I know some people think it is inappropriate to allow or even encourage children to play with items that are not proper toys. But very often it is these objects that are open-ended and have a high play value because there is no fixed purpose or pre-defined way of using them.

In the wildlife garden at school there are two compost bins. At the start of the year, they had leaves piled inside them which did not seem to be doing much composting.

Some children in a couple of classes are into cause and effect. If something can be tipped over, then it will be. It did not take these children long to work out that a compost bin filled with leaves is not static.

They also realised how light compost bins are. They can be carried around quite easily or rolled from place to place.

They are surprisingly big and roomy. So actually crawling into them provides a lovely child-sized little cubby or den. A portable den too! That is instantly made and liveable in!

It’s about peering into dark spaces and wondering what’s there.

And discovering children who like to be enclosed in a small space. They may just be sitting their quietly. Or it may be part of a game about being discovered!

Games of peekaboo work well. Compost bins have 3 holes which one can surface from, as well as the fun of hiding behind the bin itself.

As with most open-ended or “high affordance” items, children will happily play alone or with others. In the photo below the compost bin is getting nicely covered by one child.

Which gave the child inside quite a different view. I think he was trying to be rolled about in the bin.

Another fun activity is to try and escape as quickly as possible if someone does look inside…

If your school or centre is getting some compost bins, then do remember to order an extra one for playing with! As for the leaves, they rotted away nicely in the corner of the garden.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kierna C September 15, 2012 at 17:04

Juliet, I love this post & don’t care if anyone says it’s wrong to play with ‘good’ stuff like this – it looks like so much fun & learning is going on – I may have to go see if I can find one somewhere!! Kierna

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Artchoo! September 16, 2012 at 07:42

Love this! It’s like the appeal of a giant cardboard box, but in a different form. These are really fun photos, too. Makes me want to throw a bunch of big old containers in my yard and see what sorts of wonderful things they become!

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Juliet Robertson September 16, 2012 at 09:30

Thanks for such positive comments – I never thought of the compost bins like big boxes but you are right – they can even be flattened! LOL!

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Tom Bedard September 18, 2012 at 00:50

I am always struck at how children explore spaces and objects with their whole body. As adults we have this pre-conceived idea about what a compost bin is and what it is used for. Not so with children as clearly seen in your post!

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Anna Ranson September 19, 2012 at 22:38

Love it! Children always know the best way to use real objects!

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