Puzzle play supports children's early maths development

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Playing with puzzles can help children develop better spatial awareness and may even improve their maths skills, according to a new study.

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Researchers from the University of Chicago in the United States analysed video recordings of more than 50 children and their parents interacting with each other every four months between the ages of two and four.

Parents were asked to interact with their children as they would normally. Around half of the children in the study were observed playing with puzzles such as jigsaws and pegboards at least once, however higher-income parents engaged children with puzzles more frequently.

The findings revealed that the children who played with puzzles performed better than those who did not on tasks that assessed their ability to rotate and translate shapes.

They also found that boys were more likely to play with more complicated puzzles than girls, and their parents used more spatial language and were better engaged in puzzle play. Boys also performed better than girls on a mental transformation task given at four- and-a half-years-old.

Susan Levine, a psychologist and expert on mathematics development in young children, who led the study, said, ‘Further research is needed to determine if the puzzle play and the language children hear about spatial concepts is causally related to the development of spatial skills - and to examine why there is a sex difference in the difficulty of the puzzles played with.

‘We are currently conducting a study in which parents are asked to play with puzzles with their pre-school age children, with the same puzzles provided to all participants.

‘We want to see whether parents provide the same input to boys and girls when the puzzles are of the same difficulty.’

The study, ‘Early Puzzle Play: A Predictor of Preschoolers’ Spatial Transformation Skill’, is published in the current early view issue of the journal Developmental Science.

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