Stacking Rings ~ A Simple Toy with a Mighty Mission

What would our lives be like without classification? Thanks, in part, to the popular stacking rings toy, we likely will never have to find out.

Think about it…we order and classify things every day to make our lives easier and more organized. The socks go in the sock drawer. The forks, knives, and spoons have their own slots in the silverware drawer. Plates and bowls are stacked by size. For those who really have their act together, shirts hang in the closet and are grouped by color. (That’s not me.) Grocery stores group similar foods and take refrigeration needs into consideration. Can you imagine if foods were simply presented alphabetically?

The ability to classify begins to develop much earlier than you might think. Infants as young as 3 months of age are starting to form a basic understanding of how to group, sort, categorize, and connect. For example, babies develop expectations for how humans and animals will act compared to nonliving objects. They distinguish between smiling and frowning faces, and they prefer the smiles.

At first, babies categorize things based on the similarities and differences they see with respect to color, size, shape, height, and so forth. Over time, children begin categorizing based on what things do or how they act.

Categorization and classification underlie many higher-order thinking skills. These include problem solving, remembering, making predictions, making inferences, and many more. When children learn to sort, they feel in control while making meaning of their world.

Stacking rings offer a great way for you to introduce your child to these key thinking skills. (And, the rings help develop fine-motor skills, too.) Many companies make stacking rings, and every set has its own subtle distinction from all others. But, most have certain common features: they consist of a set of 5-9 rings that are held together by a central post. Each ring is a different color and a different size. When placed on top of one another, in order from largest to smallest, they form a cone shape. Many sets have a small ball or other shape that sits atop the cone.

Best of all, stacking rings won’t break the bank.

Fisher-Price’s Rock-a-Stack stacking toy has five colorful rings and a bat-at rocker base. It is made from a minimum of 90% ethanol extracted from sugar cane. $7


When your baby is 4-5 months old and able to pick up and hold objects, it’s a good time to introduce stacking rings.

  • At first, simply describe the rings by their color or size characteristics, e.g., “Look at this ring. It is small and blue.”
  • Let your little one use both mouth and hands to explore how the stacker toy feels.
  • Your child may pick up one ring and bang it on another toy or surface. Narrate those actions. For example, you might say, “You’re banging the red ring on the carpet and it makes a soft sound. When you bang it on the orange ring, it makes a loud sound because both objects are hard.”
  • As your child grabs a new ring, label its size compared to the ring that was just handled. For example, you might say, “You grabbed the yellow ring. It’s bigger than the blue ring.”
  • Show your child how to stack the rings. Start by placing all the rings on the floor. Arrange them from biggest to smallest. Then, starting with the largest ring, begin putting the rings back on the post. Take your time and be purposeful in your movements as you go. Label the objects and your actions. For example, you might say, “First, the big, red ring goes on the bottom. This orange ring is just a little smaller, so it goes next.”
  • Give encouragement when your child successfully puts a ring on the post. Over time, your little one will learn more through experimentation than from you “fixing” the stack.

Each ring of the Sassy Stacks of Circles features a different texture and weight. The textural variety is great for mouthing. $9


  • Learning the characteristics of the rings will support your child’s developing ability to arrange them in order by size.So, as your little one plays freely with the stacker, describe the rings by their color or size characteristics. For example, you might point to the smallest ring and say, “Look at this ring. It is the smallest of all the rings. It is [color]. The [color] ring is just a little bigger.”
  • Use “on top of” and “under” when talking about the rings’ positions.
  • While playing with the stacking rings, challenge your child to find something—a toy, a pillow, a blanket, and so forth—that is the same color as one of the rings. Have your child take the ring to use as a reference when comparing and matching colors.

 Melissa & Doug’s Rainbow Stacker Classic Toy features eight smooth, easy-to-grasp wooden pieces to stack on a wood rocking base. $11


  • Gather up to 20 things that can be organized and sorted, e.g., plastic and plush animals, blocks, balls, and so forth. Put them in a pile.
  • Put all of the rings in another pile and say, “This pile will be for [hard/soft] (whichever the rings are) things.” Then, ask, “What other things from this other pile can you put with the rings?” Help your child compare which of the objects are hard and which are soft. Encourage your child to use the words “hard” and “soft” while sorting the object into two piles.
  • Invite your child to put the items in each pile in order by size. Help your little one use the words “biggest,” “smallest,” “smaller,” and so forth.
  • Next, invite your child to try stacking objects of different sizes. What happens when something larger gets stacked on top of something that is smaller?
  • Finally, ask your child these questions:

Would you rather eat the biggest or smallest cookie?

Would you rather carry the biggest or smallest rock?