Parenting Resource

5 Ways to Play…With Empty Plastic Containers

Jul 16, 2020

Those plastic containers aren't just for leftovers. Play with containers can provide endless fun (and learning!) for babies and toddlers.

  1. Stack and nest. Collect 5-10 plastic containers of different sizes and shapes. Show your little one how they can be used like blocks to stack and build. Or suggest your toddler try to fit containers inside one another (“nesting” them). Both activities help children develop problem-solving and spatial awareness skills.

  2. Transfer from one to the other. Choose two containers. Fill one with dry cereal or cotton balls. Offer your child a wide spoon and suggest they try to move materials from one container to another. It’s okay if your toddler uses their fingers too! (Since small items can be a choking hazard, be sure to supervise carefully and put “fillers” away when done playing.) Activities like these build fine motor skills and coordination.

  3. Sort and match. Choose three containers. Then select three sets of items from around the house (five plastic spoons, five cotton balls, five small blocks) and mix them up in a pile. Put one spoon in one container. Put one cotton ball in a second container. Place one block in a third container. Ask your child to sort the remaining items into their matching containers. If your child starts to sort incorrectly, you can hold the two items side-by-side and ask, “Do the spoon and block look the same? [Pause for response] No? Well, this is the spoon container. Where do you see other blocks?” Sorting and matching builds early math skills.

  4. Shake it! Choose 3 small containers, with lids, that will be easy for your child to pick up and hold. Fill each container with a different item—dried beans or pasta, dry cereal, pebbles, small bells, etc. (Your child can help with this part if you supervise.) Then encourage your toddler to shake each one. Which one is the LOUDEST? Which one is the quietest? Which do they like best? Sing a song while you each shake a homemade shaker. (Supervise during this activity and put the shakers away when done; alternatively, superglue the lids shut to prevent spills/choking hazard.)

  5. Make an open-and-closed game: Collect several different types of containers that all have matching tops. Think creatively about what containers you might choose: Clean to-go containers, diaper wipe containers, an oatmeal canister with plastic lid, etc. Group the containers with their tops off and ask your child if they can find the lid that goes with each container. This type of 3D “puzzle” promotes problem-solving and spatial awareness.


About Baby Steps

This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers. Each issue offers science-based information on a topic of interest to parents and caregivers of young children—from sleep to challenging behaviors, and everything in between.

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  • Author

    Rebecca Parlakian

    Senior Director of Programs

    2028572976

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