16 Discovery Box Ideas For Preschoolers


Discovery boxes are a great way to capture the curiosity of little ones, providing them with hours of heuristic play as well as enhancing learning and developing skills.

The great thing about discovery boxes is that there are no rules! You can fill them with everyday items you can find around the house,  from materials in your recycling bin to pots and pans out of your kitchen cupboards! Discovery boxes can follow different themes from stacking, pouring and scooping to exploring colours, sounds and shapes. The idea is that you simply present the box to your little one, sit back and let them do the rest!

Top Tips For Making The Perfect Discovery Box

- You don’t necessarily need a box, you can use a plastic tub, basket- just something big enough to contain all of your goodies!

- Add Sensory play materials to your boxes- dry pasta shapes, dry rice, lentils, water beads. Try dying rice and pasta to make your boxes even more visually stimulating.

- You can adjust the boxes to suit your child’s age and abilities- avoid smaller items for babies and young toddlers as they love to explore with their mouths and we don't want any accidents!

- To minimise the mess, place your discovery box on a wipeable tablecloth or take the activity outside in the garden

- Use your imagination and get creative, you’ll find that once you start making these you won't be able to stop!

1. Discovery Boxes Using Recycled Materials

Your recycling bin holds a treasure trove of items you can use for your discovery boxes.  Bottle tops, recycled toilet rolls, cereal boxes, egg cartons, plastic bottles, yoghurt pots- it can all be used to fill your discovery box.  Make sure it's all clean then fill up your discovery box, add some sensory materials and it’s ready to be explored!

3. Sorting And Matching Discovery Box

Fill a discovery box with groups of the same items and add some sorting containers.  Children will love defining objects by colour, shape, size and texture whilst sorting them into their containers. This is fun, hands-on sensory activity which will help to improve vital motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Here are some great examples of sporting boxes for you to try!

4. Noise-Making Discovery Boxes

Get your earplugs at the ready! Kids love to explore different sounds so try filling your discovery box with everyday household items to see what sounds they make.

Items you could include in your box: small pots with wooden spoons, clear plastic bottles filled with rice, sand or water, seashells and stones, spoons and metal pot lids, scrunched up greaseproof paper- explore your house for different objects you could use!

5. Science Discovery Boxes

Let your kids explore the magic of magnets with this fun sensory activity and science experiment all rolled into one.  

How to make your magnetic discovery box: fill your discovery box with some sensory materials and then add some metal objects.  You can use keys, coins, magnetic numbers/letters, fridge magnets, spoons, whatever you can find at home. Place a magnet in the box and then present it to your child and let them discover the magic of magnetism!

6. Construction-Themed Discovery Box

If your kids love construction and diggers then this is the perfect discovery box for you. So simple to put together and will provide your little one with hours of open-ended sensory play.

Start by filling your box/plastic container with some sensory materials-try soil, pebbles or sand. Then simply add some mini diggers, trucks or vehicles and your construction site is ready!

7. Nature Discovery Box

Next time you're in the garden or out on a walk, gather up some materials. Flowers, twigs, pebbles, leaves, grass, feathers, pine cones will all be great additions to your nature-themed discovery box. Try filling your box with sand or soil and adding in some scoops so they can get their fix of messy play too. For younger children who like to explore using their mouths try putting items into clear plastic bottles so they can explore them safely.

8. Letter-Themed Discovery Box

Explore phonics with a letter themed discovery box. Simply fill your discovery box with items starting with the same letter, a fun way to introduce phonic sounds and letters to little ones. Here are some great ideas to get you started!

11. Shapes Discovery Basket

Explore shapes with a shaped theme discovery box. Choose a shape then go on a hunt around the house finding suitable items to fill your discovery box.  This simple activity will help to enhance your kids learning on shapes and will provide them with hours of hands-on sensory play. Here are some ideas to get you started!

9. I-Spy Discovery Box

This is a really easy discovery box that will keep kids engaged and entertained for hours! Here are some great ideas to inspire your imagination!

12. Pouring And Scooping

This is a great discovery box for sensory exploration, helping to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Simply fill your discovery tub with some sensory materials- rice, sand or lentils. Add some funnels, wooden spoons, scoops, little pots, recycled plastic bottles and you're all set. Little hands will love filling the bottles, pouring them out, mixing and scooping providing them with hours of heuristic play.

Kidadl top tip: make your own funnels by cutting up used plastic milk bottles - just take care that the edges aren't too sharp!

13. Rolling And Stacking Discovery Box

Help to fine motor skills and improve hand-eye coordination by creating a discovery box themed around rolling and stacking.  Here are some ideas on items you could include inside your box: rolling pin, kitchen roll holder, play dough, hairbands, stacking bricks, recycled kitchen/toilet rolls, balls, plastic bottles, biscuit cutters.

2. Colour-Themed Discovery Boxes

Put together a colour themed discovery box, great for exploring and mastering colours.  Choose your colour then explore your house finding items of that colour that would be suitable for your discovery box.

14. Cooking-Themed Discovery Box

Inspire the kids with a cooking-themed discovery box and let their imaginations run free. Start by filling your discovery box with sensory materials like pasta, rice and lentils. Then, simply add some mini pots, pans, plates, children's cutlery, scoops and measuring cups.

15. Exploring Textures Discovery Box

Create a discovery box using items with different textures to really spark the curiosity of your little ones.  

Items you could include in your discovery box: toothbrush, tin foil, greaseproof paper, hairbrush, sponge, feathers, pinecones, wool, paintbrush, fabric, coloured beads on a string, bubble wrap, play dough.

16. All That Sparkles And Shines Discovery Box

This discovery basket is sure to capture the attention of the kids, filled to the brim with shiny and metallic objects they'll be eager to explore.

Here are some ideas on items you could include in your box: tin foil, sequins, metallic beads, reflective card, metal pans, old CDs, jewellery, metal whisk, keys- anything sparkly and shiny that you can find around your house.

10. Under The Sea Discovery Box

Explore the ocean with this water-based sensory tub.

To make your ocean discovery tub you’ll need a large plastic container or bowl. Add some water with a few drops of blue food colouring to turn it blue like the ocean. Add some sand, shells, pebbles, water beads and ice cubes. If you have any little boats or ocean toys pop them in. Add some spoons, funnels and mini finishing nets and your ocean discovery box is ready to be explored!



At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.

We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it’s important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.

Kidadl provides inspiration to entertain and educate your children. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.

Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong.

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