Toy blocks: Do they promote language development?
In a study sponsored by Mega Bloks, researchers gave blocks to middle- and low-income toddlers (Christakis et al 2007). The kids ranged in age from 1.5 to 2.5 years, and were randomly assigned to receive one of two treatments.
1. Kids in the treatment group got two sets of toy Mega Bloks--80 plastic interlocking blocks and a set of specialty blocks, including cars and people--at the beginning of the study. The parents of these toddlers were given instructions for encouraging block play.
2. Kids in the control group did not get blocks until the end of the study. The parents of these kids received no instructions about block play.
Parents in both groups were asked to keep time diaries of their children’s activities. Parents weren’t told the real purpose of the study--only that their kids were part of a study of child time use.
After six months, each parent completed a follow-up interview that included an assessment of the child's verbal ability (the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventories).
Kids in the group assigned to play with blocks
scored higher on parent-reported tests of vocabulary, grammar, and verbal comprehension, and
showed a non-significant trend towards watching less TV
It’s not clear why block play had this effect. It could be that kids who spent more time playing with blocks also had more opportunities to talk with their parents. Possibly, the parents in the treatment group felt more motivated to report language improvements.
Alternatively, block-play itself might help kids develop skills important for language development--like the ability to plan and recognize cause-and-effect sequences.