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Block Play and Mathematics Learning in Preschool:

The Effects of Building Complexity, Peer and Teacher Interactions in the Block Area,

and Replica Play Materials


Principal Investigator: Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Sudha Swaminathan
Student Researchers: Brooke Baton, Courtney Danieluk, Samantha Marsh, Monika Szarwacki

Although block play has been included in early childhood classrooms for over a century, few studies have examined its effects on learning in preschool classrooms. Several investigations have indicated that the complexity of children's block structures in preschool is associated with math ability. This previous work has been conducted in adult-guided or laboratory settings in which individuals or pairs of children are assigned building tasks. In the present investigation, we examined elements of block play within naturalistic free play periods in preschool classrooms over a six month period. We studied the effects of peer and teacher interactions and the availability of replica play toys on the building complexity and math learning of 41 three and four year olds.

The level of social participation in block play and the percentage of structures built without toys predicted the complexity of children's buildings. This complexity, in turn, predicted growth in math learning, as measured by pretest and posttest scores on Tools for Early Assessment of Math. Based on findings, we propose a path model in which peer collaboration and blocks-only building contribute to block play complexity, and the building of such complex structures enhances math learning over time.

See more Previous Studies

  • Trawick-Smith, J., Swaminathan, S., Baton, B., Danieluk, C., Marsh, S., & Szarwacki, M. (2016). Block play and mathematics learning in preschool: The effects of building complexity, peer and teacher interactions, and replica play materials. Journal of Early Childhood Research.