I pulled up to the house at 10:14 on a warm Thursday morning. While I organized my materials in my car, I saw a little face staring at me from a window. I could see the mother holding her son’s arm out to encourage him to wave. This is when I decide to leave my giant bag of therapy materials behind to bake in the afternoon sun. Although I still frequently decide to bring the big bag into sessions, I’m happy to report that I’m learning to arrive with just my clipboard.
When I started working in early intervention, I wanted to make sure I kept my clients interested and engaged throughout each session. I aspired to write plans fitting with a family’s routine, but parents and caregivers often persuaded me to bring my own materials, because they said their child no longer showed interest in their own toys. How could this be? This child with a complete studio apartment full of every educational toy imaginable got bored?
I thought hard about how I presented materials to clients and their families to keep them engaged without filling their apartments with more stuff. I made my best effort to leave my materials bag in the car. How would adding my pile to theirs help?
As I thought about solutions, I realized many of my families acquire a lot of clutter. Parents bought their children hundreds of dollars’ worth of toys in hopes the objects themselves would foster language growth. I gave frequent—usually ignored—reminders that progress is based more on what you do with a toy. Instead of recommending the next best toy to my families, I started looking at what was already available in the house.
I eventually combined an answer to my toy pile conundrum with my belief in recycling as a great way to improve the environment, economy and sustainable manufacturing while preventing waste from going into oceans and landfills. I started building functional activities with used—and cleaned, of course—household materials previously headed for the waste pile. I used these newly upcycled items to target specific vocabulary parents want to promote in their children.
In short, I chose the recycling bin over the sensory bin. Clients and I now select appropriate core vocabulary goals based on their routines along with items they typically buy. In addition to communication skills, the child I’m treating learns responsibility toward the environment, as well as that what gets left behind after the groceries are consumed makes excellent play materials!
One fun example involves an empty egg carton. We poke clothespin-sized holes on the bottom of each egg dimple, color the tips of old clothespins and quickly create a matching activity. For another, we use clean food pouch tops of various colors to set up a nice sorting activity. Or I’ve unstrung plastic bead necklaces, placed the beads inside a cardboard toilet paper roll and taped the ends. This simple toy generates a cool sound effect when the child says, “lift up,” and raises the roll high in the air!
Gregory D. Johnson, MS, CCC-SLP, works in private practice in the Chicago area and specializes in early intervention. He enjoys maximizing his clients’ potential by generating a variety home-based play activities. firstname.lastname@example.org