image of lego helps with stem skills

Can Play With Lego Boost STEM Skills In Children?

Various studies show that Lego bricks and other construction toys like wooden blocks, Duplo bricks, and Mega Bloks promote critical thinking and creativity in children. Add to that, playing with Lego or Duplo also helps in the development of children’s other essential abilities such as motor skills, language skills, spatial skills and, problem-solving skills.

There is another benefit of playing with construction toys, and it’s something most parents aren’t aware of. Did it occur to you that playing with Lego or Duplo bricks helps kids develop their non-verbal intelligence, which is crucial for doing better in STEM fields?

Structured Block Play Lego Helps with Child Development

Playing with Lego or other construction toys is called structured block play. Here kids attempt to recreate or replicate any construction by following a blueprint or model. It’s imperative that children analyze what they see.  Observe the parts or blocks they’ll use to make a structure.  Then figure out how the parts interact with each other. To be successful, they’re also required to count and think quantitatively. Additionally, it would also benefit them if they can imagine and visualize how an object looks like from a different angle. For example, they may find it easier to perceive a geometric shape in their minds if they rotate it and observe it from all angles. (Casey and Bobb 2003(1)).

According to an experiment by Brian Verdine and his team (2013) (2), Verdine presented 100 three-year-olds with three types of brick with four pips, eight pips, and 12 pips, respectively. The task was to attach the shortest block (4 pips) in a manner that it sits perfectly aligned on one edge of the longest brick (12 pips). Only 40% of the kids were able to complete the experiment correctly.

Why? A three-year-old brain has less executive control and less working memory capacity. The translation is children at that age find it extremely challenging to keep track of several different things at the same time. Verdine reported that he found kids making errors on designs using a higher number of bricks. Furthermore, they made more mistakes in positioning bricks in one direction. Also, most kids didn’t seem to understand the need to count the pips on the bricks to align them properly.

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Spatial Skills Improve When Playing With Lego, Building Blocks Or Puzzles

Therefore, the outcome is hardly surprising given that young children’s brains are still developing. But, performance doesn’t always depend on age; it also depends on experience. However, several shreds of evidence indicate that such spatial skills may be improved through play. For instance, children who play mostly with building blocks or puzzles score better spatial ability tests. (Jirout and Newcombe 2015(3)). 

Other studies show that boys outperform girls in spatial exercises only if they come from middle- and higher-income families (Levine 2005 (4)).  It’s because, for low-income families, the opportunity to play with construction toys is more limited.

Final Thoughts

There aren’t any empirical studies that show structured block play can help improve the spatial skills and intellectual abilities in children. More research is needed to establish a link between random, controlled studies with the results. In the meantime, we can tell that structured block play does have some mental benefits for children, including improvements in spatial ability, and STEM achievement.

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  1. Teaching Children Mathematics(Vol. 10, Issue 2) –
  2. Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematics Skills,
  3. Building Blocks for Developing Spatial Skills: Evidence From a Large, Representative U.S. Sample, Jamie J. Jirout, Nora S. Newcombe,
  4. Gender Differences in Spatial Ability of Young Children: The Effects of Training and Processing Strategies, David Tzuriel and Gila Egozi,