From stacking books or boxes to clothing or canned items, stacking is something you probably do without even thinking about it. For your baby, learning to stack objects involves fine motor skills, coordination, and a basic understanding of how pieces work together.
In this article:
- When do babies start stacking blocks?
- What are the benefits of stacking play for child development?
- Stacking play: milestones to watch for
- Introducing blocks (7 to 9 months)
- Introducing stacking and nesting (10 to 15 months)
- Stacking 2 to 3 blocks (16 to 18 months)
- Nesting play (18 to 24 months)
- Stacking blocks to build a tower (18 to 24 months)
- Creative stacking and lining up (22 to 26 months)
- Pretend play with building and stacking (27 to 36 months)
- Developmental concerns with stacking
When do babies start stacking blocks?
Your baby may be able to stack one block or small object on top of another by 10 to 12 months of age. By around 16 to 18 months, your toddler may be able to stack two or three blocks, progressing to a “tower” of four to six blocks by around 18 to 24 months. Your child’s stacking ability will continue to progress throughout the toddler and preschool years, supporting both motor skills and creative play.
Although it may seem like stacking blocks is a simple task, it requires quite a lot of hand-eye coordination and motor planning. Before your baby can stack, they need to be able to release or drop objects from their grip in a controlled and purposeful way. This is a skill known as voluntary release, which develops around 9 to 10 months.
Even before they can stack objects on their own, babies enjoy playing with and handling blocks and other stackable objects. For example, starting around 7 months, your baby will love to knock over the towers that you build 😉
What are the benefits of stacking play for child development?
Blocks are a classic toy for good reason—they help your child develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They also encourage exploration with cause and effect, gravity, spatial and math concepts, and even basic social skills like taking turns and sharing. Here are some of the ways stacking play contributes to your baby’s development:
Grasping and fine motor skills: Your child uses several different grasping and voluntary release skills to hold blocks and stack them accurately. At first your child’s grasp may seem uncoordinated, but over time they’ll develop greater control of the tiny muscles in their hands and wrists.
Stacking blocks lets your child practice grasping with their thumb in coordination with their other fingers. Around 9 to 10 months, they’ll be able to grasp blocks using a pincer grasp, which allows for more precision when placing objects. All this grasping practice develops their fine motor skills and strengthens their hand muscles, helping with later tasks like handwriting and tying shoelaces.
Hand-eye coordination: When your child first starts playing with blocks, they may struggle to place one block on top of another so they don’t fall. As they gain experience matching what they see with what they touch, your child’s hand-eye coordination will gradually improve. With practice, their aim will become more accurate as they stack taller and taller towers.
Sensory development: Stacking teaches children a concept called graded force. When they can pick up and gently release a block on top of another without knocking the tower down, that’s graded force in action. This understanding will later help your child apply the right amount of force when they push a pencil against paper to scribble, draw, or write.
Playing with blocks may be the traditional way to practice stacking, but it isn’t the only option, as child development expert Rachel Coley explains in this video from the Lovevery app:
Cognitive development: Stacking blocks is such a deceptively simple task, it’s easy to overlook its cognitive benefits. Playing with blocks gives your child a chance to problem-solve, troubleshoot, and test hypotheses about structure, gravity, and elevation. What shapes will stack? How many blocks can be stacked before they fall? With practice, your child will figure out that bigger blocks make steadier foundations for towers and flat blocks are easier to stack than curved or triangular ones.
Math concepts: It’s easy to think of math as all about counting or adding and subtracting written numbers. But before your child is ready for written numbers, they learn math concepts in the world around them. Block play helps your child make the connection between a number word, like “one,” and its quantity, a concept known as one-to-one correspondence. Stacking also develops your child’s number sense by providing visual quantities to count, hold, and compare through tactile play. When your child fills a basket with blocks and then dumps it out, they learn about volume and quantity.
Spatial concepts: Stacking play is a hands-on way for your child to learn spatial concepts like “under,” “over,” or “next to.” Research shows that toddlers who hear spatial language as they play with blocks tend to do better on spatial problem-solving tasks in preschool.
Social-emotional skills: Block play offers your child a chance to take turns, problem-solve together, and self-advocate, whether they’re playing with you, a sibling, or a friend. When the tower of blocks eventually falls, they get to practice emotional regulation. These skills are a significant challenge for young children, and they take a long time to develop. Try taking turns with your child and model waiting for each person to place their block.
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Stacking play: milestones to watch for
Your baby’s first interactions with blocks may be simply mouthing them, handling them, or clapping them together. But over time, your child will gradually learn how to place blocks or objects on top of each other—at first without balance, but eventually with greater precision and coordination. By the time they reach 3 to 4 years of age, they may use blocks in creative and surprising ways, building towers or castles, or using them as food or cars in their pretend play.
Along the way, there are several stacking milestones you can watch for in your child’s play:
Introducing blocks (7 to 9 months)
Once your baby begins to sit up independently, their hands are free to manipulate toys, like blocks, in more complex ways. When you first introduce your baby to blocks—around 7 to 9 months of age—they may just mouth them. This is the primary way your baby gains useful sensory information about new objects.
Model banging two blocks together and encourage your baby to imitate you. They won’t be able to stack blocks yet, but you can stack a few blocks for them to knock down. Encourage their language development by saying, “boom!” or “down!” each time as they learn about cause and effect in action.
Activities for introducing block play:
- Banging or clapping toys together: Babies typically learn to bang two objects together between 8 ½ and 12 months. Hold a Wooden Stacking Stone in one hand and give one to your child to examine. Tap your stone against theirs. Then, give them two stones and encourage them to tap them together.
- Knocking stacks down: Create stacks for your baby to knock down—over and over again 🙃Your baby learns by watching you build towers and with time, they’ll develop the imitation skills and hand-eye coordination to stack on their own.
- Container play: Dropping blocks into containers of various sizes helps your baby strengthen their fine motor skills in preparation for stacking. Show them how to drop a block into the Treasure Basket, then let them try. From there, your baby can progress to dropping blocks into a smaller container, like the Clear Tube.
Introducing stacking and nesting (10 to 15 months)
As your baby approaches their first birthday, they may start to be more interested in stacking blocks instead of simply clapping them together. Stacking can be a tricky skill for babies to learn, since their fine motor skills are still developing. To make stacking a bit easier, encourage your baby to start by placing a smaller block on top of their largest block.
Nesting can also help your baby learn how shapes work together—a smaller piece can fit inside a larger one, and parts can make up a whole. When your baby is playing with blocks, these concepts help them stack a smaller block on top of a larger one to build a tower.
Activities for building interest in nesting and stacking:
- Nesting toys: A simple way to help your baby learn about stacking is to try nesting baskets or cups. To start, model how to nest the Nesting Stacking Dripdrop Cups together and take them apart.
- Stacking and knocking down again: The Nesting Felt Baskets can also be used to practice stacking. Flip the baskets over to make a tower, and give your baby the fun job of knocking them down.
- Stacking rings: Stacking isn’t just for blocks. At this age, your child may also have fun placing stacker rings on a peg—until now, they may have only taken the rings off the peg. If your toddler isn’t stacking rings yet, you can play a game of back and forth: Have your child hand you the rings and then you stack them one by one. Next try switching: You pass the rings back to your toddler and see if they can stack them. You can help by tilting the peg toward your toddler as they work to get the rings onto it.
Stacking 2 to 3 blocks (16 to 18 months)
As your child reaches early toddlerhood, their stacking skills may start to emerge more clearly. Around 16 to 18 months of age, your child may work up to stacking two to three blocks on top of each other. Building a tower requires patience, precision, and practice. As your child lines up and balances one block on top of the other, they need to release it at just the right time so it doesn’t fall.
Stacking is one aspect of a broader concept your child may be learning and investigating during this phase of development. Toddlers love discovering how objects fit together and come apart—otherwise known as connection schema play. At age 1, this can look like attaching a bug to the Fuzzy Bug Shrub and pulling it off, or stacking and knocking down a set of blocks. The connection schema also includes “disconnection:” pulling toys apart or knocking over a block tower. Even linking arms or holding hands as you cross the street is related to this connection schema ❤️
Tips for encouraging advanced stacking skills:
- Stacking objects of different sizes and shapes: Using the Wooden Stacking Stones, show your toddler how to place one stone on top of another, then let them try. The different sizes and rounded shapes call for coordination and problem-solving. If your toddler gets frustrated, offer suggestions and support.
- Pair stacking play with language development: Narrate the process as your child figures out how blocks stack, or how nesting cups or baskets fit together. You can incorporate size language by saying things like: “See how the little basket fits into that bigger one.”
- Posting play: Build their fine motor precision by using pegs like the Wooden Peg Drop. Posting with smaller pegs gives your baby practice coordinating and controlling the tiny muscles in their hands. This practice supports their ability to stack blocks as well.
Closely supervise your child when they play with stacking toys small enough to be potential choking hazards.
Nesting play (18 to 24 months)
Some research suggests that around 18 months, children are particularly fascinated with nesting, perhaps even more than stacking. That may be because toddlers of this age are typically working on the “enclosing schema.” This category of play includes activities in which your child can enclose items—or themselves—into containers 🙃
Activities to encourage nesting play:
- Enclosing play: You may find that your child enjoys nesting cups, putting things in boxes, or building cozy forts to hide in.
- Nesting rounded objects: Round containers are easier to nest than square ones. Through trial and error, most babies will learn to fit the Nesting Felt Baskets on their own by about 24 months.
- Pulling apart and re-nesting: Invert one of the Nesting Felt Baskets and place it inside the next biggest one. Invite your child to pull the baskets apart. Next, encourage them to stack the baskets from largest to smallest. If they need help, flip the first one over, place it in front of them, and ask “Which basket goes next?”
Stacking blocks to build a tower (18 to 24 months)
As your child continues to build dexterity, you’ll probably see their stacking ability improve. They may build a four-block tower, then eventually work their way up to stacking six blocks.
Ways to encourage tower building skills:
- Stacking household items: Once your toddler gets the hang of stacking objects, look around your home or recycle bin for unusual items they can stack. Tissue boxes, empty yogurt containers, pillows, books, and old cereal boxes can all be repurposed as stacking challenges.
- Stack different shapes: Cubes are easiest to stack, but your child might also like experimenting with other shapes. The Block Set includes different shapes such as triangles, cylinders, and pentagons. At this point, most toddlers still love knocking over the tower as much or more than building it 😉
Creative stacking and lining up (22 to 26 months)
As your child nears their second birthday, their stacking skills may progress to building larger, more elaborate towers. Around the same time, they may become interested in lining up their blocks. This is a brand new skill for your toddler and an exercise in precision. Much like stacking, lining up blocks or other playthings helps your child understand spatial relations and problem solving.
Your toddler’s interest in lining up objects is also part of the positioning schema, which develops around 2 years of age. Like other play schemas, the positioning schema is how your child learns about the world—specifically, how objects work together. They may become fascinated with putting items in their correct place and enjoy lining up toys or sorting them by color or size.
Encouraging creative stacking and lining up:
- Line up a “fence:” Toddlers may enjoy lining up a few blocks from The Block Set end-to-end in a row to make a fence for the animals in the Montessori Animal Match.
- Stack large on top of small: Stacking objects of different shapes and sizes, like couch pillows or food storage containers, lets your toddler experiment with trial and error. Stacking in size order, largest to smallest, will be easiest for them. For a challenge, they can try balancing a larger object on top of a smaller one.
- Follow a line: Using chalk outside, draw large shapes or a long line and encourage your toddler to place blocks along the lines.
Pretend play with building and stacking (27 to 36 months)
As your child approaches age 3, their stacking skills and block play will likely become more elaborate, creative, and imaginative. They may use their stacking skills to build bridges, archways, and tunnels, or sort the blocks and make patterns.
You may also notice your child begin to incorporate their stacking skills into pretend play. For example, they may tell stories about what they’re building or act out scenes from their life. During this stage, symbolic play can often become a big part of how they interact with objects. The blocks or other objects stacked together come to represent something else—a favorite playground or a grandparent’s house. This is a major step in your child’s cognitive development, setting the stage for language development, math, science, music, and symbolic thinking.
Developmental concerns with stacking
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75% of children are able to stack two blocks by around 15 months of age. Standard motor development milestones are based on averages and each child’s developmental path is unique. Your child’s ability to stack blocks is just one sign of their motor and cognitive development. If they haven’t shown any stacking skills (even with your modeling) by 15 months of age, consult your pediatrician, who can provide a full assessment of your child’s overall development and answer any questions.
Meet the Experts
Learn more about the Lovevery child development experts who created this story.
Research & Resources
Chen, Y. P., Keen, R., Rosander, K., & Von Hofsten, C. (2010). Movement planning reflects skill level and age changes in toddlers. Child Development, 81(6), 1846-1858.
Marcinowski, E. C., Nelson, E., Campbell, J. M., & Michel, G. F. (2019). The development of object construction from infancy through toddlerhood. Infancy, 24(3), 368-391.
Pruden, S. M., Levine, S. C., & Huttenlocher, J. (2011). Children’s spatial thinking: Does talk about the spatial world matter?. Developmental science, 14(6), 1417-1430.
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