Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Improves Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development Development

Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Activities Improve Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development

This article provides information on the benefits of cup stacking activities and the impact it can have on brain building for higher learning. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.

I recently walked into an after school program of five and 6-year-olds and saw a large group of kids sitting on the floor, huddled close in somewhat of a circle around a child that was moving cups quickly and stacking them on top of each other. She was forming the cups in a triangle or pyramid shape. Everyone in the room was having fun and they were all laughing and extremely engaged with the activity.

We often use this same activity at our center to help students build a foundation for learning. Cup stacking has many benefits for cognitive development and targets specific areas of the body and the brain to increase intelligence, problem solving skills and critical thinking.

Jean Blaydes Madigan, founder of Action Based Learning and author of Thinking on Your Feet says, “What makes us move, makes us think. New learning follows established motor patterns first before it is stored in the cortex. Therefore, if we teach our students to move better, the better thinkers they will become…Information that is arranged in patterns is more easily processed, retained and retrieved.”

Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Activities Improve Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development | ilslearningcorner.com

Photo credit: http://addins.whig.com/blogs/betweenthelens/2012/06/ellington-school-cup-stacking/cup-stacking-2

Cup Stacking for Crossing the Midline

Cup stacking or speed stacking is surprisingly an individual sport where kids all over the world compete to beat their best time. However, what most children and adults don’t realize is the learning benefits that come with these types of activities. This fun and intense game actually “forces” the child to cross the midline with their hands as well as their eyes, which engages the right and left hemispheres of the brain needed for higher learning concepts. As more children participated in these activities in school, teachers and physical education specialists started to notice a difference in the students’ development of language skills, math sequences and problem solving.

Visual Processing and Reading Development

What many teachers and educators may not know is the impact cup stacking also has on a child’s visual processing skills and reading ability. Because the child is moving their hands so quickly, their eyes must also track the cups and the movement of their hands as they participate in the activity. The eyes naturally cross the midline to accomplish this task. These skills are very important for reading and writing development. It allows the child to track words across the page and read from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph. It also forces children to process information more quickly through their vision system, which allows them to process and retain information quicker in the classroom.

A study, conducted by Shirlene Davis at the University of North Carolina, evaluated differences in STAR Reading Test Scores for those that participated in cup stacking and those who did not. The study found children that used cup stacking activities achieved higher scores in reading after the experiment was complete. The results concluded that the brain-based activity of cup stacking may have contributed to the increase in the achievement of reading development.

“Eye-tracking exercises and peripheral vision development help reading. When students watch screens, their eyes lock in constant distant vision and the muscles that control eye movement atrophy…Tracking exercises, manipulatives, navigation activities and target games exercise the eye muscles, making the eyes fit to read.” (Madigan)

Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Activities Improve Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development | ilslearningcorner.com

Hand-Eye Coordination and Bilateral Coordination

In another research finding, students’ hand-eye coordination and reaction time increased after participating in a five-week cup stacking physical education program at school. Cup stacking allows the child to use both hands in motion together (bilateral coordination). Increasing bilateral proficiency helps the brain develop on the right side as well as the left. In many cases, the right side of the brain loses out in day-to-day functions so this activity builds an increase of awareness, creativity and focus, which are all housed in the right hemisphere of the brain.

Because cup stacking activities become more about speed overtime, the child’s hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination must become more accurate and precise. This means your child’s reaction time must become faster and they must retain visual information much quicker. These skills are necessary for helping children take exams and tests. Many of them are timed tests and become more difficult as they get older. Cup stacking can help a child process and comprehend information on their exams faster and more accurately so they can retrieve the details needed to select the best answer to the question or problem.

Sequencing and Patterning

Sequencing and patterning are also elements of cup stacking that build math skills. When kids practice ordering and sequencing they build foundational skills for mathematical learning. As you learn more about the rules in cup stacking, there is an order and sequence each child must follow to correctly complete the exercise. Remembering sequences and patters helps students remember sequences and numbers within math problems as well, especially in geometry and trigonometry. It builds a strong foundation for problem solving and critical thinking. Children who are proficient in sequencing and patterning will have an advantage with building their math knowledge.

Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Activities Improve Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development | ilslearningcorner.com

How it Works

If you have a child that is struggling in any one of these areas above, you can start your child out by stacking only three cups at a time to strengthen these areas of development before moving on to more complicated exercises. It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult and they can go at their own speed until they build the skills necessary to go faster. As your child begins to grasp the concept of cup stacking, have them follow the rules by stacking the cups from right to left or left to right depending on their dominant hand. The goal is to encourage those sequences and patterns for better learning development.

There are specially designed cups as you see here for cup stacking activities. The holes in the cups allow the child to stack and unstack the cups more quickly and efficiently, which is why regular glasses or plastic cups won’t work. Your child can stack the cups in sequences of three, six or 10-cup pyramids. When your child is ready, you can time them or you can get a table with a timer like you see here. Children can also play in teams or against another classmate. The ability to play the game alone as well as against another person or team makes it unique.

Cup Stacking in the Classroom

During the winter months or when children get wrestles in the classroom, cup stacking can be the perfect came to play with your students. This type of activity involves everyone and it enhances each child’s attention and focus. Because the child has to concentrate so much on stacking the cups, it trains the brain and the body to stay focused for longer periods of time in their desk and while they listen to the teacher. Studies have also shown that activities that use both right and left sides of the brain can improve concentration and problem solving skills. These activities actually increase blood flow to all parts of the brain, which increase energy, thereby making the student more alert.

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Cup Stacking: Studies Show Cup Stacking Activities Improve Reading Test Scores and Cross-Patterning Brain Development | ilslearningcorner.com


Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs


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