Stacking toys – Oh how I love thee! Let me count (and stack) the ways. Don’t be deceived – these seemingly simple toys pack a big punch when it comes to early learning development. How does stacking/nesting improve fine motor and language skills?
At first glance, stacking toys — also called nesting toys — may seem like simple tools for play. But stacking and organizing is actually a natural part of child development — just like when they’re filling up containers and dumping its contents, stacking allows babies to understand and discover the world around them.
Here’s why it’s good for babies
Building and stacking boost both fine and gross motor skills as well as eye-hand coordination. Plus, these activities help a baby learn about spatial relationships — “under,” “on,” and “around” — and shapes (and cause and effect when he knocks his structures down!).
Fine Motor Skills
For young children, picking items up and putting them in place helps them learn the important skill of intentional grasp and release, as well as how to control and position their fingers. Since infants don’t have the dexterity or fine motor control yet, they use their entire hands to explore, hold, release, and place objects.
Visual and Spatial Perception
Stacking/nesting also works on depth perception, hand-eye coordination, and understanding where your body is in space. As you put each piece on top of the other, you have to visually gauge where to place each piece both in relation to yourself, and in relation to the other pieces. For younger children, nesting toys are easier to start with. Since the pieces “sit” / lock into the other pieces, their design is more forgiving and offers more guidance in the early stages of visual perception.
Balance, Trunk Control, & Gross Motor
Starting at about the age of 6 months and up, babies are gaining the postural stability to be able to sit up by themselves. They’re also working on coordinating their movements. Sitting up while stacking allows babies to get used to stabilizing their core as they move about and use their hands. This early multi-tasking activity also gives them the opportunity to let their body “catch itself” and make adjustments to maintain balance (these are known as protective responses).
Crossing midline is the ability for the right hand to cross over the center of the body to function in the left hemisphere, and vice versa. This is an important skill for handwriting, cutting with scissors, reading, eating, and anything that requires the hand to move from left to right or right to left.
To practice this skill, place all of the pieces on the left side of the body, next to the left hip. Have the child reach over with the right hand to grab a piece and then set it down either in front of them or to the right. Make sure that the child is using ONLY the right hand, without using the left hand to assist.
There’s no one way to play. Kids naturally think outside of the box, so encourage them to look for alternative uses for whatever’s at hand. Have them make up a game with the various pieces, let them create a story around whatever they’ve built, etc. This exploratory activity will foster their creativity and problem-solving skills.