We’ve always enjoyed “center time” or “exploratory play” in our home during which time our young children could choose an activity to enjoy independently in a defined space such as on a tray or a rug. I’ve kept a stock of center time ideas and supplies from play dough and accessories to strings and beads to plastic dinosaurs and dioramas. These center time activities have allowed my children to play and learn independently while I was busy paying bills, scheduling appointments by phone, preparing dinner, doing my Bible study or enjoying the latest issue of my favorite magazines.
Traditionally we stored center time activity supplies either in the containers they came in or in plastic storage containers or bags. Recently two of our family goals came together to lead us to reusing glass jars to store our center time activities. First off, we’re trying to buy cereals and other foods in bulk for the price break. Foods purchased in bulk need storage containers but we’re also trying to live greener and reduce purchasing plastics. Once we began recycling glass, we became aware of just how many glass jars were entering our home. We began using them for bulk foods and soon our eyes were opened to how glass jars were also a good solution for storing small toys and center time activities.
Glass jars automatically address one of the biggest issues with educational toys, which is “out of sight is out of mind.” As parents many of us buy educational toys from microscopes to matching games, find an out of the way place to store them, and then sadly forget about them. Jars won’t work for all educational toys and games but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many items we can store in jars.
Using jars means the learning toys are organized, visible and attractive. Plastic square containers are stackable but are less opaque and buying more plastic storage containers is certainly less eco-friendly. I’ve noticed that my children and their young friends are much more attracted to the activities presented in glass jars. There is something just so novel about the row of glass jars showing off their wares.
We first used a small glass jar to store the monkeys from my son’s Barrel of Monkeys toy when the top to the barrel disappeared. Next we used a larger glass jar to store cards from a favorite matching game when the cardboard box gave way to being pulled in and out and stacked under weight. Next we made a jar with a handful of Lego’s which have been used more often than the large box that was sitting out of the way.
Using the jars seemed to inspire us to even create new center time activity ideas. One day when I was cleaning out our “junk” drawer, I noticed some magnets, odd screws to which I no longer knew what they went to, old keys, washers, paper clips, jacks and so on. I grabbed a jar and included these items as well as some other odd items like plastic bugs and small seashells that wouldn’t be attracted by the magnets. In minutes I had created a new learning center activity for son and cleared up my drawer as well.
We were all soon rewarded when my son sat down with his new magnet learning center jar and two paper plates and sorted magnetic and non-magnetic items for thirty minutes while I helped his older sister organize her own science project.
I am sure many parents will be concerned about the possibility of broken glass and the safety issue. Obviously this would not be an option in a preschool or day care institution. This is an idea for home learning centers and in my experience, my children have an awareness of the glass jars and are much less likely to drop them or knock them off of a table than they are plastic or cardboard. However, for safety, it is important to always supervise and allow children to use these jars at a lower level like on a rug or child size table, where a jar would not have as far to drop as opposed to a kitchen counter.
Ideas for Learning Centers in Jars:
Legos or small amounts of other building manipulatives
Magnets and magnetic and non-magnetic items
Strings and beads
Play Dough and a few small accessories
Creating these smaller learning centers in jars makes these toys much more manageable and usable and easier to clean up quickly than a big container full of an overwhelming amount of toys. In these challenging economic times we’ve discovered that repackaging old toys and games gives them new life and value and reduces the temptation to buy new toys and learning games. Creating learning centers in glass jars is fun and attractive and teaches children to reuse materials in an eco-friendly way.