Updated: Sep 17
Many people are probably wondering, “How can a sensory bin help my child’s language?” And not that long ago, I was right there with you wondering what the big deal was about! I knew what a sensory bin was, but didn’t realize how much language and interaction could be involved, but I also didn’t know just how much fun they can be!
Today I am going to show you how to make a fall themed sensory bin, but more importantly I want to teach you how to use it to increase language production and incorporate communication into play. For my fall bin, I headed to my favorite spot- the dollar tree! My budget was $10- which I stuck to- until I realized a decoration I bought for my classroom would be perfect to include- so mine ended up being $11 total. You can absolutely spend less or spend more and still make an awesome bin!
Materials you will need: a container and leaves (I bought 3 packages of 50 leaves) are two things that you absolutely need. The other things you purchase can be up to you! I got a little excited about the Halloween items, so I got spiders, a pumpkin decorating kit, a bag of skeleton/creatures, eyeballs (you can target body parts/senses), glitter vase fillers, and scarecrow magnets. There are many other options at the Dollar Tree, Target or Michaels that would be perfect: mini erasers, stickers, spider rings, or fall themed foam stickers would all be great.
Other items I have found on Amazon: this complete water bead Halloween set, mini Halloween Puppets (perfect for pretend play!), this awesome 100 piece set, these fall foam felt beads, or really anything you have at your house that is fall themed. You absolutely do not have to spend a lot of money on this! Set up is easy- you just put everything into the container and done! Easy as pie, right? I will give language and play ideas for the items that I purchased, but get creative with your fall finds! Read through to find skills appropriate for your child, and if you aren’t sure- just go down the list and then focus on areas of difficulty. If your child is working on articulation (sounds), practice speaking clearly and using good sounds during play - or choosing words to model with their sound in play!
Target language skills during play:
Receptive language: say “Let's find a pumpkin”, “I found something orange, can you?”, “find something that is soft/hard”, “find something you wear on your head”, “what do you see with?”, “I wonder if you see anything scary...”, “I want to find something that slithers”, “Let's find a pretty leaf”, “Do you see something shiny”, etc.
Requesting: For child who are able, you can have them ask for the bin, the leaves, or specific items. They can use words/pictures/signs – sentences- whatever you are working on! You can also model this skill if your child isn't quite ready.
Sorting: sort the items into categories: insects, Halloween, clothes, plants, body parts, and reptiles are all in my sensory bin! You can also sort by attributes such as color, big vs. little, or hard vs. soft.
What does not belong? Put a few items that do not belong in the bin (such as Christmas items, food items, etc. and see if your child can find them and take them out or explain why they don’t belong.
Answering ‘wh’ questions: First things first- DON'T overload your child with questions - for younger children be sure you are making 3-4 comments per question. Some question examples are: “Who lives in a web?”, “where do you wear a hat?”, “when do we see skeletons?”, “why do the leaves change colors and fall?”, “what do we do with shirts?”, “when is fall? (after summer, before winter), “what are some other things that belong to fall?”, “why do people have scarecrows?”, “how many legs do spiders have?”, “how does the spider feel?” (soft), “how do spiders build webs?”, “why do you think there are skeletons in here?”, etc.
Prepositions: you can do this receptively (put the spider under the leaves), or expressively (where is the pumpkin?)- encourage use of words like under/over/on/behind/in front of/beside or next to/around by modeling over and over in your play.
Following directions & verbs: “get the spider and put it on your foot”, “make the spider jump”, “show me how the skeleton walks”, “let’s race the spiders and see who is faster”, “put the skeleton to sleep”, “make the snake scare the scarecrow”, etc. Other fall verbs include falling, trick or treating, running, raking, eating, playing, sleeping, jumping, throwing and rolling.
Increase vocabulary: learn more about these items. For example, if you are playing with a spider, you could talk about arachnids, that they build webs, different kinds of spiders, some can be poisonous. You can ask your child what they know about each item first, and then find out more together- read a book, watch a video, look up google images.
Describing/inferencing: Have your child reach into the leaves and find an object- and describe how it feels (“it feels hard, it has a point, it’s made of plastic), and guess what it is. Once they pull it out, they can describe what it looks like (“it’s a triangle, it’s black with a white stripe, you wear it on your head). Talk about the different senses you use to describe: feel and sight. Does it make any sound? Could it smell or taste like anything?
Storytelling: Ask your child to make up a story using the items in the bin. First, they can make up a story using the actual items, and then see if they can make up a story using the items in creative ways. You can model this for them by telling a story first- don’t forget to use the props: “Once there was a man (skeleton) who wanted to go to the pumpkin patch (bin). He jumped in his car (spider) and drove to the pumpkin patch. But when he got there, he forgot his money (leaf). He turned around and drove back home, got his money, and then drove all the way back to the pumpkin patch. Now that he has money, he can buy a pumpkin, and he can go on a hayride (bat).”
Conversations: “What is your favorite item in the bin?”, “what do you think is missing?”, “what is your favorite color leaf?”, “what do you want to be for halloween?”, “how do you want to decorate your pumpkin this year?”, “what is your favorite thing about fall?”, “what’s your favorite season?”, “did you find anything you don’t like?”, “was there anything scary?”. Encourage your child to ask you questions too! You can provide leads and then give wait time to see if your child will follow your lead- “there’s something I really like, but it is NOT the spider….”, “The scariest thing happend to me yesterday…”, “I have a favorite season…”. If your child isn't interested in these conversations, that's okay too! They can pick the topic!
Sing the Itsy Bitsy Spider and move the spider to go with the song.
Play pretend: add dolls or superheroes to this play. You can pretend you (or a doll) are zombies, you are raking leaves that just keep falling (what should we do?!?), you are a scarecrow that came to life but can’t find your field, the spider cannot make a web and needs a house, you are a family of skeletons who want friends but keep scaring everyone away, etc.
Solve problems in play: if you are a skeleton who is scaring everyone away, maybe you could put on clothes and people won’t notice. If your child has difficulty with this- you can model it and provide leads for them to follow: “hmmmmm, maybe there’s something we can cover our bones with so people don’t know we are skeletons”.
The idea with pretend play is that your child can 1. be creative and play make believe, 2. add to the play which will help them understand how and why others play, and 3. compromise- sometimes we do things your way, and sometimes we do things my way, and that’s ok!
Take turns, and learn vocabulary “my turn”, “your turn”, “what should we do next?”, “I wonder what would happen if…”, “I have an idea, let’s….”