The cardboard recycle bin is a goldmine of playful learning opportunities and you will find loads of inspiration in this collection of 10 easy ways for children to play with boxes.
Cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes are one of the most popular open ended play materials for children and they certainly don't require an activity sheet, expensive additional materials or adult input for children to lead their own play and create or explore....but sometimes it's also valuable to invite further engagement by adding some simple materials and other elements to the humble box to invite different opportunities to engage in 'out of the box' play experiences.
What are open ended play materials or 'loose parts'? Find out here.
5 Playful Learning Possibilities When Children Play With Boxes
Spatial Awareness & Exploration - testing their size by crawling in, through, around, over, and under things.
Calm with an Asensory Environment - boxes are perfect for children who don't cope with a lot of sensory stimulation. There isn't usually much noise, smell or changes in texture, in other words the sensory input a child is experiencing is subtle (and probably why many children find it calming to sit in a box with the flaps closed or just draw on the inside!)
Creative Self Expression - Using their imagination and unstructured creativity to reinvent, create and transform from one thing into another.
Decision Making & Problem Solving - Using these skills to put their ideas into action and interact socially with others as they create. Take care to give the children time to solve their problem and extend on these skills by failing first rather than stepping in and 'solving' it for them to quickly.
Challenge Physical Skills - Boxes invite the use of both large (gross) and small (fine) motor muscles and skills. Climbing, carrying, pushing, sliding, pulling, stacking...so many opportunities to get active!
No matter how you choose to introduce, setup or play with cardboard boxes, the essential and most important element remains the same when using this open ended material....let the process be the focus...not your expectations of a 'way to play' or 'finished product'.
Scroll down to see how other early childhood educators have been inviting children to play with boxes.
Sandra from our facebook group shared this idea using an old big box - a bit of paint, some golf tees and a hammer - what a fun fine motor activity idea for different ages!
Don't overthink it! There are some amazing box creations on Pinterest but Emma shared this picture of a large box that her children had so much fun playing in (there's 3 children in there playing in their box cubby!). Keep it simple.
Sai Family Daycare kindly let us share this picture of their cardboard box washing machine. I love how this was turned into a fun pretend role play activity - it even ended with them hangin up their 'wet' clothes on the washing line!
Helen shared this picture of play in action with us - chalk drawing on cardboard - simple but fun!
Janene showed us her box creation that has made an inviting dramatic play area. She used an upside down Ikea box and decorated it with animal bunting from Kmart.
Jannelle set up some big boxes outside, added some blankets and cushions and simply let the children direct their own play. What an inviting play space with very miminal set up.
Painting isn't just for paper - why not paint a box instead like Empowered Ed member Lorna set up for her children. When the paint is dry the children will no doubt then turn them into something else!
This cardboard creation is one of my favourites - using large sheets of cardboard taped together to create a vertical collage. This is such a great way to use up all of those items in your recyling/ junk collage containers. Thanks to Aimee in our Facebook group for sharing this idea.
Debra created a similar collage and regularly brings it out so her children can keep adding to it with paint and other craft materials. Don't you just want to get in there and add to the creativity!?
If you're up for some messy, sensory play then this colour mixing idea from Ronnie's Preschool is a whole lot of fun!
Just be aware that some sensory sensitive children will not like the paint on their feet or some will be happy to participate as long as there is a bucket of water close by they can keep cleaning their feet in before going back again!
For more great easy play ideas for early learning why not join our Facebook community where over 18,000 early childhood educators share their ideas and have a laugh together.
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.