A box. Such an intriguing object. What could possibly be in there? Knock on it. Shake it. Listen. The anticipation is building… It could be ANYthing!
Using a “mystery box” in play can make old toys new again and increase your child’s engagement in an activity – all while building language skills for matching, describing and predicting. Question words and words/sounds of surprise and accomplishment will also be important for mystery box play.
What goes in a mystery box? Parts and pieces that, when found, will help achieve a task.
- Puzzle pieces
- Let the child say “bye bye” as you name all the pieces to hide in the box then we can try to guess what will be next with an enthusiastic “no” or “yes” once the puzzle piece is revealed. For more puzzle play, go to Playing with… PUZZLES!
- Potatohead body parts and accessories
- Find the missing body parts by trying to feel which part might be in your hand before you reveal what you’ve found!
- Balls from a game or ball tower
- Let the child have the ball tower but, “uh-oh” where are the balls!? For more play ideas, go to Playing with…pound-a-ball
- Magnets to stick on a refrigerator
- Sometimes just having another spot to put the objects you find is enough to create a purpose to the activity. Give your little one plenty of opportunities to ask for “more”.
- Half of the cards from a memory/matching game
- Playing memory/matching games is fun for preschoolers, but sometimes too hard for toddlers. Just leave 8-10 cards face up on the floor and put the matches in the mystery box. Take turns just as you would in any game.
- Cars, Dinosaurs, Figurines, Farm animals, etc.
- Once found they can take their place in the parking lot or jungle or house or barn or whatever makes sense. Use a repetitive phrase for your little one to chant or sing or fill-in the blank (think “ready, set, go” chant but use “the CAR goes IN the SPOT” or “the COW goes IN the BARN”)
- Flash cards
- The mystery box just became a mailbox! Pull out a card (piece of mail) and see what Grandma (or other friend or family member) sent to your toddler. Remember to thank that person for your mail “Thank YOU”. For more ideas with flash cards go to, Playing with…flash cards
A mystery box can be as simple as a diaper box (tape it up then cut out a hole for their hand to reach in) or a wipes box (might want to widen the slit at the top). However, there are also some super cute toys that serve this purpose and might make a better gift than a used wipes container!
Just because the toys pictured above come with specific toys, don’t limit your play to those items! Use whatever fits inside and would be motivating or interesting to your little one.
Sensory bins can also be mystery boxes. Google will give you LOTS of ideas for sensory bins, but the basic idea is for kids to use their senses to explore and learn (touch it, smell it, see it, hear it, taste it). Sensory bins can be super messy, but they don’t have to be. When I want to use a sensory bin as a mystery box, I usually need to hide toys that might not be easy to clean (wooden puzzle pieces or flash cards). In that case, use dry materials such as rice, uncooked pasta, or beans. Grass, leaves, and other outdoor treasures are great for dry sensory bins too! Depending on the size of your sensory bin and the toys you hide inside, you might want to add tools to help scoop and dig out the toys.
Here are links to items you may want to hide in your mystery box or sensory bin:
Want more play ideas? Check out Best toys and gifts: a speech therapist’s list!
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