Puzzles help children’s spatial awareness

A recent study that has been published in the journal Developmental Science has shown that children who interact with puzzles have better spatial skills than those who don’t.

The study, which has been conducted by psychologist Susan Levine, has shown that children who are aged between two and four and play with puzzles, have better spatial awareness later in their lives.

The researchers of the study looked at videos of children interacting with their parents. They were looking to see which children played with puzzles and then later on they examined how good these childrens’ spatial skills were.

Professor Levine stated, “We found in children who played with puzzles that they found it easier to translate and rotate shapes. They performed better than the children who did not play with puzzles in the other spatial tasks that we assigned them.”

The ability to transform shapes is thought to be an important predictor about performance in science, engineering, technology and mathematics. It is thought that even early assessment of how spatially aware children are can predict their later performance in these types of career. The study shows that by playing with puzzles the children are developing the ability to perform in these areas.

The research involved over 50 pairs of parents and children and they came from a wide variety of economic and social backgrounds. The parents were recorded interacting with their children for over an hour and the information was then analysed by the researchers. The parents were asked to behave as they normally would with their children and around 50 percent of them gave their children puzzles to play with.

There was a correlation between income and parents who gave their children puzzles and it was also observed that the higher income parents would get involved by engaging the children with the puzzles. Both genders played with puzzles an equal amount but it tended to be that girls chose less complex puzzles than boys. It was also shown in the study that boys generally had a better spatial awareness than girls.

Professor Levine commented, “More research needs to be conducted into whether language has an important effect on the development of spatial awareness. It is also important that the differences between the performances across the sexes we saw here is examined in more depth.

“We’re looking to expand this research by performing another study which is going to look at preschool children and their parents. We are going to see what happens when all the children are given puzzles that are of the same complexity. This study should help us see how much parental interaction with the child, while they play, will affect the development of spatial awareness”.

Levine concluded, “It is possible that some of these results are due to a stereotype that society puts on males, which says they generally have better spatial awareness skills. This is something that we want to investigate in the future as well and will be the subject of future studies.”

The research conducted here is part of several studies that are being conducted by Professor Levine. Previous papers published in the series have shown that using spatial concepts and mathematical words with children is important in advancing their knowledge. Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation.

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