You’ll find them in every PreK and Kindergarten classroom – Blocks! These underutilized staples in the early educators’ toolkit have been around as long as formal teaching! But only recently are we beginning to learn the importance of these tools.
There’s been a lot of research done recently on the effects of teaching spatial reasoning and geometry to young students. In fact, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) recommends that spatial reasoning should be a large focus of PreK – 8th grade math education. This goes a long way toward influencing a child’s performance in STEM activities down the road.
At first, the idea of teaching geometry to young children seems daunting. But what is spatial reasoning exactly? And how can it be taught at the PreK/Kindergarten level? Spatial reasoning involves the structuring of space: noticing and describing shape, location, orientation, movement, and spatial relations. Fortunately, you already have the tools you need in your classroom. In fact, research shows that children who work more with construction blocks perform better on standardized tests relating to spatial relations. (source: http://www.parentingscience.com/toy-blocks.html)
Children should be allowed to use the blocks in both a structured and unstructured way. With structured play, children can be shown creations that they must recreate exactly with their own blocks. In unstructured play, the children can use their imagination and ingenuity to create their own structures. Teachers should encourage students to talk about what they are doing with the blocks, why some blocks work in certain situations and why they don’t. In doing this, not only do blocks help with spatial relations, but they also foster creativity, problem solving and patience.
You may find that some children may have a hard time grasping the vocabulary that you are discussing with them; you can always use musical reinforcement while they are playing. For instance Hap Palmer’s “Math Moves Me” CD introduces and reinforces the vocabulary of shapes and numbers.
So the next time you are looking at those blocks that have been shoved in the corner of your room, think about all the benefits your children will have if you take them out, dust them off and let the kids play!
If you are interested in putting together an extensive block play program in your classroom, you should check out this article from NAEYC.
You can find more information on specific spatial reasoning programs and research at: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2017/01/20/five-compelling-reasons-to-teach-spatial-reasoning-to-young-children/