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Prop Boxes in Early Childhood Classrooms

“Prop Boxes” are essentially a box full of materials related to the same theme or topic. The children play with the materials, act out scenarios related to the theme and add the materials to their own play. When using Prop Boxes in my own preschool classroom, I found that not only was the children’s play enhanced by using the materials, but their language and social interaction also increased. The children were eager to use the materials in their play and to represent the theme in the purest way possible.¬†

Materials in the Prop Boxes can be changed or altered throughout the school year as it is necessary, and new boxes can be brought out as the class explores different themes or topics. For example, what better way to enhance your exploration of community helpers than by having a Prop Box full of uniforms and materials that community helpers use? The children can play with the materials and act out the community helpers’ jobs. Already their understanding of the topic is increased!

A few key points to remember about Prop Boxes:

  • All of the materials should be things that children can play with independently.
  • All the materials should be safe for children to play with.
  • All of the materials should be as realistic as possible.
  • The children should be introduced to each material before playing with the box. This is best done in a large group setting where you and the children sit in a circle and you pull out each material and introduce it.
  • The box should be placed in the same place in the classroom each day, though the children can bring it to any area to add to their play.
  • You can decorate the outside of the box to represent the theme – this will further attract the attention of the children as well as be a visual reminder of what is in the box.

Here are examples from this year’s early childhood students. They were asked to create a Dramatic Play Prop Box related to the topic that they were exploring with the children. All of them said that the children immediately incorporated the box’s materials into their play and explorations in the classroom. Try it in your classroom and see what the children do!

Topic: Healthy and Unhealthy Foods

Prop Box Materials: Children’s book about healthy and unhealthy foods,¬†real and pretend examples of healthy and unhealthy foods

Topic: Ocean Animals

Prop Box Materials: Children’s books about ocean animals (informational texts), replicas of ocean animals, shells, sand, real fish in water

Topic: Rabbits

Prop Box Materials:Rabbit ears, rabbit mask, carrot, rabbit food, hay for a rabbit cage, pretend rabbits

Topic: The Vet

Materials in Prop Box: Children’s books about visiting the vet and caring for/approaching a dog, water and food bowls, charts to document visits, informational pamphlets, various tools and materials used by vets to perform a check-up on an animal (toothbrushes, containers, plastic syringes, tongue depressors, masks, gauze)

Topic: Bugs

Materials in Prop Box: Children’s book that identifies bugs, pretend bugs (hard and soft), replica grass and dirt habitat, bug identification sheet and photographs labeled with the name of the bug, bug puzzles and matching/sorting games, playdough

Topic: Planting Seeds/How a Seed Grows

Materials in Prop Box: Gardening gloves, watering can, rake, shovel, pots, seeds, soil

Topic: Doctor

Materials in Prop Box: Child-sized doctor kit, charts to document visits, gloves, band-aids, soap, tissues, tongue depressors

Topic: Community Helpers

Materials in Prop Box: Children’s book describing community helpers (informational text), puppets, clothing and tools for the following community helpers: Fireman, policeman, mailman, doctor, construction worker

Topic: The Zoo

Materials in Prop Box: Replicas of zoo animals in various textures, model zoo habitat, animal food, zookeepers

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