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Using Foam Craft Kits to Work on Language

A foam craft kit for making turtles. It shows a completed turtle with a shell, a star, and eyes. It also shows the individual pieces separately.

One of my students loves ocean animals, so I try to use that interest to choose activities that are fun for him and give us opportunities to work on language/communication and academics.

If you have a child or student who would enjoy making a project like this (and you can find these foam craft kits with all kinds of themes!), here are some ways you can work on language with them.

(Note: links to some other craft kits are at the end of this post).

What you'll want to do is have the pieces where the student can see them, but you're still "in control" of them, so the student can't just take them. You'll want the student to ask you for them. What I often do with a kit like this is do one part at a time. For example, I'll hold up three colors for shells (leaving the rest of the pieces in the box) and have the student ask for which color they want.

Here are some other ways to work on language:

  • Asking the student what color star they want,

  • Asking the student how many eyes they want,

  • If the kit has different animals, work on labeling animal names,

  • If the kit has different shapes, work on the names of shapes,

  • Writing descriptions of what the student makes,

  • Etc.

Prompting and Prompt Fading

In order to get your child to use language to request things (as we talked about in the activity above), you will often need to provide a prompt or demonstration for what you want the child to say. There are a few great blog posts written by other educators that outline how to use prompts (and how to “fade” the prompts, so that the student doesn't become dependent on them). Check out these links for tips and consult with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) for more instruction on how to use prompts and prompt fading.

Natural Reinforcers

What's great about using an activity that the child enjoys is that the child is motivated to ask you for the pieces to complete the activity. This relates to an effective teaching strategy known as using natural reinforcers.

A natural reinforcer is a "reward" that is directly related to the skill you’re wanting to teach (Mohammadzaheri, Koegel, Rezaee, & Rafiee, 2014). As an example, if we’re wanting to teach a child colors, we could teach him or her to say the color of different toy cars and give the child the car to play with when he or she correctly says the color. This differs from “arbitrary” reinforcement, which might be giving the child a candy (or other unrelated reward) for correctly labeling the color on a flashcard.Here’s another example of an activity using sort of natural reinforcement for telling time:

If you're interested in learning more about using natural reinforcers to teach, I recommend the following resources:

Foam Craft Kits from Amazon

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