Language Arts Warm-Ups: Mystery Box

How could a simple box with a hole for your hand have anything to do with improving vocabulary and communication?                                                                              

The answer to that question is the reason for this post. 🙂

I have had a mystery box in my home/school for over 30 years, no kidding! I can’t take credit for the idea of using a mystery box to aid in language development, and it has been so long since I first heard about it, that I also can’t give credit to whom it is rightly due.

What I can do, is share with you how I have used it over the years.

Benefits of using a Mystery Box:

  • Enhances the sense of touch
  • Helps build precise vocabulary
  • Strengthens thinking skills/use of analogies

Due to its versatility, I have used my mystery box with ages 2 and up.  I hope when you are done reading this post, you will be inspired to find a box in your home that’s just waiting to be upgraded to your home’s mystery box. 🙂


  • For toddlers, place objects in the box that have different tactile properties like soft, rough, smooth, hard, bumpy, squishy,etc. and ask them to reach in and pull out something “hard”, “soft”, and so on. One variation on this would be to have them reach in and touch an item and say a tactile word description, maybe even guess the object and pull it out to see if they were right. Another variation would be to have a duplicate set of the items in front of them, and you point to one of them and ask them to find its twin in the box.
  • For grammar stage students, the process is similar, except you are expecting more words from them as they describe what they can feel with their hands. They can guess what it is, or if they are certain they know what it is they are touching, they can keep giving clues for you or a sibling to guess. The variation on this, is to let the person who listened to the description put their hand in to select the object that was described.
  • For grammar stage and up, put familiar objects in the mystery box and let everyone have a turn selecting an item by touch and then describe it in detail to another person/group, including how it is used. (I have used this many times as a fun way to review sewing tools/items/terms.)
  • For grammar stage students, you can record the word clues/descriptions they give and then use them later for copy work and eventually for dictation.
  • For grammar stage and up, give everyone the same object (though they could be different sizes) in their own “mystery bag” and have them write down all they can about it and what they think it is. Then before looking in the bag, they compare and discuss the descriptions with the other participants.
  • For grammar stage and up, establish together what properties can be discovered just through the sense of touch: Texture, Size, Material, Geometric shape/2-D or 3-D, Weight. Then you could build a vocabulary word bank for each of these properties as you go along. This helps guide their analysis. If they run out of descriptions, you can direct their attention to the chart and point out which properties they have/haven’t mentioned.

I’m sure you will find even more uses for this prosaic learning tool.

Happy Teaching!


( I made mine from a shoe box that I covered with fabric. For the hole, I used the sleeve from an old sweater, but I have used part of a sock before. It’s helpful to have something that keeps one from easily seeing down into the box.)

Language Arts Warm-Up: Parts of Speech, Syntax, Vocabulary

Language Rocks!

Did you read the first line as a simple, exclamatory sentence or as an adjective modifying a noun?

In this case, both readings are intended.

I had been looking for a non-consumable way for my students in Language Arts Lab to play/practice with sentence structure, parts of speech, and punctuation.  Using little pieces of note cards for each new “sentence puzzle” seemed so wasteful.  Taking inspiration from a mom who stored small word blocks in a clear canister for similar purposes, I got the idea to use the skipping rocks I had collected in a similar way. I love the look and feel of the rocks, and though I ran out of the free rocks and had to supplement with purchased rocks (only $1 at Dollar Tree!), overall, I am pleased with their functionality. The upside of the black rocks is we can write on them with chalkboard markers, so anytime we want to change up our word selection, we can.

As you can see in the pictures, I am currently sorting them in “parts of speech” sections.  This leads to good conversation about where words should be sorted when they are out of the context of a sentence. For instance, in which section would you put “down”? Is it an adverb or a preposition? How about “work”? Noun or verb? You get the idea. : )

How to use “Language Rocks”:

  • Let them create sentences of their own from the words available.
  • Let them create “Mad Lib” style sentences.
  • Reinforce memory work (poetry, Scripture, speeches, etc.), by solving sentence “puzzles”.
  • Integrate new vocabulary (from various subjects) into the word mix.
  • Let them add in words from their “working vocabulary”/ areas of interest.  (Minecraft, sports, princesses, sharks, ballet, etc.)
  • Practice correct punctuation placement.

Make a set for your family and enjoy exploring language together with “Language Rocks”!


Take Time to Reevaluate Your Education Goals

Are we there yet?

Curriculum Coach

Though a dreaded and oft repeated question coming from children during long car rides, the good news is it reveals they realize there is a tangible ‘there’ to be arrived at.

I may often refrain from verbalizing it, but I feel the question in many areas of my life. Sometimes I can see the answer easily because the destination is near and tangible. But many times, like a child, I despair of ever arriving. I have either lost sight of where I am going or I have forgotten how to get there. Also, I can be so focused on ‘achieving the goal’ that I lose the ‘joy of the journey’.

As painful as it can be at times, I greatly benefit from taking the time to evaluate ‘where I have been and where I am going’. I encourage you to do the same for your school year, if you haven’t already. Make a point of recording your thoughts/answers.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What have I learned about myself as a teacher and my teaching style?
  • What have I learned about each of my children and their learning styles?
  • How has my view of homeschooling changed?
  • In what areas was I too hard on myself (and family)?
  • In what areas was I too easy on myself (and family)?
  • How have I grown in _____________?
  • How have my children grown in ____________?

Thankfully, there are many tangible goals that are ‘short term’ and give us great satisfaction and courage to carry on with the journey toward those that are very ‘long term’. Even in those long term goals, we can see and should acknowledge progress along the way.  Enlist the aid of the Triune God to see with His eyes and to keep your goals harmonized with His.

Then move on confidently with choosing the destinations for the coming year and the route you will take, by the grace of God, to arrive there with joy:)


More Than Just Playing Outside…

“The more I wonder…the more I love.” – Alice Walker

“Intelligence is not so much the capacity to learn as the capacity to wonder.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“The world is full of magic things waiting patiently for our senses to grow sharper.” -John Keats

collage pictures for website 007

Too often when I am outside I am unaware, unappreciative of my surroundings.When children are around, I am ‘quick to slow down’.  I take the time with them to notice and appreciate the detail surrounding us.

It’s not that I don’t wonder ‘why this/why that’. It’s just that I am more motivated to allow myself the time to pursue the answers when I am helping a child learn and grow in wonder. I am thankful for how God uses children to keep me ‘childlike’.

Make time to enjoy God’s creation with the children in your life; recapture the wonder/amazement factor that comes when we “are still” and look with fresh eyes at what surrounds us daily.