Container Play

Taking objects in and out, in and out is a favorite pass time of every baby and toddler. This important activity builds fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, independence and confidence. And you can do all this for your little one with some things you already have around the house.

Birth to 0ne Year

Rowyn Container


  • A large mixing bowl or plastic container with a large opening
  • A variety of objects varying in size (since you are already grabbing the bowl from the kitchen, your measuring spoons and cups are perfect for this)


  • Place some of the items in the bowl and put it on the floor for easy access.
  • Demonstrate taking the items out while saying “out” each time. Then demonstrate putting them back in saying “in” each time. It won’t take long for your little one to catch on.
  • Celebrate their success with clapping and smiles, they will be very proud of themselves. Continue to verbalize the actions, “in” and “out” as they continue to play.

Using larger items will encourage full hand grasping, while smaller items will encourage grasping with just the ends of their fingers. Either way this activity strengthens the small muscles
in their hands required for later learning such as crawling, feeding themselves and printing just to name a few.

Rowyn with BoxOnce your baby masters the mixing bowl you can make this same activity more challenging simply by using a container with a smaller opening. So save those empty food containers because they may just come in handy!

  • Kleenex box
  • Cereal or cracker box


One to Two Years

If your toddler has mastered taking items in and out of almost everything, you are probably wishing about now that this wasn’t the case…cupboards, laundry basket and even your purse…its time to mix up this favorite activity and introduce some new challenges.


  • Cereal or cracker box
  • Scissors or knife
  • Small objects/toys


  • With the scissors or knife cut small holes (a little larger than the objects you will use) into the sides of the box. Make sure the objects can be put through the holes easily
  • Demonstrate to your toddler putting the object through the hole then reaching into the box from the top to get it out.
  • Celebrate their success with clapping and smiles, they will be very proud of themselves. Continue to verbalize the actions, “in” and “out” as they continue to play.

You can make this activity more challenging by using a container with a lid such as a margarine or yogurt container. Cut small holes into the lid so the objects can be dropped in but they have to open the lid to get them out. (Don’t close the lid tight at first so it is easy for them to pull off) Help them verbalize by saying “open” when they begin to try opening the lid or “help please” if they find it difficult and gesture for your assistance.

This can be taken a step further by using small pompoms or cotton balls. Cut the holes in the lid just small enough that they cannot be dropped through the hole, but rather will need a bit of a push. This will encourage them to extend their index finger and push the cotton ball through the hole.

Two to Three Years

Container play is still a great way to work on important skills even in those later toddler years such as in hand manipulation of objects, directional placement (the way you have to hold your key to get it in the lock) and shape sorting.


  • Cracker box, cereal box, margarine or yogurt container
  • Scissors or knife
  • Any type of round thin objects; bingo chips, checkers, poker chips, larger coins



  • Cut long thin slits into the container, making sure to change the angle of the slit (- \ / |)
  • Demonstrate to your toddler how to drop the objects through the slits.
  • Use hand over hand to turn their wrist and help them find the right angle to make the object fit through the slit.

This activity can be made more challenging by adding color matching. Using different colored markers color around each hole on the box or container then use objects of matching colors to put through the holes. Verbalize each color as you put it through the hole.


Three to Four Years

I would still consider a form of container play for this age, but it is definitely focused on more mature skills such as language, following instructions, categorizing and understanding their sense of touch.


  • Obscure bag, not see through
  • Objects of different textures, sizes, and categories


Put 4-5 objects at a time in the bag and have your child reach into the bag and identify the objects before looking at them. I did this with my son recently, who was 3 years and 9 months at the time, and had to scale back the level of difficulty before he was successful.

I started with 4 objects, 2 spoons and 2 forks. I let him watch me put them in the bag, he thought he was being sneaky I didn’t know he saw. Then clearly explain what you what them to do. “Reach into the bag and feel with your hand, try to guess what you are touching without looking”. You can choose any familiar object that you are sure your child can identify by touch. This first introduction to the game is really just a way to have them understand the concept.

From there you can more to texture, categories and even shapes. My son’s favorite version of this game is using different Hotwheels, a car, motorcycle, truck, van, dragster…He also loves choosing objects and having me reach into the bag. This quickly transitioned into me picking an object, “thinking out loud” describing what I was feeling and him guessing what it was based on my description. Since he choose the objects he had an advantage. This also gave him a framework of descriptive words that he learned from listening to me that he would then use when feeling objects in the bag.

You can make this activity more challenging by giving more instructions to follow, such as choose the smallest object first and the largest one last, or the a specific texture. Once you start playing the ideas will just come to you and you will feel like a productive and proud parent!

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Lisa Crane

Lisa Crane is a mother to two kids, an Occupational Therapist and a seeker of balance in life!

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