Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Stack Up on Play

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

We find more and more that we are moving away from traditional play with our children. The fun and exciting things that have entered our world of play in the form of technology is amazing, however by partaking less in the toys that require imagination, manipulation, and self-generated play our children are growing up with weakened developmental skills. Typically these days, if it doesn’t light up, talk back to you, play music or require the downloading of an ‘app’, it is not the ‘coolest’ toy or activity. But if we took some time to encourage play with blocks, stacking and building toys, we would not only be improving a child’s fine motor skills, visual motor/perceptual skills, imagination, and attention, we would be giving them a new opportunity to fun. In addition, research suggests that children who engage more in block play tend to perform better in the areas of math and science. Parenting Science (

Blocks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and it is not only to give companies a reason to market more products. From a therapeutic prospective, the differences enhance various developmental skills while adding some fun. There are cardboard blocks, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs®, LEGOS®, Duplo blocks®, and many others. As well as, the creative shapes and designs found in building toys, such as those offered by Southpaw; the Better Builder Series, and Totter Tower. And we cannot forget the simplicity of those common household items such as boxes, soup cans, and plastic cups. There are so many ways to incorporate stacking and building into your child’s play, no matter what age or skill level.

Blocks and other building toys play a huge role in fine motor development, especially looking at grasps and hand arch development. Starting with the large cardboard blocks, moving down to the 1-inch wooden blocks and then those similar in size to LEGO® blocks, children progress from a gross grasp to a refined pincer or 3-tip grasp. A well-developed grasp is beneficial in all daily tasks, including eating, performing handwriting activities and manipulating fasteners, such as zippers and buttons.

Breaking apart the task of stacking in more detail, we find that these activities also help with developing improved shoulder, elbow and wrist stability. When children have stronger stability at the shoulder, we find that they are able to perform fine motor tasks such as handwriting, scissor activities, and tool use with increased refinement and endurance.

Visual motor skills are enhanced with building activities. Whether copying a design, stacking or creating a self-generated design, building pulls in 3-dimensional work addressing depth perception. As children continue to develop these skills, moving from plain blocks onto more complex building with LEGOS® or K’nex® systems where they have to follow a book of directions are beneficial.

The nice thing about incorporating more stacking and building into play is that it easily can be done almost anywhere or with anything. Stacking the boxes from the grocery bags (or as my children build vehicles to ride in with the extra large items from the local warehouse store) or building with the jelly packets on the table at the restaurant; building can happen anywhere. Stacking and building have no age limits and the possibilities to creativity are endless. Remember that children learn by example, so if we take a break from those technological toys and spend some time being creative, they will join in with us. Now as we begin the holiday shopping, make sure we add a little ‘building’ to the list!