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Big box, little box

ecycled materials are a mainstay in early childhood classrooms. And boxes—big and small—offer opportunities for inexpensive activities that support development and encourage discovery and creativity.
Build your collection of boxes with the help of the families of the children in your care. Make your needs clear—otherwise every inch of storage space will be taken. Plan ahead and use the bulletin board or parent newsletter to post “Box wanted” notices. Indicate the size you need and when you need it.
Of course, you’ll want to keep some boxes on hand for daily use. Maximize space by breaking down the single-piece boxes and storing them flat against a wall or in a closet. Nest boxes with separate lids, keeping lid and bottom together.
Wooden boxes and crates make great classroom storage containers—for paper to recycle, stuffed animals, doll beds, and bookcases. Remove splinters with sandpaper, and paint or varnish.

Shape sorters
(Infants and toddlers)
Here’s what you need:
shoe boxes with lids
craft knife
colored, adhesive-backed plastic
lightweight wooden shapes (square, circle, heart, or triangle, for example), at least 2 inches across, available at craft and hobby stores

1. Cover the top and bottom of a shoe box with adhesive-backed plastic.
2. Trace one shape, such as a square, on the lid of the shoe box, making sure the lines are slightly larger than the shape.
3. Cut the shape from the lid.
4. Do the same with the other shapes and boxes.
5. Show children how to fit a wooden shape into the hole, remove the box top, take out the shape, replace the top, and repeat the activity.
6. With infants, use one shape at a time. Toddlers will appreciate a collection of shape boxes with matching wooden shapes.

Texture boards
(Infants and toddlers)
Here’s what you need:
corrugated cardboard, at least 3 feet square
liquid tempera paint
pairs of textured fabric pieces, such as burlap, corduroy, satin, fake fur, and sequined pieces
collection basket

1. Plan a paint activity and ask the children to cover the cardboard with paint.
2. When the paint is dry, tape the cardboard to a wall low to the floor.
3. Glue one piece in each pair of textured fabric pieces to the board.
4. Put the matching piece of fabric in the collection basket.
5. Help infants touch the different fabrics. Tell about the texture and color. Encourage toddlers to match the fabric in the basket with its mate on the board.
Extension: Add additional textures like rope, ribbon, jar lids, and twigs to the board.

In all directions
When toddlers hold something in their hands, they feel steadier on their feet. Use this activity to teach coordination and balance as well as some new vocabulary.
Here’s what you need:
small boxes

1. Gather the toddlers in an open space—indoors or out.
2. Give each child a small box.
3. Ask the children to place the box on the cheek, shoulder, stomach, floor, elbow, and over the head. Do each motion as you say it.

Sensory box
(Infants and toddlers)
Here’s what you need:
cardboard carton, clean and sturdy, at least 2 feet square
non-breakable mirror
textured household objects such as keys, film canisters, rope, picture postcards, photos, metal spoons, thread spools, and shower curtain rings
packing tape
permanent colored markers
trash bags

1. Fill a trash bag with sand and knot the bag.
2. Place the sand bag in the box. The bag will weigh down the box so it doesn’t tip over easily.
3. Tape the box closed.
4. Gather sensory objects that are safe and large enough not to be a choking hazard.
5. Glue the mirror to the top of the box, and the other sensory objects around the four sides.
6. Decorate the space between the objects with permanent markers.
7. Place the box on the classroom floor—or bring it outside. Encourage infants to look at and touch the objects. Help toddlers name the objects.
8. Check the box daily to make sure the objects are firmly attached.

Personal collection boxes
(Toddler and older)
Here’s what you need:
large laundry detergent boxes with hinged lids and handles, one for each child in the group
liquid tempera paint
collage supplies

1. Invite the children to paint their boxes.
2. Let the paint dry.
3. Invite the children to personalize the boxes with decorations from the collage supplies.
4. Encourage the children to use the boxes for fill-and-dump activities.
5. Take a nature walk around the playground. Invite the children to collect twigs, leaves, feathers, or rocks.
6. Invite the children to show their collections to their parents.
Note: Add handles of heavy cotton rope if necessary. Use an awl or ice pick to punch holes on the sides of the box. Cut rope about 12 inches long. Knot one end and thread from the inside of the box. Push the rope through the second hole (from the outside) and knot on the inside.

Feelings cube
(Toddlers and older)
Here’s what you need:
small, cube-shaped box
old magazines
clear, adhesive-backed plastic

1. Cut out pictures of children from the magazines. Look for pictures of children who are laughing, crying, frowning, pouting, and expressing anger and fear.
2. Trim the pictures to fit the six sides of the box.
3. Glue the pictures in place.
4. Cover the box with clear, adhesive-backed plastic.
5. Talk about the pictures. Invite the children to look at and imitate the emotions of the children pictured.
Variation: Make similar boxes with pictures of colors, occupations, familiar flowers, or family photos that children can identify and name.

Book box
(Toddlers and older)
Here’s what you need:
large, long, sturdy box such as a refrigerator or file cabinet packing box
liquid tempera paint
soft area rug or quilt

1. Cut off one long side of the box.
2. Invite the children to paint the sides of the box.
3. After the paint is dry, add a sign that says “Book box.”
4. Place the decorated box in a quiet area of the classroom or a sheltered area on the playground.
5. Add a rug to the floor and pillows across the back.
6. Invite children to bring books to the book box for quiet reading and play.
Variation: Add soft stuffed toys to make the space more cozy and inviting. Make a similar single-person book space with a cylinder or barrel-shaped box. Cut an opening near the base of the box.