1. Talk Box (ages 2-6)
Make It: Get crafty and glam up the outside of an old tissue box. Then, make picture cards by pasting magazine photos on index cards cut in half. Use a mix of photos--some objects and some activities (a family eating dinner, kids playing ball, girl brushing her teeth, etc.) Place one photo on each side of the cards. (Hint: make them double sided for even more game possibilities.)
Play It: Kids draw 2-3 pics from the box and must tell a story using them all. The idea is to get kids to develop oral language skills (talking and listening), but they could write their stories instead. Award points for originality and inclusion of all objects into the story. The highest-scoring storyteller wins! Younger children or low-profiency English language learners can practice vocabulary by identifying pictures or matching like objects. Students with special needs, such as autism, can use the cards for communication purposes. (You can lay out the pictures and allow a child to point to what he/she is trying to tell you rather than vocalizing it.)
2. Mystery Reading Treasure Chest (ages 3-10)
Make It: Secretly select a book you'd like to read with your children. Familiarize yourself with it and collect clues (objects) you feel represent the story well. For example, for Charlotte's Web, you might gather a plastic spider ring, plush pig and a picture of a farm cut out of a magazine. Place the objects in a shoe box with the lid shut tight until it's time to play! For added effect, decorate the "treasure chest" beforehand with paint, glitter and jewels.
Play It: Let children remove one clue from the treasure chest without peeking at the other contents. Discuss what everyone already knows about the object (prior experiences, etc.) Repeat this for all clues, one by one. Next, see if kids can predict which title they're about to read or what the story will be about. (If a child guesses the book's title, he/she can select the book to read next time and bring in some clues from home to put in the treasure chest.) Only one thing left to do now--reveal the mystery title and read it together! Variation: have kids write their own stories to be featured.
3. Shake the Can Math Game (ages 5-12)
Make It: Using construction paper and markers, decorate an empty oatmeal container. Wipe out the inside and toss in some dominoes (or dice).
Play It: Kids shake the can, dump out some dominoes and do math problems with the numbers they toss. Advanced kids can multiply and divide, while younger kids can add, subtract or simply count! For added reinforcement and challenge, have children write their equations on paper or see how many equations they can create and solve in only 2 minutes (get out a kitchen timer). This is a great way to make otherwise boring math drills much more multisensory!
4. Tater Toss Word Game (ages 5-12)
Make It: Use a slightly damp and soapy cloth to gently clean the inside of an empty potato chip cannister (the cylindrical ones that hold evil tasty taters you should enjoy only in moderation). After you've wiped off the greasiness, run around the block 8 times to remove the grease from inside your arteries! Now back to the game...use craft paint and stickers to decorate the cannister. Throw in word tiles from a game you already have (Scrabble, Upwords) or even magnetic letters.
Play It: Kids take turns tossing the "taters" and making words with the letters they roll. Many ability-levels can play together since each individual child can build words at his/her own level. Pre-readers can simply say aloud the names of the letters or pronounce the sounds each letter makes instead. So you see, this spud game teaches the alphabet, phonics, word building and spelling all in one!
5. Touchy Feely Box (ages 3-8)
Make It: Decorate an empty tissue box any way you'd like. Go on an exploration and gather nature souveniers from your trip--leaves, rocks, pine cones, wild flowers, etc. Place all your souveniers in the box.
Play It: This one is real simple. Kids reach in and try to guess what the object is that they grab. They can describe what they feel first or ask you 20 questions and hope that the answers they get help them make a more educated guess! Sensory activities are beneficial and fun for all kids but especially for early learners and those who may have special needs.