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4 Important Skills Your Child is Learning with Containers

April 27, 2021

Grab your finished yogurt containers, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and plastic storage containers to play and learn! Containers are not only helpful for storing leftover food but they are also a fun and educational toy! Plastic containers, jars, and boxes are examples of loose parts and can be used to learn and practice all sorts of important skills. On this page you will see 4 important skills your child is learning with containers along with activities to support their learning.

Small Muscle Skills

When children open and close, hold, build with, or carry containers, they are strengthening and developing the muscles in their fingers and hands. These are the same muscles they will one day use to write their name, paint a picture, zip up their coats, and tie their shoes.

Woman opening container to show how children are learning with containers.

Containers as Loose Parts

Add containers with snap and twist lids to your child’s play! You can give them multiple containers at one time or add a few containers to their toys. Practice opening and closing the containers, placing things inside, dumping them out, and more!

Math Skills

Containers are great for developing all sorts of math skills and math concepts. For instance, sorting the containers from biggest to smallest or stacking the containers to be as tall as a chair are forms of measurement and comparison. You can even create math games using containers (see below)!

Two pictures of clear containers filled with objects to help children learn to count.

How many are inside?

For a fun numbers game, place a few objects inside a clear container and guess how many are inside! When you’ve placed your guess, dump the items out to count them together. You can even try this game during snack time by asking questions such as, “How many Goldfish do you think are in this container?” This game will help build their numeracy skills as they learn about estimation and giving meaning to numbers (i.e. this is the number 5, but this is what 5 spoons looks like). Start off with small amounts (even as small as 2-3 items) to help your child build their confidence and add more as they become more comfortable with the game.

Reasoning Skills

Containers of all kinds are great for hiding objects inside which helps children develop reasoning skills. For example, a baby or toddler will look at an object inside a clear container and start to evaluate how to get it out, if they can get it out, what the object might look like when it’s outside the container, and how to get it back inside. A preschooler may need more of a challenge by using containers that are not clear. They can now use their reasoning to determine what is inside by asking themselves, “what is small enough to fit inside this size of container?” or “what sort of object would make this noise when I shake it?”

A variety of different containers filled with small toys and objects.

Mystery Container: What’s Inside?!

Hide an object or toy inside a container and describe it to your child! Use descriptive phrases, such as: “it’s green and small” or “it loves to jump around!” They will begin to use and learn more reasoning skills as they evaluate your description and try to determine what’s inside. As your child becomes more comfortable with this game, let them take the lead and describe something to you!

Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving skills are best developed when children have the chance to try different things on their own. Containers provide lots of these opportunities as they can be played with in so many ways! For instance, children are developing problem solving skills every time they try to put the lid on a container. The lid may not fit on the first try, meaning they might have to rotate the lid or try a different lid all together.

A variety of containers used for children to stack, build, and sort.

Building with Containers

Containers make great building blocks, but they come in so many different shapes and sizes that they might be challenging to build with. Children are learning to problem solve when they build with containers. Normally, a structure is sturdiest when the bottom is the biggest and the top is the most narrow. However, children might try it another way and find that it works or that it doesn’t and their tower falls. Encourage your child to try building in a different way without telling them exactly how to do that. This will allow your child to problem solve on their own and build confidence in their abilities and decisions.

Matching Lids

Grab a variety of different containers and lids and try to match them up! Allow your child to experiment with the different lids, trying to fit them to the proper containers. This activity is great for children who like puzzles. They will most likely have to try multiple times before matching and putting the lid on properly. Children will need to problem solve how the lids work, how to snap/twist them on properly, and how to determine which lid belongs with each container.

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