Question: What happens when you add milk crates to a toddler playground?
Answer: Entrepreneurial spirit emerges! Creative thinking emerges! Risk taking and risk self-assessment are encouraged!
Outside Play BC…Before the Crates 😉
The typical childcare center has the typical metal climber with a slide, a tunnel, and musical accouterments attached. There may be an area of spongy type surface, perfect for running, bike riding, and rolling around. Most likely there are the typical toys: bikes, ball, trucks, hoops, etc.
Are you noticing any of the following behaviors in children that may indicate boredom?
- Fighting over the popular scooters and trucks,
- Tossing balls and hoops randomly aside,
- Milling aimlessly around the playground
- Rough or aggressive play
Simple solution: inject some new open-ended equipment that affords creative play, such as milk crates. Be amazed at how creative children can be as they discover them!
Read on to discover how a group of two year olds engaged in creative thinking, risk-taking, and entrepreneurial spirit, when 5 milk crates were introduced to their playground.
The first day the children discovered the addition of the crates, there was still some snow on the playground. 5 Children immediately grabbed a crate, turned it on its side, and began pushing the crate around the playground, plowing the snow! They were engaged in this activity for the majority of their scheduled 30 minutes play time.
Another creative use the children invented was to build a basketball hoop. They stacked 3 crates on top of each other, open end up, and began throwing a ball into the open end. The basket was as tall as the children, so getting the ball into the top crate was a challenge!
Now, not only were the crates being used creatively, the balls once again gained new life and interest because the children had created a new way to use the ball!
One of the most popular creations was creating steps to climb and from which to jump off! The children lined the crates up 3 in a row, then stacked a second crate on top of the middle crate. They stepped up on the first crate, climbed onto the stacked crates, then stepped back down to the lower crate.
A variation of this is one crate as a step, then 2 stacked crates upon which they climbed, then jumped off, assisted or unassisted! Gross motor skills, risk, and confidence all developed in one fun activity!
Remember that the children are between 2 and 3 years old!
Another favorite use of the crates was to use them to elevate their bodies, like a step stool. The children placed the crates at the musical instruments area of the climber and stood on the crates to play the drums, ring the chimes, and play the bells.
While they were quite capable of reaching the instruments from the ground or the climber, they enjoyed the difference in height that the crates provide.
The children also enjoyed lining the crates up, open end down, to create a bridge to walk across. Once they gained confidence in walking across the crates, either assisted or unassisted, the teacher began adding gaps between the crates to create the necessity of increasing their stride across the crates. As the gap widened, a hop or jump was necessary to transverse from one crate to the next. Again, as confidence developed and increased, the children were able to navigate the gaps without assistance!
Ramp it Up!
How might you extend the children’s interest and play with crates to keep it fresh?
Could you add additional crates, some 2x4s, and PVC piping to extend the crate play creativity and possibilities?
Oh the possibilities that 2-3 year olds can create!
If you do not have this awesome open-ended equipment on your playground, or in your yard, for your children, I highly recommend adding them. Start with a few and add more as interest develops.
Pay attention to how the children are using the crates, then brainstorm what types of materials you can add to extend their creativity with the crates.
Life skills developed through crate play include problem solving, negotiating/sharing, collaboration/teamwork, confidence, risk taking, and creative/critical thinking.
STEAM skills developed include engineering skills, and math skills. Construction with large equipment such as crates, PVC, and 2x4s foster the development of skills and problem solving that smaller block play does not. In addition, outdoor construction with large equipment develops gross motor skills and gives children a more expansive area in which to create and construct.
Children as young as 1 year can benefit from crate play. Start with one or two crates and watch how a young child will amuse and delight in imaginative and creative play!