How To Use Structured Play Boxes - The Autism Helper

How To Use Structured Play Boxes

I enjoy seeing all of the growth in all areas of development for all of our learners. This is because of our structured environment, visual supports, and many other curriculum and strategies that are put in place in our structured classroom. Independent play, play with adult, and play with peers have proven to be frustrating areas for many of our learners. Children learn a lot of skills while they are playing and there are many teaching opportunities my team and I take advantage of during play.

My team and I have built structured play boxes in order to build in opportunities to work on alternate curriculum and individual programs such as: following one-step directions involving objects, taking turns by following the request of “my turn”, motor imitations with objects, eye contact, waiting, hands down, high fives, and reciprocal play skills. While we have seen that unstructured play allows for more creativity and allows for more open-ended ideas, we know that our learners master skills differently. We want to fill their day with quality playtime. In this post, I will list some of our favorite play boxes and what we have included in each of them.

Before Creating Play Boxes

Creating structured play boxes for our classroom was one of the best things we did over that last few years! They are convenient, organized, and ready to be used when we need them. My team and I created a variety of play boxes that worked on everything from a beginning play skill to many higher learning skills. We wanted to make them easy to use, so that we would actually use them! If we packed too many materials or too many strategies within each, we might be too intimidated to ever take them out.

Our structured play boxes have also been successful during virtual learning. I am able to share any visuals that I want to use through video conference calls. If I physically have the icons, I will hold them up to the screen for our learners and families. If the icons or visuals aren’t readily available, I am able to use them virtually and share my screen. It works out best if I plan ahead of time. This way I can let the families know what toy I will be using and gives them time to find a similar toy in their home.

Putting Play Boxes Together

The play boxes that we wanted to use did not need to be formal or too complex. We chose items that gave opportunities for all of the skills in which we wanted to practice. Each box has a label on the outside, toys and materials inside, visuals/icons, and sentence strips to use for communication. The communication and vocal language is modeled between peers, adult to learner, or encouraged for use from learner to communication partner using their individual mode of communication. In the video below, I show how to use the visuals and icons in many ways during the play time. We use these boxes in all of our centers whenever we feel appropriate. Keeping them in their own bins allows for easy moving wherever we need them.

Our Favorite Play Boxes

Below is a list of the structured play boxes that we consistently use in our classroom! I also have listed the visuals and icons that we keep in the boxes for each.

  • Structured play for leisure time: swings, slide, run, ball, hopscotch, hula hoops, go, stop, slow, fast
  • Bead stringing: put on, all done, red, blue, help me 
  • Baby doll: baby, crib, eat, drink, highchair, car seat, hungry, thirsty, burp cloth, help me
  • Potato Head: head, nose, hat, feet, arms, mustache, mouth, nose, ears, put on, all done, my turn, help me
  • Blocks: put on, put under, put here, all done, my turn, help me
  • Making a cheeseburger: bun, cheese, tomato, lettuce meat, onion, put on, help me
  • Building a flower garden: purple, pink, blue, orange, watering can, planter box, put in, water, flowers
  • Building a train: tracks, train, car, on, under, bridge, my turn, go, stop, up, down
  • Making a hot dog meal: plate, bun, hot dog, my turn, I want, fork, knife, spoon, cup, more, milk, juice, water

Putting It All Together

Remember that this does not have to be difficult! When my team and I started these, we used toys and materials that we already had in the classroom. We sat down with the toys that we pulled out and worked together to build in language, fine motor, and social skills in each box. Have fun!


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