Outdoor Play with Bread Crates

5 September 2012 · 8 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, Play Resources

Bread crates have to be one of the toughest and most versatile resources around. At the school where I work on Fridays, they are used daily by children in a free flow capacity and during lunch times too.

One question I am often asked is, “What learning is taking place?” Practitioners accept the play value of  many outdoor activities and yet some struggle to articulate the learning happening in terms of the curriculum. This is understandable in that there is no specific way to play with an item like a bread crate. So they cannot just assume the learning that is covered. It is necessary to step back, observe what the children are doing and link this back to the curriculum rather than trying to steer the learning in a direction to cover a specific curriculum objective.

Like most open-ended resources or “loose parts” children are highly creative and imaginative in their use. Surprisingly little (if any) modelling of an activity is needed. Bread crates lend themselves nicely to lots of interactions between children for activities such as making tiny little dens…

…or significantly bigger territories. In the photo below, the child who created this ended up spending a lot of time and energy defending his den from other children who rather liked pushing the bread crates over. So suddenly there is a very real bit of problem-solving going on… I’m not sure that he actually resolved his predicament.

It was one of those “divine aha” moments in the class when the children realised the joys of putting one crate in front of the other and bounce-running along the top of them. It is a lot of fun and a great way to experience a new sensation and surface in a completely flat, tarmac area. Children need lots of different physical experiences to build up their coordination and motor skills.

Children will seek out ways of experiencing height and the challenge of climbing. The child in the photo below was very determined to climb the stack of bread crates she had put together. In order to achieve this challenge, she used the wooden wine boxes as steps. Again, this is another example of how children will problem-solve when given opportunities to do so in their play.

With the same stack of bread crates, another absorbing activity was dropping objects through the holes and watch them tumble through the levels to the ground. As well as counting the number of objects which made it to the ground, the child was naturally learning about the size of objects in relation to the holes. Spacial skills like this are important for a lot of activities we undertake without even thinking about it.

Of course, art comes into everything. The bread crates are a natural weaving surface and help children learn about the interactions of colour, line and pattern when ribbon and crates are used together. It is also a chance to work on fine motor skills too.

Thank you Alfreton Nursery and Pete for the use of this photo
Bread crates have a lot of water play potential. My class have yet to discover the joys of hoses being threaded through and learning about moveable water walls. In the photo below, I used the bread creates and transparent tarp to demonstrate a temporary dry steam in an outdoor space. The water canister has a tap that lets out only a trickle of water. The children spend a long time looking at the way the water flowed over the tarp to the runout below. The added leaves to float and guttering too. So it is a good example of a science investigation which can happen with bread crates.

Milk crates work in a very similar way to bread crates. Most pre-schools ask local businesses nicely to donate crates for use in their nurseries and the Cosy Catalogue have them for sale, otherwise.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

High Horse September 8, 2012 at 18:01

I remember a couple newspaper stories in recent years regarding crates. In one the milk company turned up at the playground and retrieved the crates quoting health and safety and fearful of being sued if injury occurred. The other was an Ofsted inspection where they insisted on the removal of such crates. Grrr! Just wondered if you have heard of any ‘rulings’ regarding crates? It beggers belief really – goes hand hand in hand with the lunacy of banning cardboard toilet tubes. Will be sourcing some crates asap!!!


Juliet Robertson September 8, 2012 at 18:28

Dear High Horse

Thanks for such a valid, interesting and frustrating point!

Firstly, some companies are reluctant to pass on items for fear of inappropriate use leading to being sued. There are two possible courses of positive action here…

1) Is there a history of such items causing harm through being used in play situations? As far as I’m aware no serious accidents have happened which have come to the attention of the Health and Safety Executive – otherwise we’d all know about it. Thus given the current situation of thousands of nurseries and pre-schools settings using these items, I think we can be reassured that with appropriate and proportionate supervision this is unlikely to happen.

My H&S Officer in a past life always looked to history and evidence as an indicator of possible harm in the future.

2) Second, in the case of some items, nurseries can make a written, signed statement to a company stating that they will use the equipment responsibly and look after any such items carefully ie keep them clean, safe and properly stored. Once an item becomes too broken to be used or reused, a nursery can assure the suppliers it will be disposed of in line with any guidelines which exist. The company should be relieved of its responsibilities here if it believes it has acted in good faith.

You may be interested to know about the HSE’s recent statement… “We’d encourage anybody who believes that health & safety is being used as a reason to stop perfectly reasonable activities to submit details to us.” http://www.hse.gov.uk/press/record/2012/wem-allotment-ban.htm?eban=govdel-education&cr=03-Sep-2012

So do NOT let any person or organisation get away with such nonsense in the future.

Good luck, best wishes and thanks again


Mrs. West September 8, 2012 at 20:54

Magically, a bread crate appeared in our Nursery garden last week. Now that I’ve read this blog post, I feel we need to start a quest for more!


Juliet Robertson September 9, 2012 at 07:35

Oh yes… one crate is good, two is better, three is exciting, etc. The more crates, the merrier. I find around six a good starting number. Not sure why – I think it’s just that it allows for more dens and bridges to be created.


Mrs. West September 9, 2012 at 09:12

Something my school is trying to do just now is encourage the Primary children to explore den-building during their breaks. Not just that, they are striving to make strides in outdoor provision that will inspire the children’s imaginations and creativity. I’ll have to suggest the bread crates as an invaluable resource (after I collect some for my Nursery, of course!).


Juliet Robertson September 9, 2012 at 15:23

Are you based in Aberdeen? If so there’s some possibilities which might help – contacts and places to visit. Do contact me by my main website, if this would work for your school http://www.creativestarlearning.co.uk


Mrs. West September 9, 2012 at 17:47

Yes, I am, actually. In fact, I started following your blog before I realized that you facilitate CPD courses in Aberdeen – many of which I’ve now signed up for this year! I’ll have to introduce myself at the next one I attend. I’ll also check out your main website to see what possibilities are available for the school.


Juliet Robertson September 9, 2012 at 19:32

Please do say who you are when we meet at a course – I’m doing quite a few over the next month or two. It would be lovely to meet you in person and thanks for commenting on this blog so much.


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