Awhile back I did a little virtual tour of our kids’ art studio and at the time I showed how we stored a 5 gallon bucket at the back of a closet. Today I’m gonna let you peek at what we keep inside that bucket.
Now if you don’t already know, a sensory bin is small, usually plastic, bin or tub with materials inside that stimulate the various senses. Often times these bins have a theme, they don’t have to have a theme but I like a theme.
There are many benefits to sensory play for children, and sensory bins are a great way of exploring those benefits without letting your house get trashed because, unlike other sensory play options, the contents of the bin stay inside the bin. Thats basically the only rule of the sensory bin.
I give my children sensory bins because, besides keeping them quietly occupied long enough that I can do the dishes or check my email in peace, sensory bins are good for developing their fine motor skills, their concentration/ability to focus, their vocabulary, and also because it’s just plain fun. Its a fun creative outlet for me to make their bins and it’s fun for them playing with the bins.
For more in depth information about why sensory play is beneficial to developing children, see this post on pbs.org
There are 3 basic components that make up a sensory bin:
1- the base (or filler)
2- the tools
3- the fun extras (or icing on the cake)
The base (or filler) is the bulk of the bin. The possibilities for this are endless but I’ll list a few that we’ve used:
– plain uncooked rice
– uncooked rice that has been dyed or scented, such as in this tutorial from Play Create Explore
– flower petals (real or silk)
– foil shred (the kind used to fill gift bags)
– shredded paper
– paper scraps or paper that has been cut into squares
– fake snow
– uncooked pasta noodles
– dried beans
– popcorn kernels
– rock or ice cream salt
– cereal, such as cherrios or fruit loops
– bird seed
– dry dog kibble
– leaves (real or silk)
– fabric scraps
– lengths of ribbon
– pom poms
– jigsaw puzzle pieces
– shaving cream
The tools are the things your child uses to scoop, pour, pick up, sort, etc.. Again, there are too many possibilities to list them all but here are some examples of things we have used:
– cupcake liners
– ice cube trays
– muffin tins
– egg cartons
– small bowls
– measuring cups
– regular drinking cups
– measuring spoons
– regular eating or serving spoons
– regular eating or serving forks
– tongs, large or small
– chop sticks
Its ok to think outside the box on this! For our melted snowman sensory bin, my son used a fingerless glove as a funnel. For our play doctor sensory bin, he used an empty vitamin bottle as a cup.
The extras (or the icing on the cake) is the most fun part of a sensory bin. They aren’t necessary, but they can really kick a bin up a notch. Literally ANYTHING GOES for this. Depending on the theme we have used board game pieces, toy animals, action figures, legos, hair clips, popsicle sticks, magnets, pom poms, foam stickers, buttons, beads, costume jewelry, pine cones, pipe cleaners, feathers, fabric scraps, hot wheels cars, jingle bells, silk flowers, etc…
Now if you have an older baby or a toddler who hasn’t outgrown the mouthing phase, you might be thinking that sensory bins aren’t a possibility for you because of the risk of choking, nothing could be further from the truth. You just have to think larger items and remember supervision. SunnyGirl grew up in a home that always had sensory bins because of her older brother and she’s been able to actively participate in some of the bins because we made the conscious effort to choose larger items such as short strings of textured beads, wooden blocks, wooden puzzle pieces, felt food, hacky sacks, wooden instruments, large sea shells, large pine cones, textured rubber balls (many light up when bounced), various textured fabrics, or small objects within a well sealed clear container.
For children still in the mouthy phase, I recommend either using no base in the bin, or using shredded paper as the base. If the baby is old enough for dry cereal, this is also an option for a base.
Some bins might have a very simple theme such as “soft” or “red” while other bins might have a more complex theme such as “counting” or “dinosaurs.” Still other bins don’t have a theme at all.
As I mentioned before, teaching children with an age gap can be a real challenge but sensory bins are a great common ground where my 4 year old and my 1 year old can (and frequently do) peacefully play and learn together.
Here’s a bin I created to teach SunnyGirl about the color yellow, and to review numbers and counting with LittleMan:
There’s 1 peg doll, 2 foam blocks, 3 paint swatches, 4 hair ties, 5 butterfly hair clips, 6 toy animals, 7 legos, 8 wooden tangram triangles, 9 pom poms, a silicone numbers ice cube tray, and foam number stickers 0-9 which are all yellow. LittleMan can search through the beans for the items and count them up, match the foam stickers to the ice cube tray, count beans, exercise his fine motor skills by picking up beans using chop sticks, etc.. Meanwhile SunnyGirl can learn what is yellow, explore the different textures (soft pom poms, spongy foam pieces, hard wood), exercise her fine motor development by picking up beans with her pincher grip and scooping them with spoons, etc..
But bins don’t have to be so “educational” in order for the child to benefit from them!
Here’s another bin I created with a Captain America theme:
Red white and blue paper shred, red white and blue pom poms, red and blue mega bloks, a Captain America shield and American flag from our Build-A-Bear costume stash, and a couple Captain America figurines. (The lower figurine was bought at Dollar Tree, they currently have a whole range of superhero figurines for $1 each which have no movable parts so they are great for the younger fans.) In this bin LittleMan can exercise his pre-reading skills by using the figurines to act out tid bits of the Captain America comic books we’ve read to him, and SunnyGirl can continue her work on texture concepts (soft pom poms, hard mega blocks, scratchy paper shred) as well as work on her fine motor skills stacking the mega blocks.
The biggest thing is just to remember to have fun with it.
When we first started making sensory bins for LittleMan (over 18 months ago), we didn’t have the big sensory stash we have now. We started off with what we had in our kitchen cabinets and slowly expanded our collection. Over time, $1 here and $1 there have gotten us to where we are now that we have more options at our finger tips when we create our sensory bins. They have truly become a creative outlet that my husband and I enjoy designing, as well as a wonderful addition to our children’s playthings. The concentration on their faces as they manipulate the aspects of the bin, the wonder in their eyes as they discover a new sensation, the inevitable giggling when they sit together to play with a bin- I almost didn’t make that first sensory bin 18 months ago because I felt overwhelmed and unsure. Also because I didn’t want to deal with a mess if it got spilled (which actually rarely happens, and the kids help clean it up when it does happen). I am SO GLAD that I took the plunge and now I couldn’t imagine our home without them.