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Toddlers and Boxes: “Hi! Hi!”

toddlers and boxes

About this Video

In this video, we see toddlers Hannah (20 months) and Evie (23 months) playing outdoors with a variety of cardboard boxes that are large enough for the children to fit inside. Their parents and grandparents, who collected the boxes, have made certain the cardboard is clean and free of staples and other potential hazards. They have cut windows and doors in the boxes and set them on the lawn, with some joined by doorways and some separate from the rest. They have also provided lengths of fabric for the children to use.

This family activity lasted about an hour. During that time, Evie and Hannah played inside and outside the boxes.They played alone part of the time but also interacted with each other and with Hannah’s older sister Ellie (age 7 years, 10 months). This video focuses mainly on the toddlers’ interactions with each other and on ways that they meet physical challenges presented by the boxes.

Social interactions: As is typical of toddlers, Evie and Hannah do not play with each other for long periods of time. Their interactions are limited to a few words. In fact, during Part 1, Evie seems to ignore some of Hannah’s greetings (“Hi!”). However, when the two are inside adjoining boxes, they babble to each other until Evie shouts “No!” and pulls some fabric away from Hannah. In Part 2, the toddlers interact directly by saying “Hi!”, looking at each other, and standing next to each other. At the end of the clip, Evie asks “Okay?” after Hannah falls while trying to climb into a box.

Also, during Part 1, Evie seems to be following the lead of her older cousin, Ellie, when Ellie puts a length of fabric on top of a box.  Although Evie has no eye contact with Ellie and they do not speak to each other, Evie seems to be trying to help spread the cloth out; she also pats the top of the box with the cloth on it.

Physical activity: Playing with the big boxes offers Hannah and Evie opportunities to use and coordinate a variety of movements while opening and closing the doors and windows, crawling and scooting into and out of the boxes, positioning their bodies so they can look into and out of the boxes, and changing positions from standing to crawling and from sitting to standing.

The toddlers also encounter physical challenges and usually take a trial-and-error approach to resolving them. For example, Evie often struggles with the fabric. One of her feet becomes tangled in fabric when she tries to crawl out of a box, and she quickly moves to free it. When trying to help Ellie put fabric on a box, Evie tugs on another piece of fabric and falls because she is standing on it. Later, the fabric on the box slides over her head as she pulls it off the box; taking the fabric off her head requires some effort. When Hannah moves from crawling to standing inside a box, she finds that she doesn’t have enough room to stand upright. She hunches slightly and walks forward out of the box so she can stand comfortably. At the end of the video, Hannah tries to enter a box through one of its windows, standing on one leg while trying to put the other through the opening that is level with her chest. She can’t keep her balance and falls but is not seriously hurt.

This video shows several examples of ways that toddlers can benefit from playing with “loose parts”—cardboard boxes, pieces of fabric, and other items such as blocks, sand, clay, and so on. Loose parts also are called “flexible play materials” because, as Hannah and Evie demonstrate, children can use them for a variety of purposes. Also, children in a wide age range can adapt the materials to suit their interests and abilities. As long as an adult is supervising, any risks that may be involved with flexible materials can be kept at an acceptable level. Sometimes children may feel comfortable taking risks, as Hannah does when she tries to climb into a box through its window. Flexible play materials are usually inexpensive compared with many other toys, which can be an advantage for families.



Part 1

Hannah: (yanks open the door to a box) Hi!

Hannah giggles and walks to another box. She peeks inside that box. Evie crawls from the tall box to the box with the door.

Hannah: Hi!

Evie crawls out of the box where she has been sitting, stands up, and pulls on some fabric that has stuck to her foot.

Ellie: (in a robot costume barely seen on the on the left edge of the frame) I am a robot. I am a robot.

Evie puts the fabric back inside the box.

Evie is inside the “tunnel” box, half-lying on a mound of fabric. Hannah is in the adjoining box. Evie pulls herself to sitting position; the box leans over with her weight.

Hannah: Wah ziz?

Evie crawls forward, and the box begins to topple. An adult steadies the box. The girls babble to each other. The adult props the door open to support the box.

Evie: (grabbing and pulling on some fabric) NO!

Ellie walks over to the box in which Hannah is playing and peers inside through a round window.

Evie: No.

Ellie: Hi, girls.

Ellie puts her head through the round window, withdraws, peers in a window on the other side, and goes to another box as Hannah opens the round window, looks out, and closes the window.

Ellie: Hi, girls.

Evie stands at the opening of the box she was in earlier. She pulls several lengths of fabric and drops them on the grass. She enters the box and starts to crawl through it, but Ellie is going through in the opposite direction, so Evie backs out. After Ellie emerges and stands, Evie closes the door to the box. Ellie places some gauzy fabric over the box. Evie pats the top of the box twice, then backs up and tries to pick up some blue fabric. She is standing on it and falls down. Ellie mounds the gauzy fabric on top of the box. Evie pulls it off, covering her head in the process. She uncovers her head and opens the box door. Hannah emerges, crawling, then stands before she is all the way out of the box, making it wobble. She walks out past Evie.

Part 2

Hannah stands by a tall box, touching its window. Evie is inside it. Both girls giggle. Hannah opens the window.

Hannah and Evie: Hi!

Hannah peers inside.

Hannah: Hi!

Evie opens the door and leans out, looking at Hannah. Hannah closes the window and looks at Evie. Evie moves back into the box. Hannah opens the window and calls, “Hi!” Evie scoots back into the box and looks at Hannah.

Evie: Hi, there.

Hannah closes and opens the window.

Hannah: Hi!

Evie scoots out of the box.

Hannah: (opening window) Hi!

Evie closes the box door and stands looking at Hannah.

Hannah: Hi! (frowning) Ee iz.

Evie goes to stand near Hannah. Hannah opens the box window. She tries to put one leg through the box window, falls, giggles, and stands up.

Evie: Okay?

Hannah runs away.

Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age Three y How They Were Met

This list shows how Hannah’s and Evie’s actions in the video relate to some standards in the birth-to-three guidelines.

Self-Regulation: Foundation of Development
Attention Regulation
Children demonstrate the emerging ability to process stimuli, focus and sustain attention, and maintain engagement in accordance with social and cultural contexts.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Remains focused for longer periods of time while engaged in self-initiated play
  • Action: Both girls remained engaged in box activities for several minutes, opening and closing the windows, crawling in and out of the boxes, watching the older child and imitating her actions.

Self-Regulation: Foundation of Development
Behavior Regulation
Children demonstrate the emerging ability to manage and adjust behaviors in accordance with social and cultural contexts.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Communicates “mine” when another child takes a toy away
  • Action: When both girls were playing inside the box, Evie pulled some of the fabric away from Hannah and said “NO”, with no further intensification.

Developmental Domain 1: Social & Emotional Development
Relationship with Peers
Children demonstrate the desire and develop the ability to engage and interact with other children.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months):
    • Demonstrates enthusiasm around other children
    • Begins to engage in simple reciprocal interactions, e.g., rolls a ball back and forth
  • Action: Initially, Hannah sought interaction with Evie by enthusiastically saying “Hi” multiple times, but she did not receive a response. The girls then babbled together when inside the box. Later, the girls played a kind of peek-a-boo game, calling out “Hi” and looking at each other through an open door or window. Evie collaborated with Ellie to put fabric on top of a box and patted the box as Ellie did.

Developmental Domain 1: Social & Emotional Development
Children demonstrate an emerging ability to understand someone else’s feelings and to share in the emotional experiences of others.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Shares in and communicates simple emotions of others, e.g., “mama sad”, “papa happy”
  • Action: When Hannah fell while attempting to crawl through the window, Evie said “OK?” and looked toward the adults as Hannah got up and ran away.

Developmental Domain 2: Physical Development & Health
Gross Motor
Children demonstrate strength, coordination, and controlled use of large muscles.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months):
    • Attempts to climb objects, e.g., furniture, steps, simple climbing structures
    • Holds objects or toys while walking, e.g., pulls a car by a string while walking around the room
  • Action: The girls both crawled into and out of the boxes through the doors and opened and closed the doors and windows. Hannah also attempted to climb through a window. Evie tried to walk while carrying fabric.

Developmental Domain 2: Physical Development & Health
Fine Motor
Children demonstrate the ability to coordinate their small muscles in order to move and control objects.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Controls placement of objects in a more effective manner, e.g., stacks blocks in a more orderly fashion
  • Action: Evie helped the older child, Ellie, place fabric on top of a box. She then pulled it off the box.

Developmental Domain 3: Language Development, Communication, & Literacy
Social Communication
Children demonstrate the ability to engage with and maintain communication with others.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months):
    • Initiates and engages in social interaction with simple words and actions
    • Demonstrates an understanding of turn-taking in conversations, e.g., asks and answers simple questions
  • Action:
    • Hannah initiated interactions with Evie by saying “Hi!”
    • Hannah and Evie later took turns saying “Hi” to each other.

Developmental Domain 4: Cognitive Development
Logic & Reasoning
Children demonstrate the ability to use knowledge, previous experiences, and trial and error to make sense of and impact their world.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Repeats actions over and over to cause desired effect, e.g., dumps out a bucket and refills it with objects
  • Action: Both girls repeatedly opened the box windows and doors, looked inside, and closed them again, which made seeing each other/not seeing each other into a game.

Approaches to Learning
Creativity, Inventiveness, & Imagination
Children demonstrate the ability to use creativity, inventiveness, and imagination to increase their understanding and knowledge of the world.

  • Indicators for children (16-24 months): Communicates in creative ways, e.g., plays with words by rhyming, chanting, or making up songs; uses movement and dance
  • Action: Hannah spontaneously invented a game that enabled her to interact with Evie: opening a window, saying “Hi,” and closing the window—and repeating the process.