Learning Games & Toys for Preschoolers
- Hold a special game day that celebrates spatial games, like dominos, board games, dice games and cards. Playing board games usually requires moving a marker along a board while counting the exact number of spaces indicated on a dice or spinner.
- Explore the Arts. Invite children to draw a map of the neighborhood or practice spatial perspective-taking skills by plotting how houses and apartments look when standing in different locations. You may also try constructing or painting patterns using shapes of different colors and sizes and make it into a game by trying to figure out each other’s pattern.
- Re-imagine playgrounds and public parks indoors. Design a scavenger hunt to promote children’s awareness. Use clues describing shapes, sizes and numbers, such as finding something shaped like an oval; short and long sticks; or two bugs. Or, play “I Spy” to help notice and identify various shapes hidden in everyday objects
Scientists had an incredible revelation in the past decade. Construction toys—like building blocks and puzzles—wooden trains, mazes, and treasure maps are educational toys. Yes—they are fun, engaging, meaningful to play with and help us invite friends to join in offering opportunities to build social skills. They can be used differently every time you dump them from the box and they are “minds on” active. But, believe it or not, they also help children build STEM-relevant spatial skills. And those spatial skills, the kind you use when you rotate or flip a shirt to pull it over your head or find the quickest route for a morning commute, are linked to not only later spatial ability (becoming an architect) but also to later math ability!
No surprise that children with higher spatial skills are more likely to grow up and enter a STEM field as an adult. Engineers visualize how forces affect the designs of structures and biologists must understand the molecular building blocks of life and illustrate them in spatial representations or diagrams. Providing children with spatial experiences helps their spatial skill development and STEM learning.
So – perhaps we can put the workbooks away, at least for our preschool children and ask how we as educators and caregivers can ignite a true love of learning by “spatializing” everyday activities?
We can draw a map of our room or the places we went on the weekend. We can sit with our children and talk through the magnificent tower that they just built when the red block sat high above the blue block. And we can have them guess what the shape of an orange would be if you cut it halfway on the diameter. Spatial talk and spatial practice prepare our children to think differently and to ready themselves for a world filled with spatial and mathematical opportunities. Think of how you can re-envision the construction toys in your home and rich educational prompts that are still just good old-fashioned toys – but with the added value of real educational benefit. How?
- Rethink blocks and puzzles. As children play with these toys, they are thinking about spatial relations, such as putting the square block on top of the rectangular block or rotating the green block and situating it next to the orange block. This type of puzzle play with corrective feedback helps three-year-olds’ spatial and math skills. Additionally, practicing these sorts of spatial skills can help facilitate STEM learning!
- Rethink the power of spatial language. Help children reason about spatial relations and properties —such as position, size and shape names. For example, “The triangle is to the right of the square.” Counting and talking about numbers can help them understand basic math concepts. For example, “Let’s count the number of steps to this building. There are 10 steps.” Another way to promote spatial language is to read books that focus on spatial skills and number. Mind/Shift recommends 15 picture books for children that promote spatial skills development.
Spatial learning is important and often ignored. But the everyday toys that we used as kids and that our kids use today, are harboring rich opportunities to prepare them for a strong future in STEM. Let’s seize the day, click our heels together, and recognize that what we have been doing all along offers the rich base that we have been looking for in educational toys.