One way to challenge children is by changing the materials they are using in an activity. We all know not to put out ALL of our good stuff in a center at a time. One reason is that it can be sensory overload for children. But the most important reason to save materials is so that they can be brought out periodically as a challenge for children when they are ready. Here are some suggestions for new materials to add to your learning centers and interesting ways to use them:


  • Add aluminum foil and flashlights for an illuminating challenge.
  • Add rope and small balls. Ask, "What can you do with these objects and blocks?"
  • Make "challenge cards" with pictures of unusual buildings that will inspire children's building.

Dramatic Play

  • Add open-ended materials such as large sheets and scarves or a large cardboard box for a "What can you do with this?" challenge.
  • Have a "challenge box" of unusual items (tools, large beach ball, funny glasses) that children can choose from when they want to add a new element to their play.
  • After reading a favorite story, provide props to go with it and challenge children to use the props as they retell the story in their own way.


  • Provide a rotating collection of materials children can investigate, sort/classify, count, and graph. These items might include keys, shells, and prisms. Be sure to include something that does NOT belong!
  • Add a pan balance for exploring weight. Ask, "How many Styrofoam 'peanuts' will balance one real peanut on the scale? What else can you find in the room that weighs the same as the peanut?"
  • Create a graphing board out of a shower curtain liner boxed with masking tape.
  • Provide measuring tapes and unusual things to measure. Ask, "Which is bigger around-a pumpkin or your head? Measure and see!"


  • Change the paint. Mix things with it, such as sawdust, sand, rice, confetti. Ask, "How many ways can you use the new paint?"
  • Change the paper. Surprise children by hanging wallpaper, paper bags, newspaper, paper with holes cut in it, corrugated paper at the easel. Ask, "How can you paint on this?"  
  • Change the painting tool. Replace brushes with corncobs, rollers, sponge mops, or feather dusters!