Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers' Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills


  • This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health Stimulus Grant 1RC1HD0634970-01 to Roberta Michnick Golinkoff at the University of Delaware and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek at Temple University, and the National Science Foundation via the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SBE-1041707). The authors thank Marcia Halperin and Nancy Jordan for their consultation on this project; Angeliki Athanasopoulou, ToriAnne Davies, Raissa Dempsey, and Gabrielle Farmer for research assistance and feedback on the manuscript; and Herbert Ginsburg and Sandra Pappas for their help with the EMAS assessment. We also thank Mega Bloks® who provided the blocks used in the study.


This study focuses on three main goals: First, 3-year-olds' spatial assembly skills are probed using interlocking block constructions (N = 102). A detailed scoring scheme provides insight into early spatial processing and offers information beyond a basic accuracy score. Second, the relation of spatial assembly to early mathematical skills was evaluated. Spatial skill independently predicted a significant amount of the variability in concurrent mathematical performance. Finally, the relation between spatial assembly skill and socioeconomic status (SES), gender, and parent-reported spatial language was examined. While children's performance did not differ by gender, lower SES children were already lagging behind higher SES children in block assembly. Furthermore, lower SES parents reported using significantly fewer spatial words with their children.