As a developmental therapist, I regularly recommend container play to parents and infant/toddler teachers. This simple, open-ended activity has powerful learning benefits, and the best part—children love it!
- Definition: Container play is a type of play where babies and toddlers explore putting objects into containers and dumping them out.
- Benefits: Supports fine motor skills, cognitive abilities, language, and social-emotional well-being.
Definition: What is Container Play?
Container play is a type of play where babies and toddlers explore putting objects into containers and dumping them out.
It starts around seven months and continues through year 2, progressing through stages as children develop. Container play evolves into more complex play (such as sorting and classifying) in the preschool years.
NOTE: In the field of early childhood, dropping objects into containers is also called posting.
Benefits of Container Play
Container play is important in infant and toddler development as it supports essential skills such as:
Fine Motor Skills
- Voluntary release
- Pincer grasp
- Hand strength
- Spatial awareness
By nature, container play can be very repetitive. Adults can take advantage of that repetition to pair language with actions and model new words and signs for children. Here are some ideas:
- Saying and signing “more” as you hand more objects to your child
- Saying “uh oh” each time they dump
- Clapping and saying “yay” when they are successful
Container play is an opportunity for caregivers to offer children positive attention, reinforcing positive behaviors and instilling a sense of belonging. This one-on-one attention helps young children form strong, trusting bonds with parents and educators.
Container play is versatile, allowing caregivers to adapt it to a child’s developmental level. Inclusive classrooms can incorporate this type of play, ensuring that each child has the opportunity to participate.
One popular container play toy, a shape sorter, meets different levels depending on a child’s abilities.
Easy Container Play Activities
Pom-Poms in a Bottle
Toddlers can drop pom-pom balls into a clear bottle. This container play activity builds fine motor skills. You’ll also end up with a colorful sensory bottle.
Sensory Balls into a Basket
Babies can explore textured sensory balls as they place them in and out of small baskets.
Balloons in Boxes
Encourage toddlers to collect and drop balloons into a medium or large cardboard box for a gross motor version of container play.
Loose Parts Play
Containers are inherently loose parts, but you can create an open-ended, sensory-rich activity using loose parts. Offer children a variety of containers and loose parts (here is a giant list) to explore.
Container Play Toys
Many favorite toys are based on container play, such as:
- Shape sorters
- Stacking cups
- Sorting sets
- Piggy bank
- Connect 4 (forget the rules and just drop coins)
- Sensory bins
DIY Container Play Ideas
Household items like empty cardboard boxes, muffin tins, plastic food containers, or storage bins are great for container play.
You can DIY a posting activity with a coffee or oatmeal canister by cutting holes in the lids.
How To Support Container Play
With some simple strategies, educators and parents can enhance the benefits of container play. Keep reading for practical tips from my experience in classrooms and developmental therapy.
From shape sorters to cardboard boxes, there are many ways for babies and toddlers to engage in container play. Explore my Types of Play in Early Childhood article to learn more about ways kids learn through play.