Picture of a blue drawstring bag with toys coming out of it. The text reads "what's in the bag?" an Engaging early language activity.

‘What’s in the Bag?’- A Fun Activity for Language Development

One of my favourite activities to use in play-based therapy is a “What’s in the Bag?” activity. My “feely bag” is full of toys and everyday objects which can all be used to elicit language from young children. Over the years I have found the “What’s in the bag?” activity to be a fun and effective activity to use with late talkers and young children who have language delay. Today I wanted to share why I like using them so much, and some ways in which you can use ‘What’s in the bag?’ activities in your early intervention therapy sessions too!

5 reasons to do the “What’s in the bag?” activity in your sessions:

I love using “What’s in the bag?” activities with little ones. Here are 5 reasons why I love this activity…

  • The ‘What’s in the bag?’ activity is fun, engaging, easy to implement and free! You can use toys and objects that you have readily available in the home, daycare, or clinic setting.
  • It is an easy play-based activity to coach parents/caregivers to use as they can use things they have to hand at home.
  • This activity is great at eliciting language from young children, and I find it keeps them engaged throughout my full sessions!
  • The “What’s in the bag?” activity can also be used to target other skills, such as play skills and social skills (e.g., turn-taking, sharing, etc.).
  • Finally, a feely bag/”What’s in the bag?” activity requires little to no pre-planning or preparation! All you need to do is put a handful of toys and objects into a bag and you’re all set! Perfect!
Picture of a blue drawstring bag with toys scattered around on a white surface. Text quote taken from blog post about using "what's in thebag" activities in coaching sessions.

What you need to make your own “feely bag”:

Setting up and using the ‘What’s in the bag?’ activity is easy! All you need is:

  • A bag: I like to use a drawstring bag because it means my toys don’t fall out when I’m travelling between visits, but a pillowcase works just as well too! So if you’re coaching parents/caregivers to do this activity at home, encourage them to use any kind of bag.
  • A range of familiar toys/objects: I like to have a selection of small toys such as pretend food, a hairbrush, some cars (different sizes and colours if possible), a cup, a plate, a spoon, a ball, a teddy, some bubbles and some pretend animals. I typically have around 10 or so items, but this can vary depending on the child’s language and attention skills and the number of children I’m working with in each session.

How to do the “What’s in the bag?” activity:

  • Put all of the toys in the bag, the adult holds onto the bag and gains the child’s attention. The adult then asks “What’s in the bag?” (I often shake the bag so the toys make a noise too as this really grabs their attention).
  • Take it in turns to take a toy out of the bag; pause and wait to give the child time to respond. Name the toy and encourage the child to play with it.
  • Use simple language to comment on the toy and what the child is doing. For example, if they take a car out of the bag, you could say “car”, “blue car”, if they push it, you could say “pushing the car”, “fast car” etc.  When you model the words, be sure to keep the language simple and emphasise the key words.
  • If the child is not sure how to play with the toy, you can model how to play with it.  For example, pretend to drink from a cup, use the brush to brush your hair or make animal noises when holding the cow/pig etc.
  • Once the child has played with the toy for a short while (or for as long as their attention lasts!), you can hold the bag up and ask the question “What’s in the bag?” again, then get another person to take something out of the bag.  If it’s just you and the child, then take it in turns with each other, but if parents or caregivers are present, you can encourage them to join in (or preferably lead the activity) too!
  • Encourage the child to take turns and wait- emphasise ‘my turn’, ‘your turn’, ‘mummy’s turn’, etc. You can also ask, “whose turn next?” to try to elicit more language.
Picture of a child's hand pushing a yellow truck toy on the ground. Text gives examples of three comments you can make "big truck", "push the truck", "push, push, push" while commenting on a child's play.

Things to remember:

  • Be excited and interested when you’re reaching into the bag and when you pull a toy out as this really helps keep young children engaged.
  • Balance questions and comments– when you’re modelling simple language to the child, try and comment on what they’re doing rather than asking questions.  For example, instead of saying “are you eating the banana?” You could say “eating the banana”, “nice banana”, or simply “eating” (with an eating noise!) etc.
  • Follow their lead and talk about the toy that the child is playing with or looking at there and then.  If you pull an apple out of the bag, but the child is pretending to brush their hair with the hairbrush, there’s little sense in you focusing on the apple! The child is clearly indicating that they want to play with the hairbrush, so name it, comment on that and join in with their play, you can then model “eating the apple” afterwards.
Picture of a young boy laying down looking at a small chick toy. Text reads "Follow their lead- talk about what the child is playing with and looking at" when doing "What's in the bag?" activities.

Two little tips for “What’s in the bag?” activities…

  1. When you pull an object/toy out of the bag, hold it up near your face, so that the child is looking at you and your mouth when you say the words.
  2. When pretending to eat the food, it’s fun to act like it tastes nice or horrible, or that it’s hot or cold. For example, if you’re pretending to eat ice cream, you can pretend to lick it, rub your stomach and go “mmmm yummy ice cream”, or eat a lemon and go “bleugh! Sour lemon!” Modelling this during play is not only hilarious to young toddlers but provides opporunities for them to copy actions, symbolic sounds and exclamatory words.

Language you can target with “What’s in the bag?” activities:

Some of the vocabulary you can target during this activity includes:

  • “my turn”, “your turn” etc.
  • “more”
  • “open” (when opening the bag)
  • animal and vehicle noises
  • single word naming of all the objects
  • two word phrases- e.g. fast car, big cow, blue cup etc.
  • concepts (big, little, colours etc.)
  • verbs (pushing, eating, drinking etc.)
  • “all gone” when the bag is empty
    …and lots more depending on what you put in the bag and how the child is playing with the objects!

Doing the “What’s in the bag?” activity with older children:

It’s also possible to use ‘feely bags’/”what’s in the bag?” activities with other groups of children and not just young toddlers. The activity can be modified so that you have the objects in the bag and you take it in turns to choose an object but rather than pulling it out straight away, the person has to describe it (talk about its shape, size, how it feels, what you do with it, etc.) and the other person has to guess what it is.  This is great for working on building vocabulary, expanding utterances, and word-finding skills with older children.

Over the years I have found the ‘What’s in the bag?’ activity to be a great way to encourage children’s language skills and I hope this has given you some ideas of how to use ‘feely bags’ with young children with language delay in your therapy sessions!

For more ideas of how to support early language skills with familiar toys and activities, and parent-friendly handouts with details about language strategies, check out our Early Language Handouts pack; available in our TpT store now!

Do you use ‘feely bags’ and ‘what’s in the bag?’ activities already in your therapy sessions? How do you use them? I’d love to know, drop a comment below!