Skill Building Through Play

In this article, you will find:

Hand-eye coordination

Hand-Eye Coordination

Toys that challenge your toddler's ability to manipulate objects will provide her with practice using her hands and seeing how they work. Your child will be amazed to discover that hands can build (and take apart), stack (and knock down), and put one thing inside of another (and take it out).


Toddlers especially like large blocks, which allow them a feeling of power as they build towers as large as themselves. Large cardboard bricks do the trick. You can construct lightweight blocks by filling old diaper boxes with newspaper and taping them shut.


Always supervise your child when she's playing with a balloon. If it pops, it will not only startle your child, but also become a choking hazard.

  • By about 15 months, your toddler will probably be able to build a three-block tower—or line up five or six blocks in a row. Blocks of various kinds are very versatile learning tools (as well as fun toys).
  • Toys that fit together also let your toddler practice new manipulative skills. Stacking and nesting cups (which also can be used to build a tower) are classics. Six or eight plastic bowls of the same size work especially well for the early "nester," because they can fit together in any order.
  • Your toddler will enjoy filling and dumping containers, too: sand buckets, plastic bottles, shape molds, and those same stacking cups and plastic bowls.
    Your child will love experimenting with the different properties of water, sand, and snow that she discovers through filling and pouring. She can practice these skills in the bathtub or kiddie pool, a sandbox, or even a large pan filled with uncooked rice.
  • Wooden (or plastic) jigsaw puzzles will give your toddler lots of practice at complex hand-eye coordination. At first, choose puzzles that have a knob on each piece, which will make it easier for your child to grasp and rotate. Besides helping improve your toddler's manual dexterity, puzzles can increase your child's understanding and appreciation of different shapes.
    But don't wander off when your child's doing a puzzle. She may initially need your help figuring out how to turn and fit the pieces. Or you may want to help by sorting pieces and limiting your child's choices-which may cut down on her frustration level while still allowing her to do the puzzle herself. Even when she insists on doing it herself, your toddler will probably show more patience and persistence if you stay with her and cheer her on.
  • As your toddler nears her second birthday, a shape box (a box with cut-outs on the sides for inserting different shaped blocks) is also terrific for improving manual dexterity. Like jigsaw puzzles, however, shape boxes demand mastery of a complex set of skills: Your child not only has to match the shape of a hole and the shape of a piece; he also needs to rotate her wrist to fit the piece through the hole.
  • Your child will start sorting objects (though not always according to a classification you will understand) in the second half of her second year. What's alike? What's different? Your toddler may organize all her balls or stuffed animals. Or she may separate all the cows from the pigs in a toy farm set.
  • Though your child probably can't catch yet, that doesn't mean you should ignore the play possibilities of balls. Given a large enough ball (about half the size of a beach ball—or a beach ball itself), your toddler can kick it, roll it, and stop it with her hands when you roll it back.
    A large balloon also makes a great lightweight ball that cannot hurt your child. Your toddler can spend lots of time trying to catch it—or at least keep it up in the air by chasing it down and swatting it. If you add a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels, you'll have a perfectly safe bat and ball set for indoor or outdoor play.