Preschool discovery baskets

These preschool discovery baskets provide just the right prompt for some creative, hands-on learning. Here’s how we use them for storytelling, pretend play, maths and science.

Great ideas for preschool discover baskets: for imaginary play, storytelling, science and math

Preschool discovery baskets

Following on from our article on how to make discovery baskets for baby and toddlers, here’s the preschool edition. As before, take a container of your choice and fill it with a small collection of items, based around a theme. The idea is to give your preschoolers an encouraging prompt: a gentle invitation to dig in, discover some new materials, and then to use their own ideas to take the learning on.

We like to use a basket with a lid, so the contents are hidden for some ‘guess what’s inside this week?’ fun.

preschool pretend play discovery basket

A discovery basket for pretend play

If you’ve followed along with the Simple Play :: complex learning series, you’ll know I’m a big believer in classic, simple play ideas – and an invitation to host a pretend play tea party is perfect. All you need is a few items to get things started, and then children are off and playing and imagining. Listen in to the language they use as they play, accept a cup of tea, and sit back and observe the ideas the children bring to the game.

In this basket we have:

a few cups :: some bowls :: pretend food (a real cookie or two is a super treat!) :: a tea pot :: plates :: some sugar tongs

preschool discovery basket math volume

A discovery basket for maths

Gather together a set of materials that prompt some maths play. In this basket we have items on the theme of volume, and it can be paired with either water or sand for children to discover the potential in the materials.

In this basket we have:

sieves of different sizes, including large and fine holes :: measuring spoons :: a big and small teapot :: plastic measuring jug with a pint and litre scale :: a set of small, medium and large metal balti dishes :: a set of funnels in different sizes

I like to offer the materials and step back, to allow the children to play, experiment and ponder, rather than trying to teach the lesson, for example, that a big jug holds more water than small jug. If you sit nearby you can observe their play, pick up on discoveries they’ve made, over hear questions they are posing. A group of children may well answer questions for each other.

It’s good to follow this exploring session up with a ‘what did you discover?’ chat. There’s a wealth of mathematical language to use:

small, medium, large, full, empty, bigger, smaller, more, less, volume, litres, pints…

You might use a wonder wall to record their questions, and then set up another time to go back and work on the questions they still have. We do want to review and extract the learning from what the children are doing, but first of all, let them play.

preschool storytelling basket

A discovery basket for storytelling

This is one of my children’s favourite discovery baskets. I use this lovely vintage biscuit tin as our storytelling tin. What’s inside today? There’s a story waiting within, ready to be told. Open the lid and see who’s come to play!

storytelling activity preschool

In this version we have:

some tree slices :: shells :: small pieces of fabric :: a miniature nest :: homemade fairy pegdolls :: tiny pretend food :: a pretend toadstool

But of course you can gather together any variation of loose parts and character, perhaps to match a book you are reading.

pretend play storytelling

Open up the lid and invite the children to tell a story with the contents. My daughter likes to play this on a big roll of paper or on a white board laid on the table, so she can also draw in a map or landscape for the story.

wild animal discovery basket

A discovery basket for imaginary small world play

In the same way we used the storytelling tin, we can also use a container to hold the elements of a small world. A small world is a miniature play scene, where children can use their imagination to direct the characters. Often we match the contents of the tin to a theme we are learning about in science, history or geography.

African storytelling basket

Often, less is more, and just a few props are all that are needed to give and idea. In this tin, which could be used for an African theme, we have:

rocks :: small toy animals :: pieces of leather :: a roll of washi tape 

Although it’s temping – and fun! – to set out a small world for our children, this discovery basket idea hands all the creating over to the children, allowing them to both build the world and play in it.

baby toddler discovery baskets

Discovery baskets for baby and toddlers

If you have younger children, take a look at our ideas for discovery baskets for baby and toddlers.

Three to Five: Playful Preschool - creative, hands-on learning including 10 free printablesPlayful preschool ideas

Have you downloaded your copy of the Three to Five: Playful Preschool ebook? It’s packed full of creative, hands-on learning ideas for the preschool gang and includes a set of ten super printables. Click though to take a look inside and download your copy here.



  1. Belki says

    Love these thank you.Wish my son was still young .But Im going to make some of these for school .Im special ed aide these will be so much fun in PATCH and CATCH .

  2. celia o'connell says

    I love the discovery basket this well be very interesting for the toddlers it should hold there attention

  3. susan says

    Long time follower and first time commenting! I love your ideas for children. I’m a retired preschool teacher and miss my job so i like to keep up with ideas! The discovery/ story tins are a wonderful idea! Love it. Thanks for posting.

  4. Sue says

    I have pinned this to our Pinterest pages for early educators and also for language.It’s a great post to encourage imagination and language-many thanks.

  5. Ulla-Karin says

    Thanks for sharing Your ideas with discovery baskets/ tins. I have just ended my studies to be a teacher and I search for ideas to use with the children. I liked the tin and the words “less is more”, but what most caught my eye was the tin it self. I live in Sweden and my mother and grandmother had exatly a tin like yours. Now they has passed on to my niece. She has a son of 3 so I have to tell her about Your idea :)

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