15 Discovery Boxes for Preschoolers

A collection of fun and exciting Discovery Box ideas for preschoolers that are so simple to put together, yet offer hours of creative, investigative, heuristic play! Easy to pull out with no preparation and fantastic for using at home or school for 2 to 5 year olds.

15 discovery boxes for toddlers and preschoolers

Discovery Boxes are a simple idea I started with my eldest daughter when she was 2, after she had moved on from playing with her baby treasure baskets, and are a fun way to incorporate heuristic play into your day with your toddler or older baby. For more about heuristic play with babies and toddlers, read our introductory post.

The boxes are filled with everyday, found or recycled objects that are related to a particular theme, eg rolling, stacking, measuring, ordering, sorting etc. What happens with the objects is up to the child, not the adult and the activity is completely open-ended. The role of the adult is to sit back and watch, facilitating if the child wants it, maybe adding a few suggestions and finding ways to extend the child’s thinking even further. On many occasions my children have requested additional items to extend the play, such as tape or building blocks. The Discovery Box serves as a starting prompt and what the child wants to do with it afterwards is up to them, as the focus os always on open-ended play and combination of materials.

This is an emphasis in Reggio and play-based methodologies and is very much the way that I taught as a Reception/ Kindergarten teacher here in the UK.


In an early years setting these could be stored by theme or material in little baskets in shelves, labelled on the outside with a photo and text. Children could help themselves as and when they want to have some fun!

Here are 15 fun Discovery Boxes that we have tried and tested and that give plenty of scope for further extension and adaptation, according to your own child’s interests or particular needs. Click the titles to take you to the full descriptions and lists of resources contained in each one, as well as which areas of learning each one is helping to develop.

Rolling and stacking

Rolling and stacking discovery box

Ramps and chutes

Ramps discovery box



Tubes and beans

Tubes, tape and beans discovery box

Pipe cleaners and colanders

Pipe cleaners discovery box

Egg cartons

Egg cartons discovery box

Ribbons and material

Ribbons and material discovery box

Pouring and scooping

pouring and scooping discovery box


straws discovery box

Plastic eggs

plastic eggs discovery box

Pine cones

pine cones discovery box

Coloured stacking cups



Pebbles discovery box

Rainbow Scarves



Mini Discovery Boxes for open-ended play



If your little one is still too small for this type of loose parts play, consider making them a baby treasure basket to explore. This is suitable from 6-18 months of age and we have a few posts about those here for browsing.

Baby playing with a treasure basket1