Teaching and learning

10 clever curiosity boxes for toddlers

10 minutes of prep time, hours of creative play.
curiosity box activities
December 8, 2021
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Curiosity boxes do exactly what the name suggests – they spark the curiosity of little ones by giving them a whole box full of toys and activities to explore. As little ones discover and play with the items within, they will get to create their own learning experiences while developing their coordination and motor skills. 

The best thing about curiosity boxes is that you don’t necessarily have to buy new toys or activities for each one. While you may wish to purchase some new materials, you can also fill these boxes with items from around the house that fit the theme. In that way, curiosity boxes are a great opportunity to give new life to toys and materials you’ve already got on hand.

To help you find inspiration, here are 10 of our favorite curiosity box ideas for toddlers.

1. Construction-themed Curiosity Box 

Source: kidadl

What it is: This sensory curiosity box will allow your child to explore different shapes and textures while engaging in make-believe. 

What you need:

  • A sturdy plastic container
  • Sand, soil, pebbles, and rocks
  • Toy trucks, construction vehicles, and machines

How to do it: For this curiosity box, it’s a good idea to use a sturdy container that can hold all the sensory materials, and that creates a low-mess play space for the dirt and sand. A clear plastic box is ideal, as you can fill it with layers of sand, soil, rocks, and pebbles. Add the toy vehicles and construction machines, and the box is ready! Children will be able to see the different layers through the sides of the box, and then use the construction machines to dig through. Encourage them to explore the different textures with their hands, and see what happens when you mix and move the materials.

2. Rolling and Stacking Curiosity Box

Source: The Imagination Tree

What it is: An easy-to-make curiosity box that gives toddlers plenty of scope for creativity and self-directed play, focused on round objects you can roll and stack.

What you need: 

  • A cardboard box
  • Cardboard rolls (from paper towels, tape, toilet rolls, and wrapping paper)
  • Cookie cutters, hairbands, clean paint rollers, and other cylindrical objects

How to do it: Any container will do for this simple curiosity box. The most important step is to find as many cylindrical objects around the house as you can. The cardboard rolls from paper towels, masking tape, toilet paper, and wrapping paper are ideal. If you have clean paint rollers, hair bands, cookie cutters, or other cylindrical objects that would be safe for your child to play with, include them in the box. These items can be rolled or stacked, depending on what play opportunities your children see. It’s a great way to engage with play schemas, and to introduce children to the physical properties of different shapes and objects.

3. Noisy Curiosity Box 

Source: Childhood 101

What it is: A curiosity box to help kids explore different sounds, rhythms and volumes (best reserved for days when you’re happy to have a bit more noise than usual).

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold all your items
  • Any noise-making toys your children already have
  • Pots, pans, lids, and spoons
  • Bottles and containers to make shakers
  • Rice, buttons, beans, or dried pasta to fill the shakers

How to do it: To prepare this curiosity box, start with any toys your child has that are designed to make noise. Next, consider safe household items that can be used to make noise, like a pot and a wooden spoon that your child could use as a drum. Drink bottles and other plastic containers can be used to create shakers. All you need to do is clean and dry them and then add different materials like rice, buttons, beans, or dried pasta. Collect your instruments in a basket or box, and prepare for some noisy play!

4. Colorful Curiosity Boxes

Source: kidadl

What it is: A curiosity box to help your child explore and interact with a world full of color. 

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold all your items
  • Small toys and household objects representing every color of the rainbow

How to do it: For this curiosity box, you can fill your container with a variety of different colors, or a collection of different items that are all shades of one color. In this case, it’s more about the object’s color, rather than the function of the object itself. A curiosity box filled with the colors of the rainbow is a great way to encourage children to explore the similarities and differences between colors by moving them around and sorting them. However, as with all curiosity boxes, this activity can be anything your child makes of it. 

5. Pipe cleaner curiosity box

Source: The Imagination Tree

What it is: A simple but fun curiosity box to inspire the imagination and encourage children to build and create 3D structures. 

What you need: 

  • A colander
  • A collection of pipe cleaners in different colors, styles, and lengths

How to do it: Pipe cleaners can be found in all shapes, sizes, colors, and styles at most craft stores, if you don’t already have some on hand. Then, find a plastic or metal colander – make sure it doesn’t have any sharp or pointy edges. The colander offers a framework to fasten and shape the pipe cleaners, allowing children to sculpt whatever their imagination allows. All you need to do is sit back and watch as they play, building their artistic abilities as well as their fine motor skills.

6. Christmas curiosity box

Source: Natural Beach Living

What it is: A Christmas-themed sensory box designed to encourage children to explore different colors, shapes, textures, and sounds connected to the holiday. 

What you need: 

  • A sturdy container or bucket
  • Green split peas
  • Christmas decorations, bells, and trinkets
  • Cups or scoops for collecting and pouring

How to do it: Pour the dry split peas into a large, sturdy container, using enough that your child will be able to dig through the peas to find the sensory items. Add cups or scoops so your child can scoop and pour the split peas. You may even wish to include a second box or container so they can transfer the peas between the two. Next, add all the Christmas-themed sensory goodies. Mix them through a little so your child can have fun discovering them by digging through the Christmas colors.

7. A curiosity box full of shapes

Source: Play Learn Every Day

What it is: This curiosity box is suitable for both babies and toddlers, and is great for allowing children of different ages to discover how simple shapes fit together and feel in their hands.

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold all your items
  • A range of blocks in different shapes

How to do it: Fill your curiosity box with as many different shapes as you can. It’s perfectly fine to use toys the children already have, or you might use this as an opportunity to buy some new blocks. The children can stack the shapes, build towers, knock them over, and see which shapes fit together and which ones don’t. You can call out shape names and have the child select the correct one from the box, or you may wish to just let them direct their own play

8. A  Bouncy Curiosity Box

Source: Preschool Play

What it is: This box is great for outdoor play or big indoor spaces, and for sharing with other children. Different sorts of balls give children plenty of options to explore their weight and properties, as they bounce, toss and throw them around. Plus, they’ll be building up gross motor skills the whole way through.

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold all your items
  • Balls of different textures and sizes

How to do it: Collect a range of different balls with unique sizes, shapes, and textures. You may include small footballs, squishy balls, bouncy balls, plush balls, and any other styles you can find. Set your child up in an area where it’s okay for them to throw and roll the balls around freely. 

9. Reflective curiosity box 

Source: Counting Coconuts

What it is: This curiosity box will allow your child to see themselves and their toys from all sorts of new and interesting angles. 

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold all the items
  • Mirrors and reflective materials in different styles, shapes, and sizes
  • Some of your child’s favorite toys

How to do it: Collect an array of hand mirrors and pocket mirrors. If you don’t have any at home, you can usually find affordable options in your local charity shop or crafts store. Add some of your child’s favorite toys to the curiosity box, to offer some objects to manipulate with the mirror — action figures and toy animals are excellent options. Watch as your child explores their own reflection and the reflections of their toys from different angles. 

10. Rhyming curiosity box 

Source: The Imagination Tree

What it is: Combining physical play with literary skills, this curiosity box invites children to pick up patterns on rhyming words, and to make these concepts stick by learning them through engaging, self-directed play.

What you need: 

  • A box or basket to hold your items
  • Pairs of objects with names that rhyme

How to do it: You will likely find that you can create this box using a combination of items and toys you already have around the house. Look for rhyming pairs like cat and hat, goat and boat, duck and truck, snake and cake. Find as many as you can and mix them up in the curiosity box. Then, as your child plays with them, sound out the names of the toys and objects and show your child how they match up.

The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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