You notice your little one sitting on the floor looking at her box of blocks. After several seconds, she picks it up, turns it upside-down, and watches the blocks spill to the floor. You watch as she places each block back in the box, only to flip it over and spill them again.
She might repeat this activity several times, carefully watching the blocks each time. What’s going on in her brain?
A lot, actually! Once babies begin to sit up with help or on their own, they have a whole new world at their fingertips. There are suddenly more objects to grab and more ways to play. Filling up containers with objects and dumping them out is one of the new ways your little one will start to explore.
This activity isn’t just for fun; it also helps your child develop and teaches her important concepts.
How Emptying & Filling Skills Develop
Your baby starts to grasp objects around the three-month mark, but it won’t be until about age 9 months that she will start clumsily dropping objects into containers. Before then, she’ll build up this skill by picking up and handling objects to look at them more closely, feel their textures and shapes, and move objects from one hand to another.
Once your toddler starts developing more hand-eye coordination, you’ll see her become more accurate with object placement. She’ll be able to target a container and place an object inside. Soon after, her curiosity will encourage her to see what happens if she dumps everything back out of the container.
The Benefits of Dumping & Filling Back Up
What, exactly, do these newfound skills teach your toddler? Dumping and filling activities seem simple, but they enhance a lot of critical skills:
They build fine motor control.
The more your toddler handles and manipulates objects, the more developed her fine motor skills become. Filling up a box or bucket requires control over her fingers, hands, and wrists. Using different-sized containers and objects (including water and sand) help her use different types of grasps and levels of fine-motor control.
They teach cognitive skills, such as cause and effect, problem-solving, gravity, and spatial awareness.
One of the reasons your toddler is so into filling and dumping is because she’s fascinated by what happens after dumping a container. Her brain processes a lot of information when it occurs, like what happens to the objects, whether they fall the same way each time, and what she needs to do to get them back in. The result: She learns about cause-and-effect and problem-solving.
What’s more, dumping and filling containers teaches her about gravity, and spatial concepts like inside, outside, next to, and on top of.
They develop hand-eye coordination.
When your toddler places objects into a container, she needs to coordinate what her eyes see with what her hands do. In other words, she’s building her hand-eye coordination, which will eventually help her write her name, catch a ball, and tie her shoes.
They teach beginning math concepts.
Your little one experiments when she fills and dumps. She’ll learn that, eventually, a container’s volume will fill to capacity, and objects will fall out. She’ll see that taking toys out of a bucket makes it less full than before, and adding toys makes more. These are beginning math concepts that you can help her understand by giving her explanations as she plays. For example, you can say, “You took three blocks out. Now there is only one left. If I put one in, that makes two!”
They boost focus.
Filling and emptying activities require your toddler to focus on what she’s doing. Because there is so much to learn, these activities keep many toddlers occupied and focused for a while! You can extend playtime and hold her attention span by joining in.
You can find ideas for fun filling and emptying games in our BabySparks development program!