University of Delaware
Toys and childhood are and always will be linked: you can't grow up without toys. They're your distractions, your companions, and – as we're increasingly growing to understand – your teachers.
A recent University of Delaware and Temple University study called "Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematics Skills" digs into how three-year-olds of various socioeconomic levels play with one particular toy (Lego-like building blocks) to explore whether there's a connection between playing with blocks and learning math.
In a nutshell: yes. The report notes that: "Spatial skill independently predicted a significant amount of the variability in concurrent mathematics performance." Kids who were able to build block models that matched a sample model, in short, seemed to possess counting and measurement skills that paid off in terms of ability to count, add, and subtract. The study goes further, convincingly arguing a casual relationship: playing with blocks, in short, builds skills.