Creating Themed Learning Baskets

Categories: Basic Skills | Play

As a special education teacher turned infants and toddler’s provider, I find myself incorporating many of my teaching methods within the home.  We function as a coaching model and I have been challenged to find ways to reach families where they are at and with the supplies/toys they have.  In Infants and Toddler’s world we teach within the natural setting of the home and within the routines and I am their first step before they enter the school world! I do not think things need to be fancy and brand new, but I do believe that a little organization can really empower families to target skills during everyday routines, much like we do in the classroom!  One of my favorite learning tools is a themed learning basket.  Check out the what, why, and how I create these baskets with families for different learning ages!


What is a themed learning basket and why?

Themed learning baskets are a way to practice generalization skills and play exploration through simply organizing similar concepts (ie: all vehicles/things that go).  You may do this already as a teacher when you plan monthly themes and organize skills around a concept.  In the homes, I find that creating themed baskets function like mini teaching lessons.  It gives families some ideas, structure, and empowers them to look at materials and toys in different ways which in turn, promotes generalization.  A farm animal puzzle no longer has one purpose.  You teach the family how those pieces can be moved to the cardboard box they’ve made into a pretend barn or the fence they’ve made from the wooden blocks they own.  Children also learn that a laminated picture of a car, is still a car when they see it in the object form.      

Learning basket ideas for different developmental learning milestones

There are many ways to differentiate these baskets based on the developmental learning level of a child.  In general, here are some ways to create a themed learning basket based on things that go/vehicles for three different learning levels.

Babies: During this stage, babies are doing lots of exploring, looking, mouthing, and tracking of objects, tummy time, and listening.  In this basket or low plastic bowl, I would put some soft scarves, a book with some vehicle pictures, and a soft truck or big vehicle puzzle pieces.  You can take out the puzzle pieces while your baby is in tummy time and move them slowly around their visual field so they can practice tracking.  If there is an older sibling in the home, they could make some “road art” with black lines on white paper for high contrast pictures.  This stage is all about exploration!

Toddlers:  I love Sarah’s adapted books to put in my toddler baskets.  They promote so many early learning print skills and increase engagement for children, especially those who may not seem as interested in books quite yet.  In this basket I would put in one of the adapted vehicle books, some basic matching fun by printing off two identical copies of any of the vehicle pieces pages, and materials for an interactive car wash.  Children can take any toy car/truck that they have and “soap” them up with some shaving cream and then send them through the car wash (aka bowl/Tupperware of water).  You would be shocked with how much language and imitation you may see during this activity!

Early Learners: You know it, those adapted books are so appropriate with our early learners (and beyond)!  I cannot say enough about them and here is Sarah’s latest post on her adapted vehicle series.  I also would have the Big/Little vehicle sort, and these awesome category activity pages (depending on the learning level of your student/child).  I also love incorporating an art activity such as making tire tracks using a plastic car and some paint!  You can find more ideas with Sarah’s adapted books and a link to the materials here.  Have fun with it!

Multipurpose pieces and generalization of concepts


I know I know, the thought of separating that wooden puzzle from the pieces and moving them to a different location can be super daunting because as educators and therapists, we are organized.  BUT!  It really does help expand generalization and play skills (not to mention language and communication).  The laminated car pieces from the adapted book can now drive across the paper road you made and park in the lot you created out of the wooden blocks.  Additionally, many times kiddos learn animal, vehicle, and other sounds before they learn the actual word so pairing these objects and sounds in different environments is a bonus!  Happy Basket Building!

Gina Russell, B.S , M.Ed
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