Don’t take it personally if your toddler gets more excited by a gift’s box or bag than the gift itself. At this age, he’s just expressing an age-appropriate interest in containers. And have patience with your toddler’s repetitive container experiments. His stacking, filling and dumping of containers is actually right on target for development of fine motor skills. As your toddler becomes a preschooler, he'll probably continue to get a kick out of container activities.
Toddlers are mesmerized by the chance to play with water, so create a water-safe indoor play area. You can use a bathtub at bath time, or spread a waterproof cloth on the kitchen floor. In the bath, provide your toddler with different kinds of containers to practice filling and emptying. Offer her an empty shampoo bottle or a measuring cup and a funnel, allowing her to experiment with filling the bottle or cup through the funnel. In the kitchen, containers such as ice cube trays and empty foam egg cartons can challenge your toddler to fill each section with just the right amount of water.
Indoor “Sandbox” Activities
If you don’t have a backyard sandbox that is kept covered at night, give your toddler or preschooler an indoor alternative. Imitate the look and feel of sand by dumping cornmeal or sugar into the bottom of a container such as a shallow plastic tub or spreading a layer in a rimmed sheet pan. Offer your toddler a shovel to practice digging in the plastic tub. Instruct your preschooler how to draw designs such as simple shapes and letters in the sheet pan’s "sand." Let your youngster experience different weights and textures by lining up a series of containers that each hold different sand substitutes -- such as beans, rice and dry cereal -- for exploration.
With your supervision, your toddler can use handy kitchen containers for stacking and knocking down to his heart’s content. Offer him a few different sizes of boxed food, such as cereals, crackers and pasta. Let him stack these containers, learning as he experiments which ones work best as the base of a tower and which settle most easily at the top. Under your watchful eye, allow him to transfer apples or oranges from one basket or bowl to another. He’ll not only enjoy playing with his food, he’ll also be developing his hand-eye coordination.
If you anticipate your house being overrun with toddlers or preschoolers for an afternoon playdate or birthday party, keep the crowd busy with games and activities that utilize containers. Let the kids practice their throwing skills by setting up a few containers such as buckets or bins. Preschoolers can stand a few feet back and take turns throwing beanbags into them. Provide large cardboard boxes and let imaginations run wild. These simple containers can become cars, trains or planes that carry your toddler or preschooler and his friends as far as their minds will take them.