Spring has sprung! Gardening presents opportunities to practice many different language skills. It also is a wonderful sensory experience. But what if you are like us and don’t exactly have a green thumb? A spring time sensory bin can save the day! This bin brings the fun of garden play without the mess or responsibilities of continual watering and maintenance.
To make our bin we went to Dollar Tree and the whole thing cost under ten dollars to create! The base of the bin is black beans. We also obtained some children’s gardening tools and small plant pots for scooping purposes. The additional items we added to the bin were different types of artificial flowers. (We taped the bottoms for safety to ensure they weren’t too pointy!) If you have a larger bin, adding some toy bugs might be fun. Since we were using a smaller bin, we kept it simple.
How you use your bin depends on the language abilities of your kiddo. This post will be broken into two sections to focus on the two different types of talkers we frequently see in therapy. Scroll to the section that best meets the needs of your child.
Emerging Verbal Behavior: Working on 1-2 Word Utterances
Core Vocabulary: want, help, more, no, all done, put, in, like, I, it, that
Verbs: dig, scoop, plant, pick
Nouns: garden, flower, bin, bean, pot, rake, shovel, spade
While your child explores the bin, you can demonstrate pretend gardening play by “planting” different flowers in pots. You can dig and scoop the beans with the various tools provided. As you’re playing or observing your kiddo with the bin, comment on the actions occurring. Model 1-3 word utterances by pairing the core words and verbs with the target nouns listed above.
Here are some examples of useful phrases:
I want help
I want flower
No more flower
Put pot in
Put flower in
Flower in pot
I like that
I rake beans
No more rake
If your child imitates these phrases or makes any attempt to communicate, be extra responsive! Answer them accordingly, or expand on their utterance. Provide positive reinforcement for communication by giving them the materials they are requesting as quickly as possible. Also, compliment them for using their words.
Expanding Language: Building Vocabulary and More
This section is for kiddos who speak using full sentences. The goal is to work towards learning new vocabulary words or telling narratives.
Increasing exposure to new words: Whether you are using the bin to simply explore or for pretend garden play, there are a plethora of adjectives and nouns you can introduce to your child. If you want your kiddo to have a robust vocabulary, you must model new words in the appropriate context for them consistently. Pick some target words to use repeatedly as you play with the bin and see if your child will imitate them after playing for a bit. When they utilize the target words in their own sentences, provide positive praise (I.e. “I like how you used some new words!” “Wow, that was a long sentence! Good for you!”).
Here are some suggested adjectives we used when describing various portions of the bin:
tall, silky, exotic, sharp/pointy, hard, deep, smooth, rough
We also used some nouns to label names and parts of flowers:
stem, pistol, petals, leaves, hydrangea, daisy
Try to use more interesting color shades than basic pink, blue, or purple. For example:
Magenta, cerulean, lilac, lavender (Colors vary based on your artificial flower selection.)
Telling Narratives: If your child uses simple sentences, you will have to model this skill by summarizing what their actions are or combining their utterances. Start by saying something like: “Tell me how you plant the flowers here.”
- If they just show you the actions, provide a narrative yourself. (I.e. Oh I see. First, you dig with the rake. Then you scoop some dirt in the pot. Last, you “plant” your flower by pushing it into the pot! Great job!) This sort of skill requires repeat exposure, so continue telling narratives in your daily life. Describe your actions when you’re cooking a meal, or driving somewhere. Make sure you use sequencing words like first, then, next, last, finally. Then you can try asking the question again the next time your child plays with the spring sensory bin in the hopes that they can tell a narrative after hearing some more from you!
- If you ask your child and they respond with single sentences, combine their sentences to make them longer. At the end, you can say, “I like how you told me the directions! Now I know what to do!” to reinforce the skill.