Stacking toys demystified
Here is a stacking toy:
And here is another one:
And here is one more:
Are they really all the same toy? It’s so confusing!
Traditionally, the term ‘stacking toy’ was reserved for stacking rings, like the fir tree above.
But, over time, it has come to include nested and balancing toys. It’s not a helpful development.
The different kinds of stacking toys
The classic stacking toy. Once babies can sit up, they learn to reach and grab, place and drop. Stacking rings help babies and toddlers to refine this movement. The task demands gross motor control to move the arm and fine motor skill to release the ring. It’s harder than it looks!
Like Russian dolls, each bowl contains a smaller version of itself. And like stacking rings, there is only one right way to complete them.
Stacking or nested boxes work in much the same way as bowls. Make your own set with cardboard boxes from the recycling bin.
The most versatile of all these toys is the wooden rainbow. It can be both nested and stacked. It’s brilliant for ‘stunt’ building - a kind of construction where you go as high and as far as you can, pushing the laws of physics to their limit. They also make great tunnels and enclosures for small world play.
The developmental benefits of stacking toys
Play-based learning is what toddlers do. They explore, make an interesting discovery and then pursue lines of inquiry until their curiosity has been satisfied.
They need plenty of open-ended play, the kinds of activities where there is no predetermined goal. A set of blocks embodies this perfectly - there is no limit to what you can create.
Rainbows fall into this category but stacking rings do not.
But rings still have their place. They belong to a type of play known as heuristic.
This is play focused on making discoveries about the properties and uses of a material and its vitally important during early childhood.
The link to seriation
Seriation is a fundamental cognitive skill that involves arranging objects in a specific order or sequence, often based on size, shape or colour. Stacking toys are an excellent way to introduce and develop seriation skills in young children because they are didactic materials. This means that they teach. You can’t assemble them in the wrong way without the mistake being obvious. When the rings are in order, it looks right.
By playing with these toys, children learn to recognise patterns, understand sequencing and make comparisons, laying the foundation for future mathematical and logical thinking.
Recommended stacking toys
What is a stacking toy? Does the name matter?
The only thing that matters is: does your child engage with it? Is it fun?
Young children enjoy these toys because they provide an age-appropriate challenge. Ordering objects by size (seriation) and using both hands together to make things balance (bilateral co-ordination) are exactly what toddlers and preschoolers should be doing.