Written by: Ashley Bateman, PT, DPT – Physical Therapist
Blocks and stacking toys are a fun and easy way to promote movement and the development of gross motor skills for kids from infants to preschoolers. They come in a variety of sizes, are made in a variety of materials, and they are probably something you already have at your house! Stacking blocks is great for working on visual motor development and having kids control the force and speed of their movement, but there are so many other ways to use them!
-Bang blocks or cups together with 2 hands: Start by working on playing with two hands while laying on their back. Demonstrate banging the blocks or cups together, then assist your child to try it. Bringing both hands to the middle of their body, and using both hands together, is important to work towards self feeding and functional play with toys.
-Reach while on their tummy to knock down tower of soft blocks or nesting cups: Reaching while playing on your tummy is hard work. Having a task where you don’t need to lift your arm for a long time and that doesn’t take a lot of control to do like knocking down a tower is great motivation. Reaching while on their tummy will help them figure out shifting their weight which will help when they get to rolling and army crawling.
– Working on sitting balance: When trying to go from prop sitting with both hands on the floor to sitting without needing their arms for support, it is helpful to use small, light toys that can easily be held in each hand. You can bang both blocks or toys together while they are sitting. Reaching for a tall tower or a tower on a soft raised surface can also help encourage them to sit up taller so their tummy isn’t resting on their legs.
-Reach for tower to transition from sitting to their tummy: Once they are sitting steadily, you can encourage reaching for things that are out of their reach. Put a tower off towards either side that they can’t reach unless they put one hand on the floor and lean towards it to knock it down. Move the tower further and further away until they have to walk their hands out far enough to transition to their tummy.
-Kneeling or standing at surface: Place the tower on a raised surface like the couch or an ottoman to encourage them to pull up to their knees or stand to play at the surface. Kneeling will strengthen their hips and pulling to their knees is the first step to pulling to standing.
-Cruising along furniture: Move the tower to the left or the right so the blocks are out of reach when they are standing at furniture. This will encourage them to take steps to be able to knock them down. Encourage cruising towards the right and left then try going around corners or between two surfaces.
-Squat with one hand on surface: If the blocks or cups fall on the floor after they knock down the tower, encourage the child to pick them up and put them back up on the couch. They will have one hand on the couch, squat down to get the toy with the other hand, and return to standing. If they aren’t able to reach all the way to the floor, you can stack a few on the floor and they can reach the top one. Squatting will strengthen their legs and help them figure out going from standing to sitting safely.
-Squat to stand: When your child is standing and walking on their own, work on building a tower in the middle of the floor where there is nothing to hold onto. Encourage squatting down to pick up buckets or blocks from the floor then stand up to place them on top of a tower. Larger buckets or blocks will encourage them using two hands to pick up the object instead of using 1 hand for support. This will work on strength and balance.
-Raise onto tip toes to stack on large tower: Once the tower gets tall enough, encourage raising up onto their tip toes on both feet to put buckets or blocks on the top. You may need to stabilize the tower a little bit as they do this.
-Lift foot to kick tower to knock it down: Once your toddler is very steady in standing and walking, you can encourage them to lift one foot while standing to kick down a tower. This will help them learn to kick a ball and work on their balance. Try it with each foot.
-Use a tower as a target to knock down while kicking a ball: Build a tower and set up a ball a few feet away. Kick the ball to knock down the tower. Encourage stepping with the opposite foot before kicking the ball.
-Use a tower as a target to knock down while throwing a ball: Build a large tower on the floor or a tower on a raised surface. Stand a few feet away and throw a small ball to knock down the tower. Start with a large tower and then try smaller ones as it gets easier. Encourage stepping into the throw with their opposite foot. Hold the ball up by their ear to start when throwing overhand. You can also try throwing small balls or bean bags underhand.
-Use a tower as a target to work on a straight path while riding a trike: Building a tower that can be knocked down while riding a trike can be good motivation and will also work on steering towards a target.
-Try to knock down one block at a time with foot to work on standing on 1 foot: To work on standing on one foot for a longer time, try to knock just the top block or cup off of the tower using their foot. The tower should be about knee height when they are standing. You may need to stabilize the lower part of the tower a little bit at first. This also works on having slow, controlled movements.