The benefits of construction toys
Construction and building toys, whether they’re simple wooden blocks, Lego or Megabloks bricks or the virtual blocks of Minecraft, never go out of style, and are more popular than ever. But as well as being a whole ton of fun, playing with these toys is great for your child’s development in all sorts of ways. Here are some of the things that your child could be learning…
Motor skills and hand eye coordination
From very young children learning to place one block on top of another to older pre-schoolers attempting to make a truck out of Lego, playing with building toys is a brilliant way to help your child learn to manipulate small objects, and move them into the correct place. Remember that practice makes perfect, and offer plenty of help, and consider starting off with larger bricks that your child can easily handle.
When they play with building blocks, children are getting to grips a wide range of different mathematical concepts including size, measurements of length and width, estimation and symmetry. They’re also learning important things about shape: what shapes you can put together to make other shapes and what happens when you turn shapes around in different directions. They’re also learning other concepts, such as balance and stability, which are useful both in real life and in future study of subjects like engineering.
Whether it’s free play or more structured, building a structure or a shape requires forward planning, trying things out and coming up with solutions when things don’t work out. For young children, even things like working out which size, shape or colour of brick they want to use are all ways of improving their problem solving skills. If you want to push your child a little bit more, you could give them a specific task – for example, building a tall tower, or a pen for a toy animal – and leave them to work out how to do it. Or, you could draw a picture together, and then as a team try to figure out how to produce it in 3D using bricks and blocks.
Building play is a great way to help your child understand about following instructions, which is very important for language comprehension. As well as creative, free-flow play, it’s a good idea to undertake some projects together that involve you giving simple instructions that your child has to follow. You could switch roles, too, and get your child to tell you what to do. You can also try introducing figures and accessories to bring a role-playing or storytelling element to your games and encourage your child to chat about what the characters are doing.
Cooperation and social skills
When children build structures together with blocks or bricks, they need to communicate, take turns and work as a team. There’s research that shows that children who take part in regular construction play in pairs or small teams form closer relationships with the children they’re teamed with than those who have played with other toys. This is why Lego therapy is used more and more in helping children with a range of difficulties including autistic spectrum disorder and speech delay.
It’s not just for pre-schoolers…
Many of the studies into the benefits of playing with construction toys show benefits well into the later years of primary school and the early years of secondary school. As children develop and grow, the projects they undertake become more complex and challenging, and the effects on their maths and problem solving abilities continue to be beneficial. And it doesn’t always have to be real blocks, either. Parents often worry about allowing too much screen time, but there is lots of evidence pointing to the fact that these benefits can be gained from playing with virtual blocks on Minecraft, too.
…or just for boys
All of these skills and concepts are vital for both boys and girls. There’s a lot of discussion in the media these days about the gender divide in toys, and it’s true that building toys are often marketed more at boys than girls, or that girls are offered a more limited selection, in pinks and purples, with a less diverse and interesting range of role playing ideas and characters. It can be hard to override society’s ideas of what girls and boys like with your children as a lot of it comes from their peers, but if you have a daughter, try to show her how much fun can be had from playing with these kinds of toys, even if the packaging and adverts aren’t necessarily grabbing her attention.
And it’s fun!
Probably the most important thing about playing with building toys is that, while your child is learning hugely important things while they’re playing, they are totally oblivious to the fact that they’re learning because they’re having so much fun! And this also means your child will want to play again and again. Construction play can also be a real boost to a child’s confidence, as they discover that they can have ideas, and with a bit of trial and error, make them a reality. And if things go wrong? Well, they can just start all over again and make it even better next time.
Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Siobhan Godwood.