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Cutting and Coloring Key to Future Abstract Reasoning Skills

My colleague Sarah Sparks has written a fascinating article about research that shows just what is going on inside a child's head when that child is doing tasks such as cutting out shapes or coloring on a page. Such activities are linked to higher "executive-functioning" skills, which are in turn connected to math and abstract reasoning.

Put yourself in the mind of a 4- or 5-year-old, and copying a shape on the blackboard onto a piece of paper is a much more cognitively complex task than it is for an adult: Understanding the design, then holding that shape in your mind and deciding how to start copying, requires working memory, one of the brain's executive functions. Gripping the pencil properly, applying the right pressure to avoid tearing the paper, and keeping the paper oriented on the desk all need fine-motor skills that also, at such ages, require focus and self-control.

The article goes on to describe a research project where young children were given exercises in handwriting and line-tracing, as well as time to play with clay, Lego blocks, fusible beads and stencils, among other toys that worked on visual-motor skills. The children showed significant improvement in math and executive-functioning skills. These foundational skills may be more important than subject-matter instruction in early-childhood classrooms, the researchers suggest.

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