Building block activities like building block towers, and stacking blocks support development of many skills for young children. Development occurs through play and play is the job of the child. By using creative block activities in play, children can thrive in their skill development. We’ve shared specifics on fine motor skills using blocks, however, the skill-building doesn’t stop there. Here, we’ll discuss how and why building with blocks is so powerful in development of kids. We’re covering all things building block activities and exactly HOW to maximize skills like fine motor skills, visual perception, and even social emotional skills…all with toy blocks!
You’ll also love our DIY cardboard bricks activity to develop skills!
Building Blocks for Kids
Most of us have strolled through the toy aisle and found a set of building blocks for kids. Building blocks come in different sizes, colors, shapes, and even patterns. Did you know, however, that despite building block activities being one powerful way to build skills, that most sets are not played with once they are in the home?
That’s right…most of the time, those building block sets just sit they’re collecting dust. Today, we’re talking all about how to use building sets with kids to build skills!
what type of skill is building towers of blocks or stacking blocks?
Toy blocks a are classic toy…and there is good reason. When kids build towers with blocks they are developing skills through play. Knocking blocks over is another set of skills, and stacking blocks to create shapes or forms (a train made from a handful of blocks, for example) is another set of skills. They are all related, however, and together, building towers with blocks results in powerful underlying skills that children can use in later years.
Research tells us that early experiences with blocks stimulate the development of spatial language, cognitive, and problem-solving skills. All of these are the literal building blocks for higher level tasks like reading, writing, executive functioning, math, and communication skills.
We talked previously about the connection between fine motor skills and math. Building blocks are a literal building block to math skills.
There’s more. By building with blocks, kids are establishing concepts of cause and effect (that tower falls down if I build it too high), reasoning (I need to place the blocks flat on each other so they don’t topple over), and creativity, self-esteem, fine motor STEM concepts, early math, language, and motor planning. Wow!
Let’s break this down further.
Building a tower with blocks
When a child builds a tower with blocks, there are several motor and cognitive skills at play:
- Visual perception
- Eye-hand coordination
- Visual motor skills
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor strength and core stability/strength (placing a block on a stack requires posture and positioning, especially as the tower gets taller)
- Fine motor precision and graded release, or force modulation- It takes a gentle hand to place a block on a tower with precision and dexterity
Knocking a tower over
Every baby, toddler, and preschooler knows the fun of knocking over a stack of blocks, particularly when it’s a sibling or friend’s tower! What’s happening here?
- hand-eye coordination
- Cause and effect
- Self-confidence (I did that!)
- Emotional practice- when another child’s tower is knocked over, there is sure to be an emotional response. This is not always a malicious act on the part of the tower-knocker! It is a repetition in what will happen however. We see facial expressions, emotions, and outbursts. This can be a good opportunity for problem solving, age-appropriate emotional regulation, personal space, body awareness, force modulation, and language skills.
Building things with blocks
Taking the block tower a step further, we can see more development and precision when creating shapes and forms with blocks. This is another set of skills that are expanded upon:
- Fine motor skills
- Eye-hand coordination
- Visual efficiency
- Precision of grasp and release
- Visual motor skills
- Form constancy
- Visual discrimination
We’ve covered the fine motor development that occurs by playing with blocks. We’ve also addressed visual perception and block play.
Today, we are discussing the various ways to play with blocks that build more than wooden buildings…blocks build skills!
Block Activities for Toddlers
For the young child, presenting kids with just a jew blocks is the key to avoiding overwhelm. The nice thing about a variety set of blocks is that the various blocks can be used in different ways while working various skill areas. During toddler play, young children develop many areas that impact functional skills and independence.
Try these block activities for toddlers to support development of skills.
Sorting Shapes Block Activity– By sorting the colors and shapes of blocks, they are working on so many skills. Visual perceptual skill development begins at a young and age, including the ability to visually discriminate. We know that young babies are able to visually differentiate their mother from another female adult by visual assessment. The same skill can be used and honed with toy blocks
Use a small set of blocks and ask the child to pile clocks into sets according to color or shape. You would be surprised at a young child’s sorting ability and visual discrimination skills. Sorting block shapes occurs around 15 months and at that time, a shape sorter is the perfect tool for encouraging matching. Visual discrimination skills will improve over the toddler years as your little one begins to recognize differences in shapes such as triangles and pentagons.
Sorting blocks is a literal building block for visual perceptual skills, math skills and executive functioning skills.
Pretend Play Block Activities– Children can use blocks as pretend play items as they interact with adults or other children. Giving blocks a name and a voice offers opportunities act out scenarios, express needs and wants, and practice communication.
By using blocks as pretend people, cars, trains, and animals, toddlers and preschoolers experiment with imagination and creativity. This is the beginning of social emotional skills. Show your little one how they can set up a little family with the blocks as they talk to each other in words and phrases that your child knows. What a great way to work on communication and language.
Building Activities- The sky is the limit when it comes to building with blocks. You can show a young toddler how to stack two blocks while the develop the fine motor precision and refined grasp to place blocks and releasing their hand without knocking over the blocks. Show your little one how to stack one or two blocks with specific colors. By asking them to copy your block form, not only are they working on fine motor skills, they are also building visual perceptual and visual motor skills.
Use Blocks to Make Patterns- Building on the copying skills mentioned above, using blocks to copy and create patterns is an exercise in early visual motor skills, visual perception, and fine motor skills. It’s also a fun way to introduce early math concepts. Little ones can copy and create patterns using different sizes, shapes, and colors of blocks.
Start out by creating a simple pattern with an AB pattern of blocks. Preschool children can use blocks to create ABB and ABC patterns too.
Gross Motor Skills with Blocks- Just because using blocks with preschoolers is a fun fine motor activity, there’s no reason to leave out the gross motor skill development. Use a small wagon, or create a pulling system to help kids with pushing, and moving the whole body while moving blocks from one place to another.
There is a reason why toddlers and preschoolers love to move their toys around in bags or carts…the proprioceptive input that they achieve by pushing or pulling a cart full of toys provides much needed sensory input that helps them organize and calm their bodies. Pretty cool, right?
Another gross motor coordination activity with blocks is a pretty simple one to set up. Use blocks to create obstacle courses, paths, and games. Kids can animal walk from block to block, tip toe between block paths, or transport blocks one by one in a relay race. Block play is so open-ended and can meet any child’s needs.
Build Letters with Blocks- Block activities for preschoolers can involve building and making letters. Letter recognition begins around 24-36 months and during that time is a great way to teach letter identification. Use building blocks to help kids trace letters using a finger. Point out how the letters are formed and you can even build those letters higher with another layer. Here is information on how to build letters with correct formation.
Stack and Knock Over- Building towers with blocks or a trail of dominos is one way to help kids better understand STEM concepts, cause and effect, and problem solving.
Ask your little one how they can make one block fall over by using another. See if they can figure out how far apart to place blocks to make them push one another over in a row of “dominos”. It’s a fantastic exercise in eye-hand coordination.
Building Borders- Use about 10-20 blocks to create small squares and rectangles to form a border or home for small toys, dolls, or other small toys. By creating a “home” for their toys, children can work on shape identification as well as various skills: eye-hand coordination, visual motor skills, fine motor skills, precision of grasp and release, bilateral coordination, and crossing midline.
Take the house building up a notch by adding layers to the walls. Children can begin to stack blocks and attempt to create higher walls without knocking them over.
Amazon links included below.
Lovevery Blocks are a new product created by the folks at Lovevery. The 70 piece set is valued at $90.00 and is perfect for kids aged 12-48+ months (and higher! My big kids are loving this set right now!)
Lovevery has thought of your child as they grow. The set includes an activity guide with over 20 block activities designed to build learning and developmental skills as they grow. These are beautifully made blocks that will grow with your child.
- 70 wood pieces in a rainbow of 18 different hues
- 18 different shapes and tools
- Activity guide with block play ideas to promote skills like visual perception, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and more
- Arrives in a wooden storage box that converts into a pull car
- Drawstring cotton bag for flexible storage
- Solid wood blocks made of sustainably harvested FSC-certified wood
- Water-based non-toxic paint and finishes
Block Activities and Ideas
Some of the smartest and most creative folks I know are the readers of The OT Toolbox. I asked readers to tell me sensory strategies they personally love and use to address sensory modulation. Scroll through the comments…you might just find some new sensory strategies that will work for you! Hopefully we can learn from one another!
Also, check out these other soy suggestions based on therapeutic development through play.
- Fine Motor Toys
- Gross Motor Toys
- Pencil Grasp Toys
- Toys for Reluctant Writers
- Toys for Spatial Awareness
- Toys for Visual Tracking
- Toys for Sensory Play
- Bilateral Coordination Toys
- Games for Executive Functioning Skills
- Toys and Tools to Improve Visual Perception
- Toys to Help with Scissors Skills
- Toys for Attention and Focus
Use these Fine Motor Kits for hands-on activity kits to develop fine motor skills, strength, dexterity, and manipulation. Kids LOVE these fine motor kits for the motivating activities. Therapists love them because it’s fresh, fun ways to work on pinch, grip, manipulation skills, and much more. Try some of these themed therapy kits:
- Fall Fine Motor Kit
- Winter Fine Motor Kit
- Spring Fine Motor Kit
- Summer Fine Motor Kit
- Frogs and Toads Themed Fine Motor Kit
- Letters! Fine Motor Kit
- Outer Space Themed Fine Motor Kit
- Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Kit
- Penguin Themed Fine Motor Kit
- Snowman Themed Fine Motor Kit
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.