Series: About Early Math

Blocks: Low-Tech Toys with High Learning Potential

Blocks: Low-Tech Toys with High Learning Potential

This article from NPR’s ongoing education blog discusses the strength of a familiar low-tech toy: the block.

Even amid a technological revolution in teaching, which is bringing tablets, apps, and smartboards into more and more early learning classrooms, the block maintains its place as a time-tested learning tool.

Part of its strength in this regard is its ability to bring out multiple math ideas at once. Students will strengthen spatial reasoning skills as they try to avoid making their structures topple over. Students will also reinforce their geometric knowledge, as they pick out all of the squares or make a rectangle out of two triangle-shaped blocks.

Even ideas like fractions and algebra can be introduced on a basic level with this low-tech toy.

“Essentially they’re solving for X,” says Todd Erickson of Standford University’s Bing Nursery School. “They’ve got one piece on one side and one piece on the other and a distance to fill. So what is that amount going to be?”

Research suggests that finding a healthy mix of low- and high-tech learning tools is probably best for young learners overall. High-tech toys allow for flexibility and experimentation but can easily become a distraction for children. Low-tech toys, while potentially more limited in application, provide engaging, kinesthetic experiences.