With all the time that i spend on Pinterest, searching for ideas and inspiration, it’s no wonder i find myself face-to-face with images of ‘sensory bins’ on an almost daily basis. The pictures are always so engaging – colorful and ‘energetic’. To be honest, it’s actually been a little intimidating. Well, today i decided, enough’s enough! Time for this Mama to jump on the ‘Sensory Bin Bandwagon’ too. Join me, won’t you… 🙂
(Hehehe… yip…that’s my Little Miss Sara (excuse the feet in background 😉 )… enjoying her Farm Animals Sensory Bin. More about that in a little bit…)
So, let’s start at the beginning…
A sensory bin is basically an activity that’s nicely contained in specific space, such as in a large Tupperware container or storage box. These activities are tactile in nature, and encourage your little one to explore all of their senses. There are many options for ‘filler’ for your sensory box, each providing your child with a fun, unique sensory experience. Some of my favorite filler ideas are
- shaving cream / whipped cream
- bird seed
- colored pebbles (the type you can buy for fish tanks, but nicely cleaned 😉 )
- cooked spaghetti (stores well in the fridge for 3 to 4 days)
- popped popcorn
- rice and
It’s a good idea to choose a container that’s big enough for your little one to play freely without all the filler spilling out. (In fact, if you want to, why not go all out and create a gigantic sensory bin a little paddling pool?) Try and switch out your filler often, so that the sensory play remains new and exciting, and offer your child as many ‘tools’ as you can, to help them develop different practical skills. Great tools for sensory play include
- beach forks and spades
- measuring jugs
- plastics cups
- measuring spoons
- small plastic ice tongs (for practicing pinching and grasping)
What exactly are the benefits of Sensory Bin play anyway?
Sensory bins are a wonderful way for a child to learn about the world around them, and in particular, about how their senses play a part in helping them discover new, exciting things. In fact, you may be surprised, and learn a new thing or two yourself as you help your child explore their sensory bin (as i write this, we’ve only had ours for about 2 hours, and i’ve already noticed the calming effect it’s having on me – i love the sound the uncooked pasta being scooped and poured makes… it sounds just like a didgeridoo (Australian rain stick)! Very relaxing…) Some other benefits include
- Practical skill development – Sensory bins let your child enjoy the magic of ‘free play’, all while allowing them to practice essential every-day skills, such as scooping, grasping, dumping and filling. Those little fingers need lots and lots of practice!
- Social skill development – Sensory bins are great for individual or group play. Just use a large bin to allow for happy interactions 😉 . Children can choose to play together cooperatively, or enjoy the space side-by-side. Either way, they are learning to be accepting of other children’s needs and wants, and practicing inter-personal interactions.
- Language development – Sensory bins can contribute to language development by creating situations in which your child uses their hands and all their senses to explore. These activities cause children to feel excited, happy, curious or inquisitive, and this can lead to increased opportunities for conversation (or even ‘parroting’ of words/modeling of language, if your child is still very little, like mine).
- Calming effects – Sensory play is a great way to calm an overly-stressed child, or a child that just needs to decompress. As i already said, perhaps it’s got something to do with the gentle, soothing sounds, or with the repetitive motions of scooping , filling and dumping.
- Helps with concentration – Sensory play encourages your child to spend a good deal of time on one specific activity. There are often many parts to the sensory bin, and your child learns to focus on specific parts as he goes along. This helps build up your child’s ability to concentrate, improves their ability to focus on the ‘details’ as well as ‘the bigger picture’, and teaches them to be ‘in the moment’.
- Teaches your child about their body senses – We have 5 body senses. These are sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. A sensory bin offers your child immense learning opportunities, and many sensory bins teach your child about more than one of the senses at a time. Just look at the sensory bin that we created today (it’s coming soon, i promise…) , there was ‘sound’ from the dried pasta, ‘sight’, from the rainbow colors, and ‘touch’, from the textures of the pasta and the various plastic animals. If i had decided to add peppermint or lavender essence to the dried pasta, their would have been a fourth sense to play with. And if i had cooked the pasta (hahaha – long story…) there’d have been all five! Alas, for today, three had to do!
So, like i said, today Mama stepped it up a notch… i made my first sensory bin! (yay!) For this one, i decided to keep it relatively simple, and stuck to an un-cooked pasta for my filler. I did at least use two different types, to add some visual interest.
For this ‘Farm-Animal Rainbow-Pasta Sensory Bin’ i used:
- Fideua pasta (a type of mini macaroni found here in Spain)
- Rotini pasta (spiral pasta)
- Red, yellow, blue and green food coloring
- Plastic farm animals
- Beach fork and spade
- Measuring spoons
- Large container
Farm Animal Sensory Bin
To start with, i thought i’d make a cooked rainbow pasta sensory bin. The reasoning was, Miss Sara is still so little, and ‘what if she tries to eat the uncooked stuff?’ Well, that didn’t go as planned… I made a whole bag of the little fideua pasta, tried coloring a portion of it red, and then realized it was just going to make a great big mess! The pink got on everything… So, the pink pasta went in the bin, and the rest got re-assigned as mac n cheese 🙂 . Disaster averted and dinner sorted!
So, Farm Animal Sensory Bin (Take 2)
Color your pasta – If it’s your first time making a sensory bin, i’d say, go with dry, uncooked pasta. Don’t try get all fancy – you might end up throwing away a whole batch of filler too. All you need to do is dump your required amount of pasta into a Ziploc bag, add a teaspoon or two of food coloring (add a little at a time, until you have your desired color), close the bag and then toss and push the pasta shapes around until all the pieces are evenly coated. Empty the pasta onto a tray and allow them to dry for a couple of minutes.
Choose your tools – I choose tools that were easy for little hands to grasp, and that i had on hand. If your child is a little older, you could add in other, more complicate hand tools, like tweezers, tongs, a magnifying glass, aquarium net or ice cube tray. Each tool will give your child a different experience, and will help them practice different muscle groups or fine motor skills.
Choose your container – I choose a large container, with a lid that shuts well. I don’t want the little lady to be able to open and explore her sensory bin whenever she likes, at least, not just yet… 😉 It is big enough to hold all the filler, along with all the tools and ‘extras’ that i decide to add in. We also have 3 others exactly like this, which means i can stack them away easily. If you need a storage bin, i’d recommend this 6-pack Sterilite Storage containers from Amazon (affiliate link*), That way, you can create as many sensory bins as your heart desires, and you can stack them easily, under a bed, or in a corner of the room.
Choose your ‘theme’ – Add in some plastic farm animals to make a Farm Animal sensory bin like i did, or go for sea creatures, reflective items, the alphabet or numbers… the options really are endless. You could even create a Halloween sensory box using black beans as your filler, with scary spiders, snakes and other ‘ucky’ things if that’s something the kids would like.
This is how my final product turned out…
So when i was done, i popped it down on the living room floor, and little my Little Lady go wild. She was right in there, picking up pasta, trying to feed the cow, turning the funnels upside-down and trying to hang the measuring spoons off their points… lots of fun! She hasn’t quite mastered the art of scooping yet – she held her little spade firmly in her one hand, wouldn’t let anyone take it from her, and decided that, for now, scooping is best done ‘free-hand’. (As you can see, towards the end of play i ended up giving her an extra, empty container so that she could move her ‘treasure’ from the one side to the other…a favorite activity at this stage:) )
Presenting the sensory bin to your child is not going to be the same for everyone. Some children may need a little more encouragement, and might like it if you jump in and show them a few play ideas. Show them how much fun it can be by scooping, dumping, filling, and pouring along with them. Talk! Tell them what you’re doing and try get them engaged in the experience. Once they’ve become a little more confident, you can step back and let them explore some more on their own, or you can step it up an notch, and try get them to take charge of the ‘Mommy and Me’ group play.
Some things to keep in mind
- Be careful when making a sensory bin for a small child. Certain shapes and sizes of uncooked pasta (as well as other things) could pose a choking hazard. Always keep a close eye on little ones while they explore.
- Teach your child that a sensory bin is just like any other toy – it needs to be looked after and respected. If they are going to use their sensory box, lay out a couple of ‘guidelines / rules’ explaining to your child that the filler should stay in the box, this or that is not for eating etc.
- Be prepared for accidents and slips of memory – always have a little hand broom and scoop ready to grab up some mess. I would not suggest using a vacuum cleaner – you may just end up having to buy another much sooner than you’d like!
- Sensory bins offer many chances for learning – why not look at making an educational sensory box, especially as your child gets older? There are some great options out there, and i’ll be adding some more soon myself. I promise.
If you’re one of those Mom’s that’s been just a little too intimidated, or put off by the fancy stuff, i hope i’ve helped you see that sensory bins don’t need to be scary. With a little bit of creativity, a things that you probably already have at home, you too can create something wonderful. Just look at the fun my little one’s having…
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