Christmas Sensory Boxes

sensory box

Need a fun holiday therapy idea you can use with lots of different kids?

Here are my best instructions for making cute SENSORY BOXES for Christmas – always a big hit with toddlers!!

Materials: Start with a medium to large plastic container preferably with a lid. Add a filler material such as rice, pasta, sand or beans. Since it’s Christmas, you may even add cotton to simulate snow. (From SLP Maureen Mancini: Alternatives to food as fillers include pine cones and small pine branches for my sensory boxes. You can use: cotton balls, pompoms, small Lincoln logs, bristle blocks, tissue paper (cut into small pieces), Duplo blocks, small pieces of foam (like the foam letters), rubber bands, leaves, Easter grass, packing peanuts, feathers, large buttons, plastic flowers, cut up pool noodles- only to mention a few!)

Gather materials based on where a child is developmentally and the goals you’re addressing. For example, a child with strong visual preferences will attend to bright, sparkly materials such as garland or glitter-covered ornaments, mirrored objects, and even small items with lights. For a child working on receptive language, gather familiar holiday objects such as Santa, a flower, candy, a snowman, a present, etc… For a child who is just beginning to verbally imitate, select objects that are easier to say such as bell, box, candy, man, etc…

Suggested Goals:

1. The child will exhibit joint attention for longer periods of time.
2. The child will imitate actions in play.
3. The child will identify familiar objects.
4. The child will follow one step directions with familiar actions during play.
5. The child will begin to use words to complete automatic speech tasks in verbal routines during play.
6. The child will imitate easy vocalizations during play such as animal sounds and exclamatory words.
7. The child will imitate and use a variety of single words during play
8. The child will imitate and use two word phrases during play.
9. The child will use a target sound or pattern correctly in words to improve speech intelligibility.

Word of Caution: If a child is still mouthing lots of items, then a sensory box is not a great choice for a therapy activity. If a child begins to throw the rice or anything that’s too disruptive, move on to something else. Any time you become more focused on managing behavior than on teaching language, you should select a new activity.

The goals you’re working on with a child will also determine what items you include in your sensory box. Take a look at the ideas above in the materials section.

For some busy children, staying with you through the activity may be your only goal! With those children you’ll need to focus on materials that will hold their attention. Remember – less may be more with those kinds of kids. You may stick to rice, a couple of different tools they can dig with and then add some visually interesting things to find in the rice – brightly colored ornaments, a bell to ring, etc…

With busy toddlers, beginning to imitate your motor actions during play may be an appropriate early goal. Use a spoon or shovel and say something catchy and repetitive like “Pat pat pat” as you pat the rice with the shovel. Stir with your spoon and say, “Stir! Stir!” These kinds of simple actions and words will help to accomplish this goal better than more complex activities and language.

For children who are a little further along developmentally, target receptive language with statements such as, “Let’s dig and find the ____.” Try asking, “Where’s the____?” so that you can find the object together. Remember, you’re teaching, not testing, so you’re helping a child learn the label for each object as you’re playing with together.

You can also work in some of your other previous verbs/action words with this activity. As you’re finding a Santa character, make him jump off the side of the box or hide Santa in the beans. Keep your activity playful and don’t bark out commands.

If a child understands many words and you’re focused on expressive language, you can establish some nice verbal routines with the simple actions we talked about on the video such as, “Dig, dig, dig and pour!” Model your verbal routine many, many times and then pause expectantly for the child to fill in the last word.

Name objects as you find them hidden in the rice, but make sure a child is ready BEFORE you repeatedly quiz him by asking, “What’s that?” A child should imitate a word several times BEFORE he would be able to spontaneously name the object or respond to your “What’s that?” questions. If a child has never said, “Bell,” it’s unlikely he’ll say it when you say, “Tell me what this is.” Label items many, many times to establish the foundation for successful imitation.

If you plan ahead, you may also target speech intelligibility with this kind of activity. Select objects to hide based on your target sounds or pattern. Even pictures could be more fun when buried in the rice first!

There are endless possibilities out there for creating these activities. Google or search on Pinterest too! Hope this gets your creative juices flowing!!



Photo credit:  Read for some cute ideas!


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