One inch cubes…the staple of every assessment kit in early intervention. What is so important about stacking 1 inch cubes?? Is it really important that a toddler is able to stack a tower of these tiny blocks?? Should you actually teach a child to do this? My answer to this last question is NO. Here’s why.
Stacking 1 in cubes is a test item on cognitive and fine motor assessments because of what it tells us about a child’s abilities. If a child can stack a tower of cubes, he has the abilities to manipulate the small cubes with his little fat fingers and palm which is not an easy task. He can use his eye-hand coordination to pick up the cubes and keep them in his grasp. He can then motor plan how to combine cubes in a vertical plane, placing them on top of each other so that they remain balanced in place. He is able to follow the direction and pay attention long enough to complete the task. He may have held a cube in each hand at the same time, transferred a cube from one hand to the other. Stacking cubes is an activity we use to help a child demonstrate these abilities that I’ve just mentioned (and there are probably more). It’s not an extremely important developmental task unto itself. So why do IFSPs still have goals about “stacking a 5 block tower?”
It’s easy to misinterpret the importance of items on a test. Early interventionists must learn to separate out the underlying developmental abilities from the test item because when a child misses a test item, we need to figure out why, what skills and abilities does the child not have yet? If he could not stack the blocks, maybe he isn’t attending long enough? Maybe he knows what to do but can’t motor plan how to do it? Maybe he’s struggling with spatial tasks? Maybe his grasp is immature? Maybe he wasn’t sitting in a stable enough position to coordinate such a fine motor activity? We then want to think about how problems with these abilities impacts his daily life and find ways to help him address these issues – rather than having him practice stacking 1-in cubes.
It’s very likely that you will support a toddler who has trouble with stacking blocks. Here are a few strategies for working on stacking, grasping, eye-hand coordination, etc. that might help – without the assistance of 1 inch cubes:
Be sure the child is sitting in a stable position with trunk control so that he can use his hands for play, particularly if there are concerns with his muscle tone. Encourage him to sit on his bottom rather than in squatting. Have him try sitting in a high chair to play.
Throughout the day, the parent could make items of different sizes available for the child to grasp and move. Have the child help clean up his left over food after snack by putting it in a bowl. Offer snacks of different (safe) sizes to practice grasping. Clean up small and large toys at the end of the day. Help the child turn pages in a book. Help him manipulate the small doors, buttons, and switches on interactive toys.
Work Backwards to Teach Eye-Hand Coordination
Help the child be successful at activities that require him to motor plan and use his eye-hand coordination. If he likes the many toys that have balls or shapes to fit in holes, put the item barely in the hole and let him push it the rest of the way in. Once he can do this, put the item near the hole and help him fit it in. Work backwards to teach him how to do the steps involved in putting fitting the shapes in the hole (or mail in the plastic mail slot, car in the garage, etc).
Stacking and Building Games
Stacking games can be fun but they don’t have to be done with 1 inch cubes. Encourage the parent to let the child play in the cabinet stacking veggie cans, pudding boxes, cups, etc. Give stacking a purpose such as building a bridge for his cars to go under (or crash into – way more fun). Some children never stack cubes and develop to be just fine. For others, it can be an important sign of other concerns that can be addressed through naturalistic intervention.
I hope this post helps you think about the link between assessment items, IFSP goals, and intervention activities. When considering assessment results and writing IFSP goals with families, think about what a missed skill tells you about the child’s development. Break that skill down into its parts and think broadly. Target the underlying skills and abilities the child needs to learn. Develop strategies with the family that address these learning needs using different, interesting materials in lots of different ways. Use the 1 inch cubes for the assessment then put them back in the bag!
What are your thoughts on stacking blocks and development? How do you use information from the assessment to inform intervention?