FRIDAY, March 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Playing with puzzles when they're 2 to 4 years old can help children develop better spatial skills, a new study indicates.
Spatial skills refers to the ability to think about objects in three dimensions.
University of Chicago researchers examined the interaction between 53 pairs of children and parents, and found that children who played with puzzles between 26 and 46 months of age had better spatial skills when they were 54 months old.
The researchers also found that: higher-income parents tended to encourage their children to play with puzzles more often; boys played with more complicated puzzles than girls; and parents of boys used more spatial language during children's puzzle play and were more engaged in puzzle play than the girls' parents.
"The children who played with puzzles performed better than those who did not, on tasks that assessed their ability to rotate and translate shapes," psychologist Susan Levine, an expert on mathematics development in young children, said in a university news release.
She noted that this type of ability is an important predictor of children choosing science, technology, engineering and math courses, degrees and careers later in life.
The study was published online in the journal Developmental Science.
"Further study is needed to determine if the puzzle play and the language children hear about spatial concepts is causally related to the development of spatial skills -- and to examine why there is a sex difference in the difficulty of the puzzles played with and in the parents' interactions with boys and girls," Levine said.
Zero to Three has more about young children's behavior and development.