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Providing a Sensory Toy Box (and How a Slinky can help Teach Creation)

June 20, 2010

Awhile back I had the opportunity to interview a pediatric occupational therapist with our local children’s hospital.  I asked the therapist for pointers on handling disruptive children – those who struggle with constructive group participation or who exhibit hyperactive behaviors.  She suggested that I collect a shoebox full of squeeze balls that were fun to feel and other toys easy to manipulate.  She insisted that these sensory type toys would help the more challenging children stay focused during instructional teaching.  Manipulative toys, she explained, can fulfill the “sensory diet” of some children and serve as a constant occupier for all students when they are required to sit still.

This past week was my church’s Vacation Bible School.  I was in charge of a room full of 23 five year olds.  Knowing some of the participants I was going to be blessed with, I prepared for a room full of hyperactive, sensory seeking little boys.  I decided to put the occupational therapist’s sensory box suggestion to the test.  I collected a see-through container full of dollar store finds and toys confiscated from my son’s collection of fast food meal prizes.  By the way, McDonald’s “Happy Meal” toys are great!  My sensory box included mini-slinkies, large fuzzy pipe cleaners, tiny cars, oodles of stress balls and squeeze toys.

On the first day of Bible school I explained to the children that they could pass around the sensory box and select one toy just before the Bible story.  They would be permitted to play with their selected toy through the story, during our question and answer time and up until our concluding prayer.  The sensory box was an immediate hit.  The children looked forward to story time each day, knowing that it was also the period they got to play with the sensory toys.  More than once, I heard the boys negotiating agreements over certain toys, like the mini slinky.  And as each day’s story was being told I noticed that the children were uncharacteristically quiet.  They were all busy with their selected toy, but still looking up often to see the pictures I offered as I told stories of Creation, Zacchaeus, or Joseph and his brothers’ betrayal.  To my amazement, we maintained the attention of 23 five year olds for up to 20 minutes each day.  At the end of the lesson time I asked questions to see if the kids had been listening.  I found that the children had absorbed far more than I anticipated.  Some of my “busiest” boys correctly answered questions about the Bible story and happily participated in the ensuing dialogue of lesson reinforcement.    If anything, the kids stretched out the Bible story time because they were not yet ready to part with their sensory toy.

Upon picking her child up from VBS one day last week, I had a parent ask me “What is a sensory box?”  After I explained, the mother then relayed her astonishment when over the previous night’s dinner her five year old recounted the Creation story in detail.

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Amy Fenton Lee


The Sensory Box

The Sensory Box

  1. Nina Ornt permalink

    I agree, they work well. For six years I worked with preschoolers with autism and we let them have a sensory toy during circle time. They loved it!

  2. Last week I used the sensory toys in a class of typical 5 yr olds (although I suspect I had 2 with either ADHD or SPD in the mix). But these types of toys are especially helpful with children with PDD and others on the spectrum. I have used sensory toys also as a redirecting tool when a child started on a disruptive path or struggled through a transition. ALSO – a piece of sticky tape can serve the same purpose when a sensory toy isn’t available.

    Thanks Nina! Keep your thoughts & comments coming b/c I know you have great experiences to share (and thanks for connecting via FB & email). – Amy

  3. My husband and I are teaching 4th grade boys this fall. We had trouble keeping their attention the first couple of weeks so I brought the sensory box yesterday(Sunday). The boys LOVED playing with the stress balls and they paid much better attention and engaged in the Bible teaching. At the end of class the boys said “bring the sensory box back next week”.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Products for the Special Needs Environment « The Inclusive Church
  2. Child Refuses to Sit Still « The Inclusive Church
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