial ability acted as a partial mediator, explaining 31.58% of the relation between constructive play and mathematical word problem-solving performance.”

Access original article here:  

Oostermeijer, M., Boonen, A.J.H., & Jolles, J. (2014). The Relation between children’s constructive play activities, spatial ability, and mathematical word problem-solving performance: a mediation analysis in sixth-grade students. Frontiers in Psychology. 5, 782. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00782