Researchers say noticeable differences have been found in spatial and math skills when children are encouraged to use puzzle play to work out reasoning problems.
Recent research by Psychologist Susan Levine leading expert on mathematics development in young children and colleagues at University of Chicago highlights the importance of puzzle playing in the development of spatial skills.
A news release by the National Science Foundation states that through her research Levine discovered that 2-4 year-olds who play with puzzles have better developed spatial skills when assessed at 4.5 years of age.
In the report, the researchers point out that individual and gender differences are noticeable in different areas of spatial skills especially the ability to mentally rotate objects.
The National Science Foundation along with the National Institutes of Health / National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded this study and are keen to find ways of improving mathematical abilities of young people and as Soo-Siang Lim, program director for the NSF's Science of Learning Centers Program is quoted as saying, puzzle play is an inexpensive way of improving STEM education - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
I contacted, head of the research, Susan Levine.
Regarding trying to encourage children to play with puzzles, do you think some children are naturally more attracted to puzzle play that others? Yes, some children may be inclined to show more interest in puzzle play than others.If children avoid puzzles / jigsaws as toddlers, does this show that they have certain weaknesses in spatial or puzzle solving abilities and therefore are not naturally inclined to favour these types of activities?There are definitely components of nature and nurture in the development of spatial skill. But we do know that spatial skills are malleable -- they can improve. If parents notice avoidance of puzzle play should their intervention and encouragement help improve the child’s chances of developing better spatial abilities? Yes, if parents are on the look out to improve their children's skills through activities such as puzzle play (doing puzzles with them is helpful at early ages) and selecting puzzles at the right level of activity, this should help.Could it be that some parents may understand better how to involve themselves in this type of play and thus help develop their children’s skills better?Yes, some parents may be better at scaffolding that play and interesting their children in that kind of play.
Levine mentions that further research is needed to determine:
• if the puzzle play and the language children hear about spatial concepts actually causes the development of spatial skills
• why sex differences exist in spatial and puzzles solving abilities
• whether parents provide the same input to boys and girls when the puzzles are of the same difficulty
• whether differences in parent spatial language and engagement may be related to a societal stereotype that males have better spatial skills
Read the full research report.