The joy of the crate and the magic they bring to play stems from them being an open-ended resource. There is no right or wrong way to play with a crate, making them a valuable resource, both indoors and outdoors. They appeal to children’s natural drive to be curious and to experiment within their environment. By incorporating crates into play experiences, we are facilitating an environment that appeals to all characteristics of effective learning. In this blog post we aim to provide inspiring crate play and learning ideas for you to take away.

As a loose part, crates work well alongside other open-ended resources such as planks, guttering, tarpaulin, cable reels and wooden blocks. Children can combine them to construct, offering a fantastic means of self-expression and being creative. Crates can become a base for a rocket, seats on a train, shelving in a café and the walls of a den. As children have such amazing imaginations, the possibilities really are endless.

During the process of constructing, children will be developing a range of skills – collaboration, perseverance, cooperation, tolerance and determination. Similarly, this type of play is valuable for children’s development. They will be gaining strength in their muscles, developing their coordination skills, building stamina and improving gross motor skills. The great thing about using crates for construction play outdoors is that there is more space to build and move around. Children have greater scope to build big, away from the confines of the classroom.

Crate play offers opportunities for children to develop their communication and language skills through play, a vital element of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). As they experiment, transport, build and be creative, adults can model language. Even without adult intervention, crate play holds incredible value as a means of promoting language development. When children are engaged and engrossed in their play, they are freely using language in their interactions with others. They share ideas, build a narrative, ask questions and give instructions. Through a process of collaborative play, children will be making plans, acting out roles and testing out new vocabulary. It’s also a great way to promote mathematical language through play as children think about size and shape. There are opportunities to count, sort, match and make estimations.

The outdoor environment holds huge scope for crate play due to the freedom and space afforded to children. Try using crates to build obstacles courses, as part of a mini gym, as seating areas and as props for guttering as children enjoy sand and water play.

Autumn activity ideas

They also work particularly well for creating zones. Add a plank or board to the top of a crate base to make a mark-making area, nature display area, small world, snack table or space to display books. Crates work very well in a tuff tray to add height and areas of interest.

Cosy Autumn Books

Adding crates to a mud kitchen is a fantastic way to expand creative play opportunities. Children can use them as seating to serve their customers or as a base for a work-space where tasty treats or potions can be concocted. Not forgetting that crates can also be used for storage. Organise your mud kitchen ingredient or utensils so that children can self-select and have some ownership over their play.

Crate ideas

Open up your play provision by taking crates indoors. Just as with the outdoors, crates have a multitude of uses – the limit is just the children’s imagination! They make perfect seats which children can easily move around from one area to another. This enables them to independently create seating areas, giving them some control over their environment. Crates also work well as pop-up seating areas as and when needed.

Perhaps use them around a stage area so children can watch their friends perform, utilise as a space to sit when taking wellies off or as a step to get something a little out of reach.

Crate ideas

Crates are also great as a base for small world set ups. Their size makes them easily accessible, so children can gather around to engage and interact with the resources. Add in other resources to extend the play, such as guttering to make ramps for cars, link them together with a plank across as a bridge or stack some up to give height to the play which is fantastic for dinosaur worlds.

An important element of crate play is risk assessment. It is always wise to consider how the crates are being used and the possible hazards this may pose. Routinely check for breakages and sharp edges – even though crates are sturdy and robust, accidents do happen. As children construct, they are likely to test their own limits as well as the limits of the crates, stacking higher and higher. Rather than restrict this type of play and inhibiting children’s experimentation and curiosity, it is preferable to think together, helping children recognise possible dangers. These conversations are much more valuable in helping children self-assess risk rather than telling them to ‘be careful’.

To summarise, crates are a versatile resource that have the potential to impact on development across the seven areas of learning in the EYFS. Children are able to be creative, and use their imaginations as they engage with this open-ended resource. They can be used to create inspiring environments which offer challenge as well as encouraging children to use them independently in their play. Crates can be utilised by educators to facilitate exciting play experiences to encourage learning, as well as being fun.

Check out our gallery of Ideas and Inspiration for using Crates in play:

We hope that you have got lots of ideas to take away from our Inspiring Crate Play and Learning post. Don't forget to tag us in your crate play setups.

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With thanks to The Cosy Creatives for this blog post.

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