By Ollwyn Moran, Child Development Expert
There are so many benefits to playing with building blocks and stacking toys for both babies and toddlers. What is more, if you are a Clever Tots Toy Club member, you will get to enjoy a variety of different types and levels of stacking toys as part of your monthly subscription.
From the age of about six months, babies begin to work on gaining the postural stability to be able to sit up by themselves. They are also working on coordinating their movements, transitioning from the jerky awkward movements to becoming smoother and more precise.
To support them on their developmental journey to being able to sit up independently and engage in play activities in this position, parents should support their baby from the hips using their hands in order to give them as much free movement as possible. This will allow babies to get used to stabilising their core as they move about and use their hands for play.
Core stability and strength really get a great workout when playing with stacking toys and blocks, which is central to the developmental progression of your baby. This early multi-tasking activity also gives them the opportunity to let their body ‘catch itself’ as its wobbles through play movements, adjusting to maintain their balance. As a neurodevelopmental therapist, I know that this activity also stimulates their vestibular system, which helps to develop their balance and prepare them for the upright world.
Another fascinating neuroscience nugget, and one we don’t often think about as it appears automatic, is the ability of the right and left hands to work in harmony together. Medical professionals refer to it as ‘crossing of the midline’. This is an invisible line down the centre of our bodies that divides the left and right side. Crossing the midline is the ability for the right hand to cross over the centre of the body to function in the left hemisphere of the brain, and vice versa. Stacking play activities really help to develop these vital neural pathways. These are critical later on for handwriting, cutting with scissors, reading, eating, and anything that requires the hands to move from left to right, or right to left.
As a parent, you can easily help your child to develop and practice the skill of getting their left and right hands working together, establishing those neural pathways from the left side of the brain. Simply place all of their stacking play pieces on one side of your child’s body, then encourage them to reach over with their furthest hand on the opposite side of their body to grab a play piece and set it down in front of them. Make sure that your child is using only the furthest hand, without using the other one to assist. Then repeat on the opposite side.
Not only is this trunk rotation really helping to build up the strength of your little one’s core muscles and hips, it also helps promote some of the oral motor skills important for feeding. If you think about how we eat, our tongue plays a vital role. In order to eat effectively we need our tongue to move from side to side inside the mouth, left to right or vice versa. This action allows us to manipulate our food to be chewed and formed into a ball before swallowing. Every time your baby engages in activity that crosses the midline of their brain, they are establishing the early building blocks for so many important areas of their development.
Stacking and building block play also works on depth perception, hand-eye coordination, and understanding where your body is in space or spatial awareness. As your child puts each piece on top of the other, they have to visually gauge where to place each piece both in relation to themselves, and in relation to the other pieces.
The benefits of building blocks and stacking also extend to motor development. Fine motor skills include important movements like grasping, reaching, and moving that allow children to perform essential everyday activities. Playing with building blocks and stacking toys strengthens fingers, hands, and arms, while also developing their hand-eye coordination.
For younger children, stacking toys are easier to start with. Since the pieces are formed to lock into the other pieces. Their design is more forgiving and offers more guidance in the early stages of visual perception. Traditional building blocks build upon this skill for older children. These sets require graded control and pressure as pieces are balanced on top of each other so they don’t fall over.
I hope this blog has helped to highlight for you, the vast developmental benefits that stacking play activities can offer little ones. Not only do they learn a range of skills and cognitive capabilities, children also develop their critical thinking abilities. The stacking of specially designed and age appropriate toys and building blocks, encourages and fosters focus and concentration while also developing motor skills, problem solving skills, and much more.
The summer months provide plenty of opportunity for parents and their children to enjoy playing with their stacking toys and blocks in a variety of locations. Indoors or outdoors, in the bath or in the sand pit, the possibilities are endless. From baby to toddler, stacking as a developmental play activity really is one that they will never grow out of, because what goes up is enjoyed just as much as when it comes tumbling down!