Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Concept of Activity/Play Kits

I've always loved working with preschool students 'in the classroom'. That being said, the task of assembling the props needed for an 'impromptu' pretend play language session consumed more time than the actual interaction with the student(s). In response to this dilemma, I began encouraging classrooms and Speech-Language Pathology Departments to assemble theme based Activity/Play Kits.  Imagine … a labeled bin …with all the necessary props in one place … all the fringe symbols needed to supplement your core display (various sizes and formats) … and Core-48 symbol displays (electronic and non-electronic)!  It is a concept that works great for preschool children, but it can also embrace age-appropriate themes such as nail care and process art for older students.  Over the years I've assembled quite a few of these 'Activity/Play Kits' and have found them to be an excellent vehicle for training support staff to conduct Aided Language Stimulation.

Activity Bins                                               

Core-48 Display + Fringe/Supplemental Symbols

The fringe/supplemental symbols in the Activity/Play Kits are always rendered as Dual=Representation Symbols. One set of Dual=Rep symbols has the picture symbol on one side and the photo of the prop on its flip side (Picture Symbol=Photo). There is also a set with the picture symbol on one side and the enlarged printed word on the opposite side (Picture Symbol=Printed Word). To ensure that every child's needs are met, there is also a set of high contrast Dual=Rep symbols (figure outlined in white on a black background) designed to better address the needs of students with visual challenges (HC Picture Symbol=Photo; HC Picture Symbol=Printed Word).

As I am using photos of the actual props, the process of replicating the kits in future classrooms was often a real challenge. We were often faced with the dilemma of finding toys that were an exact match for the symbols that we created ... or alternately we had to re-create Dual=Rep symbols to support the new props.

Ultimately (better late, than never), I realized that the Melissa & Doug Play Sets were the perfect solution to this dilemma. These durable, reasonably priced kits are omnipresent in toy stores and are sold online through a multitude of companies. They have been in existence since 1988 and seem to have the longevity that is perfect for adding kits to future classrooms.

Contents of an Activity Kit

·     clear plastic bin with a lid (16 quarts; about 17" X 10" in size). 
    Activity/Play Kit bins are placed on a shelf in the classroom or therapy room.

·       color-coded label is attached to one (or both ends if you desire) of the bin using clear contact paper or clear packing tape. 

·       All the toy props for that activity are included in the bin. As some kits have similar props, e.g., the candles in the cupcake decorating set and the birthday cake kit, some teams use permanent colored markers or tiny sticker dots to differentially color code the items belonging to each kit (colored in keeping with the color of the ringed label) For example, the label above is ringed in blue.

·     Dual=Representation fringe symbols that can be added to a display of high frequency Core Symbols. Although all symbols sets are created upfront, you may opt to include only the set appropriate to your current students … storing the 'extra' sets for use in a future classroom of students requiring a different level of representation.

There are four sets of 3" Dual=Representation Symbols.

a.     Picture Symbol=Photo of Prop              b.  Picture Symbol=Printed Word

c.     HC Picture Symbol=Photo of Prop     d. HC Picture Symbol=Printed Word   
The high contrast symbols are designed to address the needs of students with visual challenges. They do seem to be a preferred mode for some students on the autism spectrum. 

There are two sets of approx. 2" Dual=Representation Symbols.

a.     Picture Symbol=Photo of Prop      b.  Picture Symbol=Printed Word


·     The 3" Fringe Symbols can be used to supplement a large Core-48 Facilitator/Modeling board. This format is ideal for conducting large group play activities (e.g., involving two to three children) in which you are using Aided Language Stimulation while modeling pretend play skills. After a preliminary upfront introduction to the materials and their use, the children are left to play independently. As the symbols are Dual=Representation Symbols, it is easier for the Facilitator to straddle two levels of representation when conducting a group activity in a 'mixed ability classroom'. 

·     The 2" Fringe Symbols are used to supplement a Core-48 Non-Electronic Display, 18" X 10".  The resource available through Teachers Pay Teachers is 18" X 10", but you can print the files at a smaller % to create a smaller display (e.g. a display more appropriate to the needs of a specific child or one that will  fit inside your bin).  This smaller Core-48 display is ideal for one-on-one or paired intervention. The Core-48 Non-Electronic Display resource file is used to print out the display in quadrants that are then glued to a base of black 'poster' or 'railroad' board. The base can reflect printed words/symbols and can be constructed to support detachable Dual=Rep symbols to allow differentiated instruction. Don't forget to allow space on the far right to add two vertical rows of adhesive black loop velcro to which the  2" detachable 'fringe' symbols can be attached.  This resource contains symbols to support several color coding systems (Goossens', Crain & Elder ...
      a) colored figures or b) white figures; Mayer Johnson; Colored figures with no color coding)

Symbol Storage

The large 3" symbols are stored in labeled clear ziplock bags or string envelopes. If you use the latter, the envelopes can be velcroed to the underside of the bin lid.

The smaller 2" symbols (both sets) are velcroed to a laminated grey scale sheet that is inserted into a clear page protector sheet. These 'loaded' sheets can then be held together with a metal ring  or they can be inserted into a thin, 3-inch ring binder. 

Implementing AAC can be a very labor intensive process. By implementing the Activity/Play Kit concept, educational and therapeutic staff can easily provide quality language and AAC training.
To view the current titles in the TpT store, please  link to
A bundled resource is also available that offers fringe symbols for 9 Melissa & Doug Play Sets + the Core-48 Non-Electronic Display resource at a reduced price.

Here's to making life easier in 2019 by implementing the Activity/Play Kit Concept using the Melissa and Doug Play Sets. 

'til the next post ... 

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©2019  Carol Goossens', Ph.D.
Augmentative Communication Consultant
Speech-Language Pathologist
Special Educator