I have been working with the 2-3 yr olds in my current early learning center for about 3 months now. About 2 months ago, I asked my director if we could add some milk crates to the toddler playground. We acquired 5 crates and the fun immediately began!
Outside Play BC…Before the Crates 😉
My center has the typical metal climber with a slide, a tunnel, and musical accouterments attached. The surface is a squishy spongy type surface, perfect for running, bike riding, and rolling around! We also have some seated scooters, trucks, hoola hoops, and balls. I had noticed that the children were getting bored with the toys, fighting over the popular scooters and trucks, and tossing the balls and hoops randomly aside, lacking interest in their possibilities.
I asked for the addition of the milk crates. I had seen some lying around in the kitchen, not being utilized. I know the importance of open-ended equipment and thought the crates would afford some creative play. I was ecstatic the minute the children discovered them!
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 our 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 are 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, and still popular months later, is creating steps to climb and from which to jump off! The children line the crates up 3 in a row, then stack a second crate on top of the middle crate. They step up on the first crate, climb onto the stacked crates, then step back down to the lower crate.
A variation of this is one crate as a step, then 2 stacked crates upon which they climb, then jump 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 is to use them to elevate their bodies, like a step stool. The children place the crates at the musical instruments area of the climber and stand on the crates to play the drums, ring the chimes, and play the bells.
While they are quite capable of reaching the instruments from the ground or the climber, they enjoy the difference in height that the crates provide.
The children also enjoy 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, I began adding gaps between the crates to create the necessity of increasing their stride across the crates. As I widened the gap, a hop or jump was necessary to transverse from one crate to the next. Again, as confidence develops and increases, the children are able to navigate the gaps without assistance!
Ramp it Up!
Crate play has not waned in the 2 month that the children have had access to them. In fact, as the weather turns warmer and we are outdoors more often and more consistently, I anticipate crate play to increase.
My plans are to add an additional 5 crates, as we typically have 8 – 10 children outside at a time, and some 2x4s and PVC piping to extend the crate play creativity and possibilities.
We have 5 tires “planted” in the grassy area of the playground. Once the ground dries out a bit, the crates can be utilized in the grass, in combination with the tires, PVC, and 2x4s! Oh the possibilities that these 2-3 year olds will 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!