The building blocks of learning

toddler toysOften parents ask us how to encourage learning in their toddlers. Everyday experiences with parents and toys are more valuable than flashcards or television. To help understand how simple toys enrich toddler development, we bring you an excerpt from occupational therapist Barbara A. Smith’s award winning  book From Rattles to Writing, A parent’s guide to Hand skills. We appreciated how the book gives tips on making your own toys, and lists very specific “to dos” to encourage not only fine motor development, but visual motor and sensory processing skills at different ages.

Drs. Lai and Kardos

Why are building blocks one of the most universal and time-honored occupations of young children? For one thing, blocks or other objects that stack (i.e., juice packs, scraps of wood, or rocks) are readily available all over the world. Blocks stack easily because they are flat, and the symmetrical cube shape enables children to align them vertically or horizontally.

Stacking helps to develop the perceptual skills and depth perception required to place one block on top of another and the coordination to release the block at the correct time. Children typically learn to stack two and then three common one-inch blocks between the ages of twelve and eighteen months. These blocks are large enough to be easily grasped yet small enough to be stacked using one hand.

Your child’s arms will grow strong as he steadies his shoulders to place the block in just the right position for stacking. After the blocks fall over, he will learn that mistakes are okay, and it is easy to build another tower, and another, and another. Blocks are basic important learning tools to teach concepts, such as tall and short, counting, and color identification. In fact, they are the “building blocks” that will help your child learn to read and write eventually.

The toy industry has capitalized on our love of blocks and has created magnetic blocks, snap-together blocks, blocks that open up to hold a toy, and blocks with sound effects. However, simple, basic blocks are great. They allow for imagination and creativity in a world where many toys are overly complex and require batteries. Whether homemade or purchased, plastic or wooden, soft or hard, titanium or cloth, your child will enjoy many hours of learning with blocks. Blocks are a must for all children.

Barbara A. Smith, MS, OTR/L

An occupational therapist for over twenty years, Ms. Smith received her master’s degree from Tufts’ Boston School of Occupational Therapy, and went on to receive certifications in sensory integration and hippotherapy. Her website is Her book, quoted above, won  2012 National Parenting Publications Award, and can be purchased on

©2012 Two Peds in a Pod®

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