Constructive Play Basics

When thinking about a child playing constructively, the image of using lego blocks to build a spaceship, or shaping sand into a sandcastle on the beach, may come to mind. These two tasks are extremely complex. The skills necessary to complete these activities require years of experimentation and repetition to achieve.

Children should be given the basic building blocks to play constructively at a young age. Understanding how each of these skills emerge is imperative. Constructive play skills build on each other.  Here is a typical progression of skills related to constructive play:

    • Put one object inside another
    • Move objects from one hand to the other
    • Place objects between spaces, isolate fingers, find tiny holes in objects
    • Place small objects into openings
    • Remove objects from a container
    • Place objects back inside a container
    • Move objects from one container to another
    • Place objects on top of one another

Constructive play begins with a child first learning to put one object inside another. As a child gains fine and gross motor skills, he or she becomes able to move objects from one hand to another. The child places objects between spaces, isolates a finger, and finds tiny holes in objects.

A toddler stack rings on a peg in order of size.
A toddler stack rings on a peg in order of size.

Eventually the child begins to place small objects into openings. As a child becomes more skilled he or she may begin to remove objects from containers, which leads to placing objects back into containers, moving objects from one container to another, and placing objects on top of one another.

Children may initiate stacking with two objects at about one and a half years of age. Complex stacking and building structures begin after a child reaches two years of age and older. The ability to adjust the position of an object, depending on its surroundings, leads to being able to work a shape sorter or puzzle, build a tower with blocks, and snapping beads together.

The ability to play constructively builds on earlier learned skills and follows a developmental progression. The key developmental elements to playing constructively include:

    • Putting one object into another one
    • Separating simple construction toys
    • Playing banging and sequencing games
    • Playing pouring and quantity games
    • Emptying a box with toys and objects
    • Filling a box with toys and objects
    • Stacking objects
    • Putting two or more objects together
    • Arranging objects in particular orders
    • Using tools for constructing new devices

Dynamic Learning Circle

It is important to remember the stages of the Dynamic Learning Circle, so that you can identify and eliminate barriers, fill in missing gaps, and promote continued learning.

Constructive play requires fine motor skills, gross motor skills, problem solving, flexible thinking, the ability to plan, the ability to test ideas, perseverance, and the ability to work with others. With its rich capacity to teach children, constructive play is an important part of any Active Learning environment. Key elements should be introduced early in life, and evolve over time to promote continued learning.

Webinar on Constructive Play

Original webcast date: 1/24/2019
Description: This webinar on Constructive Play is presented by Patty Obrzut and Jessica McCavit, Occupational Therapists at Penrickton Center for Blind Children in Taylor, Michigan.



Constructive Play Basics pin for ALS on Pinterest shows a toddler stacking plates and cups with adult support.