Getting Started

Getting started AL collage

Join Our Mailing List

newsletter icon


We're on Pinterest!

Active Learning Pinterest board

Find great ideas for using Active Learning methods and equipment on our Pinterest page.

Stacking of objects is another key element to constructive play. Around the age of 12 to 15 months children begin to imitate an adult who is stacking objects. Although children without disabilities frequently start by stacking blocks, these objects can lack inspiration for a child with visual impairments. Blocks may also be too physically challenging for a child with cerebral palsy to hold. Try to introduce items for stacking that provide auditory or tactile inspiration. At first, the adult will do all of the stacking, and the child will knock the tower down. Eventually the child may attempt to place one item on top of another. Cups and saucers make great stacking blocks, especially when used on a resonance board.

Dureyea Stacking Plates and Cups

Notice how Dureyea motions for Sharlene to do most of the stacking, and Dureyea is knocking the tower down. Dureyea’s stacking skills are still emerging. A child without disabilities may learn to stack blocks or plates and cups, in just a few hours. But a child with multiple special needs may require years to learn such a skill. To keep a child’s interest, you may need to substitute new materials for the plates and cups. The only limitation is your imagination.

Downloads: Transcript (txt)

 Trevor Stacking Large Foam Blocks

While Trevor understands this game requires placing the blocks on top of one another, his ability to motor plan and understand what will happen if certain shaped blocks are used is still a skill to be further developed..

Downloads: Transcript (txt)

Trevor Stacking Magnetos

Notice how intently Trevor observes Patty stacking the magnetos before attempting to stack them himself. Magnetos are another alternative to blocks, as they provide different auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive feedback. They also do not tip over as easily, allowing Trevor to be more successful with stacking. This activity provides an opportunity for Trevor to problem solve which end of the magnet he should use in order to successfully stack them on top of each other..

Downloads: Transcript (txt)

From the age of eight months to about two years, children engage in banging games. Everyone can picture a child sitting at the dinner table banging his or her spoon on the high chair. Who hasn’t emptied out the pots and pans from a cupboard to have a child bang away on them with a wooden spoon? Children bang toy cars on walls, and bang toys on the side of the bathtub.

Banging games serve many purposes, including to: 

  • facilitate the child’s understanding of auditory qualities of objects and surfaces
  • enhance the child’s babbling, and later his or her vocalizations
  • enhance the development of muscle strength in the arms and hands
  • enhance the child’s knowledge about quantity
  • facilitate learning how to use a tool 

For a child with visual impairments, banging games are precursors for using a cane for ambulation.

When introducing banging games, it is important to observe the child in order to learn which kind of banging game would be the most beneficial. Does the child need to strengthen muscles, or does the child need to distinguish between auditory qualities? Does the child need to learn to use a tool? Some children with special needs become stuck in the stage of banging. They may head bang or bang the face or body with the hand. When you realize the role banging games have on learning to play constructively, you can guide a child through the Dynamic Learning Circle to use banging to explore new objects, in varied environments, and to play more constructively.

Importance of Banging Games

In this video, a boy is introduced to a new drum for the first time and he uses banging activities to learn about the auditory property of the drum. Observe the extension of the wrist and fingers. Banging the drum is important to build muscle strength for him, whose tone is influenced by spasticity.

Downloads: Transcript (txt)

Learning about the concept of quantity is important for constructive play. At an early age, a child kicks his or her legs or bangs on an object, and then takes a short break. A child can hold his hand fisted as one item, or separate the fingers to see five individual fingers. When emptying a container, a child may understand there are a few toys, or many. Between the ages of one and two, a child will start to hold more than one object in his or her hand. A child gains an awareness of counting by interacting with multiples of objects. Because a child with disabilities may have difficulty holding onto more than one toy at a time, care should be given to create an environment where multiples are available. In the Little Room, hang items in groups of at least two or three.

Provide Position Boards with items of many shapes and sizes. When filling containers, be sure to have various balls, sticks, cups, plates, tubes, and so forth. A child may learn about adding objects or removing objects by using a Velcro or magnetic board filled with a variety of objects. This is the basis for addition and subtraction. Only by providing a multitude of objects can a child with special needs truly understand quantity.

Oliver Learning About Quantity, Size, and Shapes

Oliver learns about quantity by exploring many balls.  In this activity he is also able to compare sizes sizes, containers of different shapes and sizes, and different sized openings. He begins to discover which objects will fit into which container.


Downloads: Transcript (txt)

BottlesBrushesThe ability to separate objects is the basis for being able to put things back together again. These are two key concepts needed to play constructively. From an early age, children should be given objects that will separate. Don’t immediately think of construction materials like snap beads or Duplo blocks for a child with disabilities, as these can be too difficult for a child with cerebral palsy to grasp or hold.

You can create simple items that come apart by hanging two items together. For example, attach two spoons together with a ring or elastic. When pushed or bat at, the spoons will make noise. When grasped, they can come apart into two separate spoons, but they will also go back together again when manipulated.

Many items can be created using rings, zip ties or elastic. Check out some of these ideas found under the Mateirals tab to get some ideas, and read, The Comprehending Hand, by Dr. Lilli Nielsen, which provides many examples of items that can be separated.

Here are just a few simple take apart materials:

  • Two nail brushes stuck together.
  • A bottle brush in a bottle.
  • Keys hanging together in a ring.
  • Measuring cups or spoons on a ring.
  • Magnetic items.
  • Velcro items; Velcro boards and vests.
  • Containers of all shapes, materials and sizes with, and without, lids.

A child will always take apart before putting back together, so initially the adult will need to refill the container, reassemble the object, or attach the lid to the container. The child with special needs requires that the adult to do this many, many times to allow the child to repeat the skill of separating.

Because children learn though imitation, allow the child to feel, hear and see, if possible, what you are doing. Over time, the child may then attempt to imitate your actions. It is important to stress that you learn to separate, before you learn to put back together. Avoid using hand over hand techniques. These actions control a child’s activity instead of encouraging independent engagement.

Dureyea taking objects apart

By pulling wooden shapes off dowel rods, Dureyea is practicing taking apart. Only after he removes all of the shapes, does he then discover how to rotate the shapes in order to drop them back onto the dowel rod to begin practicing putting back together.


Downloads: Transcript (txt)

Adrianna pouring and refilling

Pouring is also separating. A child will never fill his or her glass with milk, if the child is not allowed to dump out the contents of a container, and then refill it. Adrianna practices refilling and pouring rice and beans onto noise-making surfaces. Toward the end of the video Adrianna attempts to fill a pop-tube with objects that were too big in diameter. This activity provided an opportunity for her to learn about what shape, and what size objects, effectively fit into or fill a container.


Downloads: Transcript (txt)

Katy Explores Objects Strung Together

In this next video of Katy, she is provided with a container full of objects. The items are of different materials, shapes and sizes and they have been strung together in groups of two or three with elastic and rings. Katy is still in the oral motor phase of exploring objects, however, stringing the items together allows for her to feel that there is more than one item present. Items can be transferred from hand-to-hand or hand-to-mouth. They can come apart or go together, be thrown, mouthed, pushed, scratched or discarded. 


Downloads: Transcript (txt)