“Shoe box” tasks are one unit activities that are designed to teach a child a variety of skills from basic put in/put on tasks, to finger dexterity and eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand skills and pre-academic skills (matching, sorting, patterning, size, shape, colour). The “shoe box” includes all of the materials to complete the task. As learning progresses, the child learns to complete the task independently including getting the box, bringing it to the table and replacing it when finished.
The “shoe box” can be anything from a cardboard shoe box, to a plastic shoe box or a stackable bin. The outside of the box is labelled with a picture, or lettering to indicate what is in the box and the category of the task. It may be necessary to add further written instructions or a series of pictures inside the box for the “teacher” or child to follow. The box itself can also be part of the skill e.g. cut shape holes in the lid (circle, square, triangle) to make a shape sorter.
The contents include anything you wish to teach: e.g. blocks of Lego/Duplo to build a tower or follow a pattern, scissors and paint chips for cutting on a line.
Once you have determined what skill you wish to teach, then you can gather materials and activities to support that skill. The activities that you use are only limited by your imagination and if your imagination needs a boost you can google “Pinterest-shoe box activities” for more ideas than you could ever imagine. The more activities you can find to support the skill, the better the skill will be learned.
Materials for the skills you wish to teach can be very inexpensive and can be household objects and recyclable materials. For example: to teach colour matching/sorting, save bottle and juice container tops and put them in empty apple sauce containers. You can use juice can lids to put in slots in empty plastic containers as a “put in” activity.
Dollar Stores are full of materials that can be used for just about any skill you wish to teach. e.g. pencils with large colourful erasers make a great activity for finger strength and using 2 hands together. Putting them in/removing them from a pencil case reinforces the skill.
As an Occupational Therapist, I have been instrumental in setting up “shoe box” activities in a variety of programs. Not only does this idea serve the special needs population but it is also a great way for parents to set up and organize activities for their typically developing preschool age children.
Jane Boni, OT Reg, (ON)
Occupational Therapy Consultant
Thursday’s Child Nursery School