Block Play May Improve Children’s Math Skills, Executive Functioning

Sara Schmitt, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, studied how playing with blocks could improve pre-school children’s math skills and executive functioning. (Image: Purdue University)
Sara Schmitt, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, studied how playing with blocks could improve pre-school children’s math skills and executive functioning. (Image: Purdue University)

Semi-structured block play among preschool-age children has the potential to improve two skills — mathematics and executive functioning — critical to kindergarten readiness, according to a new study by Purdue University researchers. Sara Schmitt, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said:

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 from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Schmitt said:

Children from 3 to 5 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, Schmitt said:

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. Schmitt added:

Provided by: Purdue University [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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