When Ritchie Blackmore said, “simplicity is the key,” he might as well have been speaking of constructive play. Research that explores the effect of constructive play has found that assembling blocks comes with many benefits.
In his book "Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons," Gardner Howard defines spatial intelligence as the ability or mental skill to visualize objects from different angles and facets. It's also the ability to notice fine details when we visualize objects.
Most of the studies on constructive play have found that assembling games help develop kids’ spatial abilities. For instance, one study analyzed how block-building helped develop spatial-reasoning skills in children in kindergarten. The kids were divided into three groups. Block-building activities were proposed to two groups and the third group acted as a control group. The researchers found that block building helped children develop wider spatial skills.
In one study, 51 preschoolers' play preferences were analyzed. The researchers were interested in the kids’ skills at assembling block structures as well as their visual-spatial skills. The study found that the children who were most interested in constructing block structures were able to come up with more creative productions and were also able to produce more varied creations.
One study examined children aged one (to one and a half) to two (to two and a half) years to determine whether playing with blocks helps improve language acquisition and retention. The children received two sets of building blocks and their parents were asked to keep a diary to record block play. The study found that block play can lead to improved language development in middle- and low-income children.
Encouraging children to engage in constructive play can help them develop their problem solving skills.
One study examined the development of problem solving among children under age three. The study found that children who engaged in block play developed greater problem-solving skills. For example, these children were better able to pick up a spoon in different orientations, retrieve objects with rakes, or retrieve objects placed inside tubes. In other words, children who engaged in constructive play were better able to come up with solutions to solve problems.
Constructive play has been found to be effective in calming anxious kids and in helping kids develop social skills. In one study, 60 autistic children participating in LEGO therapy were compared to 57 autistic children who received a comparable non-LEGO therapy. The study was conducted over a three year period. The researchers found that although both groups showed significant improvement after the therapy, the children who had participated in LEGO therapy showed much greater improvement.
In one study, researchers sought to determine whether three- and four-year-old preschoolers who frequently engaged in constructive play in play-based schools and who had developed superior LEGO building skills would also show advanced mathematical achievements later in their education (elementary through high school).
The kids were first tested in preschool and then their maths results were examined after they had completed high school. The results found that although there was no clear impact of LEGO building skills during the elementary school years, kids who had demonstrated superior LEGO building skills at the preschool level showed greater achievement in mathematics at the middle and high school levels.
In a second study, 128 sixth-grade elementary school children were examined to determine whether children who engaged in constructive play were better able to solve math word problems. Better problem-solving performance was observed among kids who engaged in constructive play.
Construction toys are a great investment because they grow with kids. They are also social toys because they encourage kids to play together. Construction toys also come in different shapes and sizes and can therefore help teach kids a whole range of skills. They can teach kids new words, new shapes, and new patterns and designs. Construction toys can also be a fun way to teach kids simple maths skills such as addition and subtraction. Be attentive to how you choose construction toys: they should be durable, accurately designed, and age appropriate.
The best thing about good construction toys is that the possibilities of what kids can create are limitless!