Block Talk: Spatial Language During Block Play


Katrina Ferrara, Johns Hopkins University, Room 237 Krieger Hall, 3400 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218; e-mail:


Spatial skills are a central component of intellect and show marked individual differences. There is evidence that variations in the spatial language young children hear, which directs their attention to important aspects of the spatial environment, may be one of the mechanisms that contributes to these differences. To investigate how play affects variations in language, parents and children were assigned to 1 of 3 conditions: free play with blocks, guided play, or play with preassembled structures (Study 1). Parents in the guided play condition produced significantly higher proportions of spatial talk than parents in the other two conditions, and children in the guided play condition produced significantly more spatial talk than those in the free play condition. Study 2 established baselines of spatial language during activities not involving spatial materials. Proportions of spatial words were lower than those in any of the conditions of Experiment 1. In sum, interaction with blocks naturally elicits elevated levels of spatial language, especially in the context of guided play, suggesting simple-to-execute educational interventions.