The importance of Block Play in the early development of Mathematical thinking

April is mathematics awareness month and here at Stumped we are passionate about early childhood learning! South Africa, along with many other countries, is currently facing a problem in the development of mathematical thinking in late childhood education, this is believed to stem from early childhood development and the lack of math children get exposed to while they are in their early development years.  

In 2019 the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) found that, in South Africa, only just over one third (37%) of Grade 4 learners demonstrated that they had acquired basic mathematical knowledge suitable for their age. "So what do we do to fix this?" I hear you asking. Look no further than block play and open-ended play.

It has been over 200 years since wooden shapes have been introduced to children to take apart, explore and put together. Since then Blocks have shown to be highly beneficial in early childhood development. Jean Piaget's theory of stages tells us that children develop social, physical and logical-mathematical knowledge through playing with any material they can manipulate, such as the blocks and Dowels you can find in our Knock-a-Block Collection.

Playing with blocks can increase the ability to understand sizes, shapes and patterns, it also leads to a better understanding of counting, adding, subtracting and sorting. Simple Questions such as "How tall will the tower be if we add these two blocks?" could enrich the activity from block play to a fun educational experience. As you use blocks to play with your child be aware of the way you phrase certain things you say and try to bring it around to math.

Some questions you can ask your child while playing to evoke further mathematical thinking:

  • Can we count how many blocks you have?
  • How many square blocks? How many triangle blocks?
  • Can you make a pattern with...(two different types of blocks)
  • Can you line up all the small blocks?
  • How many Dark blocks do you have? How many Light blocks do you have?
Counting Blocks

In a 2018 study, namely "Using Block Play to enhance children's mathematics and executive functioning", it was shown that children between the ages of 38 to 69 months who engaged in block play demonstrated greater gains in three of the most important math skills (Numeracy, Shape recognition, and mathematical language) compared to children in a control group. It doesn't stop there, once your child gets a good grasp on the more fundamental parts of mathematics, block play can teach older children more complex concepts such as fractions, Symmetry, graphing and classification just to name a few.

Another feature of Block play is the natural progression to open-ended play. The "no single course of action" nature of open-ended play allows for the development of critical thinking skills. Children will deepen their understanding of different concepts and situations by exploring problems and solutions from various angles, something that is essential when approaching a mathematical problem. 

Open Ended Block Play

Approaching block play in this way will eventually cause math to feel natural for your child and they will learn to look at things from a mathematical perspective naturally leading to understanding and enjoying math, which will be extremely beneficial later in life.

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