Equilibrio

Players: 1 or more
Ages: 5 and up
Cost: ~\$28 (Buy on Amazon
Math Ideas: Spatial Reasoning, 2-D representations of 3-D figures
Questions to Ask
How do we make the tower balance?
What other towers can you build?

Want to hear something crazy? Back in the 80s, researchers watched a bunch of 4-year-olds play with blocks to see how sophisticated their block play was. Were the kids stacking the blocks at random without regard to their shapes, or were they using the properties of the blocks to make sturdy, steady castles and towers?

When the researchers checked in on those same kids in high school, they found out that the kids who had been more sophisticated block builders at age 4 were more likely to take higher-level math courses and to perform well within their courses.

Seems bizarre, right? But actually, the connection between block play and mathematical ability is one of the most heavily researched areas of young children's development. Block play is heavily tied to spatial reasoning, which is how kids and adults think about objects in relation to each other.

As I described in my Blokus newsletter, spatial reasoning is perhaps the most important mathematical skill that kids can develop in the first years of life. Everyone learns to count, but not everyone learns how to read a map or build a piece of furniture from IKEA instructions. And yet, those spatial skills are essential for later success in academic math. The good news is, spatial skills can be strengthened over time, as long as kids have lots of opportunities to practice them.

By now, you're probably ready to grab a set of blocks and get playing with your kids! Good, because I have just the game for you.

How to Play

Equilibrio comes with a set of orange blocks and a book. Each page of the book shows a two-dimensional design for a tower. The goal is simply to build each tower. That's it!

I liked this game because the earlier, easier towers help train your brain for the upcoming challenges. As my son and I worked through the first ten or so towers, we realized that cylinders actually look like rectangles from the side, and had a lovely conversation about which other shapes look different from different angles. We also became more deliberate in our planning. Sometimes we would build the top portion of a tower first before transferring it onto the bottom half.

We got stumped on one of the towers and decided to quit for the time being. I can tell, though, that my son wants to take another crack at these towers. We'll need lots of practice, as you can see, to build tower 60...

Where's the Math?

As I said above, this game is wonderful for developing spatial reasoning. As the book continues, the diagrams become more like puzzles. The pieces are flipped, rotated, and stacked in ways that you wouldn't expect, and your child has to interpret the diagram before building the tower. Triangular prisms start to look like rectangles, and one piece can look like two (or vice versa).

I also like this game because it gives your kids a set of skills that they can explore and develop on their own. In the past I've struggled with getting my kids to build blocks with me. I wanted them to develop these spatial skills, but they weren't always enthusiastic when I dumped out the blocks and said "Let's build something." But now that my son and daughter have both played this game, I can see that they are trying out some of their new techniques on our plain old Melissa and Doug wooden block set (If you don't have plain wooden blocks yet, you need some!).

If your kid plays Equilibrio every day for a month, wonderful. If she plays it twice but takes those skills and ideas with her as she builds towers at her preschool, even better.

Questions to Ask

This game was more collaborative than almost any other game I've played with my kids. I really felt like I was figuring out the best way to construct the towers alongside them.

For that reason, a lot of my questions to my kids were just me stating out loud the questions I was mulling in my head: Should we put the rectangles on first, or the triangles? If I place the cubes at the edges, will that trapezoid thing start tipping over? Are those two pieces far enough apart?

All of those questions involve spatial language that helps your kids develop a vocabulary and a mental architecture for thinking about how objects relate to each other.

If you want to move away from the basic structure of the game, you could always grab six or ten blocks from the set and say "what's the tallest tower you can build with these blocks?" Then, watch your kid apply the skills they've learned from Equilibrio to make designs of their own!

Buy Equilibrio on Amazon