Expert Articles

STEM Exploration for Infants and Toddlers – Building Blocks

Author: Ms Ruoyu Wen,
Lecturer at Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education

Building blocks are a timeless toy that promotes various aspects of development in infants and toddlers. Even from a very young age, babies are naturally drawn to building blocks. They enjoy grasping them with their hands, feeling the blocks in their mouths, or tapping them to hear sounds. As their motor skills, especially fine motor skills, develop, their block play becomes more complex and sophisticated.

What can infants and toddlers learn from playing with building blocks?
  • Block play provides rich opportunities for infants and toddlers to develop their physical, cognitive, mathematical, scientific, and socio-emotional skills. When infants reach out to grab, knock down, or stack blocks, they are practicing their hand-eye coordination. As they figure out how to grasp, tap, stack, and move blocks, their fine motor skills and gross motor skills will develop.
  • When adults play with blocks together with infants and toddlers, it helps reinforce the concept of object permanence (understanding that objects exist even when they can’t be seen, heard, touched, smelled, or felt), laying the foundation for continued cognitive development.
  • When infants and toddlers show surprise and anticipation while playing with blocks, or when they become frustrated when their block towers topple over and then learn to calm themselves down, it indicates that they are developing their emotional regulation skills. Block play provides many opportunities for infants and toddlers to cultivate problem-solving abilities, imagination, perseverance, and confidence.
  • Block play also promotes development in different learning domains, such as understanding object properties, exploring how to maintain balance with blocks (science), sorting, comparing, and using positional words (mathematics), and constructing symmetrical shapes (art).
Stages of Block Play for Infants and Toddlers

Stage 1: Carrying

Infants between 0-2 years old do not engage in “building” with blocks but rather enjoy moving blocks from one place to another or tapping them. As adults, you can:

  • Encourage infants and toddlers to explore the texture and features of the blocks. 
    “Do they feel smooth or rough?” 
    “What are the similarities or differences between these two blocks?”

  • Provide materials for infants and toddlers to carry blocks, such as boxes or baskets.
    “How many blocks can you put in the box?”
    “What can you use to move these blocks?”

Stage 2: Building

Around 2–3 years old, toddlers start building with blocks by stacking them vertically or horizontally. During this stage, toddlers begin to understand concepts like “up” and “down” through block stacking. As adults, you can:

  • Practice counting with toddlers by asking questions. 
    “How many blocks did you stack?” 
    “How many floors does your tower have?” 
  • Reinforce spatial concepts with positional words: up, down, close to, besides, and on top of. 
    “You placed the red block on top of the blue block.” 
    “The car went through the gap between two blocks.”

Stage 3: Bridging

Around 3 years old, toddlers start attempting to bridge two blocks or other objects, creating a “bridge.” As adults, you can:

  • Let toddlers try placing a block on top of two vertically positioned blocks and maintaining the stability of the “bridge.” 
  • Encourage toddlers to think about what else can be placed on the bridge and how to position it.
  • Encourage toddlers to build a “tunnel” as an alternative to a bridge and reinforce the concept of “underneath.” 
What can adults do when playing with infants and toddlers?
  • Provide a stable and flat surface for playing with blocks, such as a low table or the floor. 
  • Add open-ended materials around the block play area to engage toddlers in various game scenarios, such as different boxes, animal toys, farm animals, construction vehicles, etc. 
  • Display pictures of buildings or structures near the block play area. 
  • Provide containers of various sizes for pouring and filling blocks. 
  • Provide woven baskets or transparent storage containers for easy cleanup of blocks. 
  • Take photos of toddlers’ structures while they are building and display the photos in an easily visible place for them.
  • Avoid excessive intervention in toddlers’ play, but offer timely help and guidance when they are about to lose patience or encounter frustration.
How does block play relate to STEM?

S (Science): Experimenting with different types of blocks to produce interesting sounds, experiencing the effects of gravity and balance, understanding cause-and-effect relationships, etc.

T (Technology): Using various tools to connect blocks.

E (Engineering): Engaging in iterative trials, learning how to build taller structures.

M (Mathematics): Noticing similarities and differences between objects; matching, grouping, classifying; developing spatial concepts through stacking and building with blocks.


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STEM Exploration for Infants and Toddlers - Building Blocks