An inventor’s box play date is truly an interesting activity to do with preschoolers. Preschoolers are so incredibly amazing. They surprise me every day and can make me laugh and cry at the same time! We love our inventor’s box. It’s a plastic storage box that lives in our craft cupboard. We feed it regularly with all sorts of recyclables. And on occasion we get it out to have some fun … most likely when we’ve got a friend coming over for a play!
Everyone who lives or works with preschoolers will know that when they play with each other, things can go from great to disastrous to fabulous again in no time. That’s why I thought I’d share with you my top tips for setting up and facilitating an inventor’s box for play dates for preschoolers. I sure have learned a thing or two over time!
Tip 1: keep you inventor’s box content preschooler friendly
An inventor’s box can come in any shape, form and content. There really is no right or wrong way for setting up an inventor’s box.
The only thing to keep in mind when putting together an inventor’s box for preschoolers is safety. Make sure you’re not adding things in there you’re not comfortable with them exploring and manipulating in various ways.
In our home we put a lot of recycling in our inventor’s box and we top it up with craft supply left overs and random lonely items from my husband’s garage workshop or my sewing studio.
Here’s what our box looks like:
Tip 2: make sure there is enough space to work and move around
We always set up our inventor’s box on the large kitchen table. We spread out all the materials so everything is visible and available. There are chairs to sit on if they want (some children work better standing) but I make sure there is enough space for everyone to work and move around.
Preschoolers need space to work and like to have the freedom move around and perhaps have a nosy over at the other end of the table.
Keep in mind that our kitchen table suits the content of our inventor’s box really well. If you can get your hands on some decent size recyclables, you might want to consider making more space, work on the floor or move outside. Whatever suits your house and works best for your materials and for the children working with them.
Tip 3: Provide the appropriate Tools
In order to create you’re going to need some tools. Have a look at the materials you’ve collected and think about what would be needed to work with them.
Think about how children would be able to cut something, attach it to something else, make holes and so on.
Depending on the materials you’ve collected, you’ll perhaps be using different tools.
Preschoolers like to work independently as much as they can, so let them use the tools on their own as much as possible.
For the materials we wanted to work with we got out the scissors, cello-tape, masking tape and glue and all was put on the table to use as they saw fit.
When you’re working with bigger tools like hack saws or hammers or even glue guns, you might want to consider setting up a little ‘adult tool section’, where the children can come and ask you to help them.
Tip 4: setting the tone at the start of the activity
Some children may have never had the opportunity to explore an inventor’s box. They could be unsure of what to expect and might not know what they can and cannot do.
So I highly recommend saying a few words before starting. You could casually mention that they can use all the materials in the box to make anything they want, tell them where the tools are, which ones they can use themselves and so on.
Then I would take the opportunity to remind everyone to be respectful of each other’s work. Preschoolers are very proud of their creations and don’t necessarily share well or deal well with ‘incidents’. And while things do certainly happen, a little reminder be respect each other’s work does go a long way to preventing ‘unfortunate situations’.
Tip 5: stand by to do some scaffolding
When preschoolers are presented with an open ended play invitation such as this, they sometimes need some ‘scaffolding’. Not everyone has an imagination that comes natural to them or flows freely. For some it’s harder to know what to do and when to start than for others.
We must also not forget that preschoolers are still developing their abstract thinking skills. So this is an ideal activity to invite children to stretch their thinking. And they might need you to help that along here and there.
Asking open ended questions like “what do you think we could use next” or “how do you think we could do that” can help children along when they’re a bit stuck. Or even “let me show you one way of doing this” when actual help is needed.
You get the idea.
Tip 6: be flexible
This is a very open ended, child led activity. And as we all know, preschoolers can be an unpredictable bunch! It pays to let go of our own ideas of how we see this activity play out. I think going with the flow is the way to go.
If they move their work from the table to the ground: go with it, whatever works best for them. If they have a request for more pink washi tape and glitter: go on, get it out. If a little boy spends the entire time covering the same toilet paper roll with masking tape: don’t interrupt, he knows what he’s doing. And if they are all done after 20 minutes and want to go play outside: oh well, why not, you can leave it out a bit in case they want to revisit their work later.
Tip 7: give the younger siblings a little basket to explore too
Most of the time when we have play dates there are siblings involved. In our case that means there is a 1,5 year old inquisitive boy tagging along who wants nothing else but to be physically involved in whatever is going on.
We have a little basket set up with safe recyclables for Mister T to explore. There are little cardboard boxes, empty plastic bottles, there are pegs, lids and straws to post and there is painter’s tape to experiment with.
If you’re lucky, it will keep your toddler busy while your preschooler can concentrate on his or her work.
I am absolutely positive that you will truly enjoy putting together your own inventor’s box. And more so that you will have a lot of fun with your and your little ones’ friends creating all sorts of magnificent things!
If you are looking for some info and inspiration on how to set up an inventor’s box, have a look at our diy upcycled inventor’s box post and you’ll be all set to go.
Also, if you’ve never read about the Theory of Loose Parts, you should definitely do that first and have a look at other fabulous ideas on how to get creative with loose parts.
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