Toy blocks promote spatial skills
Several studies have reported links between spatial skills and construction play.
For example, when Yvonne Caldera and her colleagues observed the construction activities of 51 preschoolers, they discovered a pattern. The kids who showed more interest in construction&toy blocks-- and built more sophisticated structures--performed better on a standardized test of spatial intelligence (Caldera et al 1999).
Similar links have been reported by others (Oostermeijer et al 2014; Richardson et al 2014; Jirout and Newcombe 2015), and the results make sense. Building structures encourages a child to test spatial relationships and mentally rotate objects in the mind's eye. Such practice might lead kids to develop superior spatial abilities, and an experimental studies offer evidence for this idea.
When a group of kindergartners were randomly assigned to engage in guided construction play, these kids subsequently outperformed their peers on tests of spatial visualization, mental rotation, and block building (Casey et al 2008).
And more recently, researchers tested the effects of a particular kind of building block play called "structured block play." This is what happens when we ask kids to reproduce a structure from a model or blueprint, and it appears to boost spatial learning.
After a group of 8-year-olds participated in just five, 30-minute sessions of structured block play, they showed improvements in mental rotation -- the ability to rotate and analyze 3-D shapes in the "mind's eye."
In addition, brain scans revealed changes in the way their brains processed spatial information. Kids in a control group did not exhibit these changes (Newman et al 2016).