BYU Radio


When we think about all the basic things that young children begin learning, I’m sure there are some common ones we would all recognize like colors, letters, and even shapes. Learning and understanding these basics provide the basic background knowledge that toddlers need to develop more complex literacy skills later on. But sometimes when we teach these kinds of concepts, we do so in a way that might limit children’s understanding. Let’s take shapes, for example. If we teach children to recognize simple shapes like circles, squares and triangles, we might do so by showing them a book or by drawing shapes on a piece of paper. However, these representations of shapes are 2 dimensional. And while learning about 2D shapes is important, if we only ever engage in a 2D environment we may be missing out on some important spatial learning. To develop spatial understanding, it helps if children work with shapes in 3 dimensions, not just 2. So, using things like blocks and other 3D representations of shapes is critical. This kind of spatial learning is really important as we look towards developing early math skills that we hope will someday develop into strong literacy skills in geometry and other disciplines like geography. Many early childhood educators advocate using these kinds of 3D materials in learning. In fact, one of the founding theorists of early childhood education, Maria Montessori, advocates for the use of concrete, 3D materials like cubes and beads, that can be used to illustrate math concepts. Not only can the use of these kinds of materials support spatial development, but also, physically touching and manipulating things can be a great enhancement to learning. So, when we’re thinking about toddlers learning shapes, we may want to extend beyond the triangle to learn about the pyramid, or beyond the circle to learn about the sphere. It’s easy to bring these 3D shapes into children’s worlds with a great set of wooden blocks. But other typical childhood playthings can make the world of shapes pop into 3D. Clay can easily be shaped into 3D objects. Or, building blocks that lock together with magnets or other means, can easily create a wide world of shapes. And, the cool thing about adding the 3rd dimension to build early math literacies with young children, may be just about the kind of play with toys that we already have. So, here at “Worlds Awaiting,” we suggest that maybe next time, when you sit down to make a tower with blocks or mess around with clay, why not build and talk about all the cool kinds of 3D shapes there are in the world.    


Blocks and Beyond: Strengthening Early Math and Science Skills Through Spatial Learning by Mary Jo Pollman.  Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, 2010.


Teaching Numeracy, Language, and Literacy with Blocks by Abigail Newburger and Elizabeth Vaughan.  Readleaf Press, 2006.


From Rachel Wadham, Host, WORLDS AWAITING


At Worlds Awaiting we discuss a wide range of information aimed at supporting adults who want to build literacy skills in their children.   We understand that there is no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to children’s development, so the information we provide is intended to reach a wide audience. The books and other resources we recommend will also naturally cover a wide range of interests and subject matter that addresses a range of maturity, reading, and comprehension levels.  Since no one understands a child’s needs better than their caretakers, we encourage families to critically select the books and resources that meet their own individual needs and standards.