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.
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.