'What's in the Bag?'- A Fun Activity for Language Development

If you ever see me when I'm at work, you're sure to hear the sound of some musical toys ringing, beeping or mooing every time I put my bags on the floor, this is because my bags are usually full of toys and objects which can all be used to support early language development!  One of my favourite things to use in therapy is my "feely bag"; it's full of toys and everyday objects which can all be used to elicit language from young children on my caseload. Over the years I have found this to be a fun and effective activity to use with children who have language delay! Today I wanted to share why I like using them so much and some ways which you can use 'What's in the Bag?' activities in your therapy sessions too!

Why do this activity?
The 'What's in the bag?' activity is fun, engaging, easy to implement and free! You can use toys and objects that you have readily available in the home, nursery or clinic setting.  This activity is great at eliciting language from young children and I find it easily keeps them engaged throughout my full sessions!  You can also target other useful skills, such as play skills and social skills (such as turn taking, sharing etc.).
This activity also requires little to no pre-planning or preparation! All you need to do is put a handful of toys and objects into a bag and you're all set! Perfect!

What you need:
Setting up and using the 'What's in the bag?' activity is easy! All you need is:
- A bag: I like to use a drawstring bag because it means my toys don't fall out when I'm travelling between visits, but a pillow case works just as well too!
- A range of familiar toys/objects: I like to have selection of small toys such as pretend food, a hairbrush, some cars (different sizes and colours if possible), a cup, a plate, a spoon, a ball, a teddy, some bubbles and some pretend animals. I typically have around 10 or so items, but this can vary depending on the child's language and attention skills and the number of children I'm working with in each session.

How to use it:
- Put all of the toys in the bag, the adult holds onto the bag and gains the child's attention. The adult then asks "What's in the bag?" (I often shake the bag so the toys make a noise too as this really grabs their attention!)
- Take it in turns to take a toy out of the bag; name the toy and encourage the child to play with it.
- Use simple language to comment on the toy and what the child is doing, for example, if they take a car out of the bag, you could say "car", "blue car", if they push it, you could say "pushing the car", "fast car" etc.  When you model the words, be sure to keep the language simple and emphasise the key words.

- If the child is not sure how to play with the toy, you can model how to play with it, for example pretend to drink from a cup, use the brush to brush your hair or make animal noises when holding the cow/pig etc.
- Once the child has played with that toy for a short while (or for as long as their attention lasts!), you can hold the bag up and ask the question "What's in the bag?" again, then get another person to take something out of the bag!  If it's just you and the child, then take it in turns with each other, but if parents or caregivers are present, you can encourage them to join in too!
- Encourage the child to take turns and wait- emphasise 'my turn', 'your turn', 'mummy's turn' etc. You can also ask, "who's turn next?" to try elicit more language.

Things to remember:
- Be excited and interested when you're reaching into the bag and when you pull a toy out- this really helps keep young children engaged.
- Balance questions and comments- when you're modelling simple language to the child, try and comment on what they're doing rather than asking questions.  For example instead of saying "are you eating the banana?" You could say "eating the banana", "nice banana", or simply "eating" (with an eating noise!) etc.
- Follow their lead and talk about the toy that the child is playing with or looking at there and then.  If you pull an apple out of the bag, but the child is pretending to brush their hair with the hairbrush, there's little sense in you focusing on the apple! The child is clearly indicating that they want to play with the hairbrush, so name it, comment on that and join in with their play, you can then model "eating the apple" afterwards.

Two little tips...
1. When I pull an object/toy out of the bag, I hold it up near my face, so that the child is looking at me and my mouth when I say the words.
2. When pretending to eat the food, it's fun to act like it tastes nice or horrible, or that it's hot or cold. For example, if I'm pretending to eat an ice cream, I'd pretend to lick it, then rub my stomach and go "mmmm yummy ice cream", or I might eat the lemon and go "bleugh! Sour lemon!" Modelling this during play is not only hilarious to young toddlers but it can help elicit more language because they (often, but not always) try to copy my actions and noises too!

Language you can target:
Some of the vocabularly you can target during this activity includes:
- "my turn", "your turn" etc.
- "more"
- "open" (when opening the bag)
- animal and vehicle noises
- single word naming of all the objects
- two word phrases- e.g. fast car, big cow, blue cup etc.
- concepts (big, little, colours etc.)
- verbs (pushing, eating, drinking etc.)
- "all gone" when the bag is empty
...and lots more depending on what you put in the bag and how the child is playing with the objects!

Other ways 'feely bags' can be used:
- When playing with a jigsaw puzzle, put all of the pieces in the bag, encourage the child to ask for 'more', then take two pieces out of the bag, offer a choice of which puzzle piece they want; give them the piece they requested and put the other piece back into the bag.

- To help elicit 'I' (when children use 'I' instead of 'me'), you can do the same 'What's in the bag?' activity as described above, but model "I have a X".

Using a 'feely bag' with older children:
It's also possible to use 'feely bags' with other groups of children and not just young toddlers. The activity can be modified so that you have the objects in the bag and you take it in turns to choose an object but rather than pulling it out straight away, the person has to describe it (talk about it's shape, size, how it feels, what you do with it etc.) and the other person has to guess what it is!  This is great for working on vocabulary and word finding skills with other children.

Over the years I have found the 'What's in the bag?' activity to be a great way to encourage children's language skills and I hope this has given you some ideas of how to use 'feely bags' with young children with language delay in your therapy sessions!

Do you use 'feely bags' and 'what's in the bag?' activities already in your therapy sessions? How do you use them? I'd love to know, drop a comment below!

For more ideas of how to support early language skills with familiar toys and activities, and handouts with details about language strategies, check out our Early Language Handouts pack; available in our TpT store now!

1 comment

  1. Love your tips! I teach and have used this activity in the past. I like using various sensory materials.


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