What would happen if you suddenly removed all of the toys from a preschool classroom and replaced them with boxes? Pandemonium, you would guess. The kids would be looking for their dolls, blocks, and trucks. It would be a recipe for an instant temper tantrum.

Remarkably, it isn’t. Do you remember how sometimes your kids are more fascinated by the box that a new toy came in than the toy itself?

Box Week which is an annual tradition at our children’s preschool is such a hit that we’re often trying to replicate it at home with boxes becoming trucks, robots, airplanes, forts, or whatever else my kids can think up.

Their creativity with boxes ties neatly into the joy that they have working with all sorts of building toys whether it is Legos, Zoobs, or Lincoln Logs (yes, those still exist!). The challenge, though, with building toys is being able to take them with you when you leave the house. We’ve tried it on a few flights and long car rides and the paranoia that losing a piece induces just isn’t worth it.

The beauty of this kind of play is that it is fabulous for promoting all sorts of growth in kids. It helps them build their cognitive skills through imaginary play, challenges their physical abilities as they manipulate boxes, and pushes them to use new vocabulary to help others understand what it is that they are doing. It can even promote social skills as they interact with each other and foster literacy skills when they ask you to write words on their creations.

Play is central to young children learning. It’s how they experiment and interact with the world. As innovative parents, how can we foster as much opportunity to engage in play to promote their cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development?

And wouldn’t it be great if we could figure out how to cram things into a bag so we could promote this kind of play while we’re on the road this summer?

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a tinkering kit for my child who is fascinated by tools and follows me around like a puppy whenever I’m repairing something in the house. I’m just beginning this experiment. Here are a few ideas that you can put together.

Let me know in the comments what you’ve created.

Play is central to young children learning. It’s how they experiment and interact with the worldGeneral Supplies
Three-ring binder pencil bags – great for compactly stowing things and you can use binder rings or even pipe cleaners to connect them.
White card stock paper – this helps stiffen the bags just a little to get them to handle a little bit more wear and tear.
Zip-up three ring binder
Notebook paper or a spiral notebook
Pens, colored pencils, and crayons

Bag Ideas
Explorer – put a magnifying glass in the bag along with small objects like shells, coins, or rocks. It could even be things your kid picks up off the ground while you travel!
Artist – combine extra paper with cookie cutters and crayons. Or markers and aluminum foil for reflective art. You could also put doodle pads and markers in it.
Storyteller – cut up felt in different shapes and place them on a larger piece of felt folded up in the bag (If you are feeling a little lazy, you can use these pre-cut shapes.) Encourage your child to tell you stories about what they are putting together.
Comic Book Writer – print out these comic book panels and provide them with colored pencils to create their own superhero adventure. You could also laminate them and give them dry erase markers!
Sculptor – some printable playdough mats (laminate them!) can serve as the surface for all sorts of sculptures using modeling clay.
Tailor – lacing cards are great for helping young kids with fine motor skills. For older kids, buttons and small swathes of fabric can be assembled with a plastic needle and thread.
Fraction Practice – cut up paper plates in pieces and have them figure out how to make a whole plate or what fractions might be equivalent.
Spelling – you can use the window of the pencil bag as a dry erase surface. Put a list of spelling words from the year for them to write out. Use felt to wipe it off.
Engineer – throw together a mishmash of items that could be combined into interesting projects. Try including things to connect (e.g. tongue depressors, nuts and bolts, bottle caps), connectors (e.g. tape, glue sticks), and items that add bling like shiny stickers (because who doesn’t like to jazz up an invention with a little bling).

You can augment any of these kits with a pencil and notebook to keep track of their creations, stories, and progress

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