Anticipation is the electricity of childhood.

— Jason Kotecki

Who doesn’t remember at some point in their childhood looking at a wrapped present with their name on it and feeling some excitement?  

    “I wonder what’s inside?”  

    “Will it be something I can play with?”  

    “Is it something new to experience?”

Looking at some of the things kids are interested in today, whether it is YouTube videos showing people opening various wrapped packages or watching my nephew getting excited about opening his next pack of Pokémon cards, it’s easy to see that the emotion of anticipation is still electric.

I knew I was on the right track many years ago when I started each session with a song, “Two Hands Up” and then followed it with “What’s In The Bag?”

I am sure as educators, therapists, and parents, you can relate to carrying around the proverbial “bag of tricks” to keep your children interested or engaged. While I originally started with a bag of reinforcing toys, my “What’s In The Bag?” program quickly morphed into objects that were part of the preschool curriculum or were functional nouns I wanted to teach. If the theme of the month was FOOD, I would incorporate food objects as well as one or two reinforcing toys (bubbles/slinky/spinning light toy) for turn-taking.  

First, I ask the question, “What’s in the bag?”.  Then I carefully open the bag and reach inside. Suspense and drama are a big part of what draws the child’s attention and awe.  Remember to bring out your expressive side and really ham it up!   

I usually start with a carrier phrase such as, “Look!  It’s a …” to see if the child can label the object on their own. This activity can be adapted to many different levels. For children who already know the labels of many of the nouns, I look in the bag and give them clues (“Ooh, this is a fruit that is red and crunchy!”) to gauge their receptive language skills.  

Here are three important reasons I think “What’s In the Bag?” remains such a valuable teaching tool:

  1. It’s fun! The mystery of what’s in the bag hooks children and knowing that they will get to take a turn with one of the toys (with a therapist or in a large group) engages them.
  2. Expectation. The routine of the activity makes it easy to understand what’s going to happen (objects are coming out of the bag) but there’s enough novelty with new items being introduced to keep receptive and expressive vocabulary growing.
  3. Visualization. Being able to see the actual object is a key part of information processing and is usually one of the strengths of a child who may be low- or non-verbal.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned next week for my next topic:  REINFORCERS.

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