It’s funny what themes hit me as I walked through the International Toy Fair in New York City last February. I tend to see beyond the obvious, STEM, collectables, robots–at the finer tuned changes in toys. This year I wanted to write a blog about new ways to use stacking blocks for kids.

I’ve always been a fan of beautifully illustrated stacking cardboard blocks because kids love to pile them up and knock them down. As a speech language pathologist, I am looking for potential for great story-telling using the blocks as parents come along side their children and enter into their play, talking about the scenes as the kids select the blocks. Here are some very innovative, new ways to play with stacking blocks!

Janod Stacking Pyramid–City Friends delights kids with scenes from the city where 9 animal families live.  Each side of the cube is a mini story, two mice having a little kiss outside the elevator, a donkey washing his hands, a tiger looking at the flower shop, a panda baking a pie or a giraffe working out, to name a few! The blocks can be ordered 1-10, teaching numbers and sequence, or matched by color to learn beginning colors. One of my favorites is tiger and bunny having a cup of coffee together. Kids can’t wait to crash it down but guess what? That’s okay because now we can build horizontally. We joined our cubes to make a city scape with mouse roller skating past a store, bunny talking on her cell phone and elephant offering fresh squeezed lemonade. There is such a huge opportunity to describe setting and action with the animals walking through the city. Parents will love to join the play as there is much to contribute by describing each cube that their child places down and is looking at. After our masterpiece we get to swat at it and start over too!

Where’s Bear? by Peaceable Kingdom became a favorite game with our preschoolers. Good question! Where IS bear is what we asked our 2 year-old friend. We began with playing with the beautiful blocks, chocked full of items associated with different rooms in Bear’s house–bathroom, kitchen, living room, play room, bedroom and the base is his back yard. Older brother and sister loved stacking the blocks for play but we spread them out for 2-year old brother. Everyone said hide your eyes and one player hid the bear under a block. Then we modeled, “Where is Bear?” “Is he under here?” “No” or “Yes.” There is so much language learning as a parent or sibling models asking questions and answering them. Of course Bear was the hit of the game, “Hello Bear,”  our 2 year-old liked the bear so much he made off with it and acted out some fun in the kitchen, “I go find a bear.” “Put up up up,” as Bear walked up the refrigerator and “I walk” as he moved along the kitchen floor. “Look Bear, come back!” This game can clearly grow with a child. His 4 year-old siblings loved it and played in a bit more traditional way, stacking them by size, making everyone close their eyes, and hiding the bear for the reveal. We even started asking our questions based on the items in a room, “Is the bear in the room with the crayons?” or “Is the bear in the room with the potty?” On top of each block are several objects pictured to find on that block. Kids learn vocabulary associated with rooms in the house and daily living besides so many grammatical structures like asking and answering questions, all on top of having loads of fun playing with the family!

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Hape’s “Stacking Music Set” can be stacked or placed horizontally as kids are invited to play each block that holds a musical instrument–xylophone, washboard, drum, cymbal and shaker. When they say, stack, they mean it since after a concert, kids can nest each block and carry away the set with a handle. Research links language and musical processing as they engage in similar areas of the brain. Experimenting with beat, rhythm, and tone, kids are building listening and discrimination skills for language learning. (available in the fall)