My fascination with sensory play bins began when I first did research on activities that my then two-year-old could enjoy. I wanted play ideas that encouraged exploration and discovery and I immediately fell in love with sensory bins.
My interest was further heightened when I saw how it encouraged independent play, focus, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills in my daughter as she scooped, touched, and played her heart away in the first sensory bin that I made for her.
Here we are, three years later, still enjoying the various materials that we’ve put in our bin. I say “we” because while I’ve left my daughter playing for hours on end with a play bin, I often find myself joining in on the fun as a way to bond and destress from a long day at work.
Contrary to popular belief, it does not take much time and resources to come up with bins. If busy mom Trina of DIY Corporate Mom can do it, we can too!
The main thing that you need for a sensory play bin is the container. It can be as big or as small as you want. It can even just be a tray to contain messy play.
I have two bins for our sensorial play. One is a bigger box for our sand. The other is a food box that you find in most groceries and department stores. I prefer bins and boxes with cover to preserve our materials in between play. These bins are small enough to be kept in the garage drawer when it needs to be stowed but big enough for most of the materials and themes that we’ve done.
What to put in the bin
I drool over the materials that foreign bloggers put in their own sensory bins — rice, pasta, quinoa! But my third-world Catholic schoolgirl conscience (and my former teachers’ voices telling me how people everywhere are starving!) makes me shy away from most food products.
When I do use food products, though, I make sure that we store the material properly after use so we can reuse it for another time. Just the same, there are tons of other creative ways to make our bins fun and inviting even without the use of food.
Our sensory bins at home often revolve around a theme – a color, my daughter’s interest, or the topic of our current unit study. Resealable bags come in handy for storing materials for future use. Sand and water are the classic choices for play bins. You do not need a big sandbox for sand play, as I shared in this previous post.
We use store bought play sand in our home. So far, we’ve only had to buy twice in the last three years and my daughter and her neighborhood friends haven’t gotten tired of this age-old favorite.
Another material that I’ve used are colored pebbles. This has been reused many times, first as a base for our aquarium-themed bin using her mechanical fishes, and then recently as pebbles that my daughter “sells” in her store.
Our DIY cloud dough made from flour and baby oil was super fun, as was our instant snow made from baking soda and shaving cream. I admit to having used rice as a base, but only because the rice got drenched and could not be cooked anymore.
Other base materials that you can put are seeds, shells, bits of paper, wood shavings, and marbles. Colored scented ice cubes made by freezing water with cologne and food coloring is another easy material for any play bin.
While I never had a problem with my daughter putting things in her mouth when she was younger, I made sure that everything I used was edible and safe. If you have younger kids, you may want to avoid base materials that may pose harm such as choking and potential allergic reactions to your babies.
Aside from the base, we’ve used plastic animals and paper boats as props. We also have small buckets, sifters, scoops, spades, rakes, teaspoons and the like should the Energizer Bunny decide to explore using these tools. Cars, dump trucks, and rubber toys are also excellent props for sensory play bins.
How to play
With your bin, base and props, you’re all set to go and enjoy with your kids! There really is no one way to play with these bins, which is what I love about it – and I think it’s why my Montessori girl loves it too.
The magic of sensory play is in how it inspires creativity in our children. It is open-ended, allowing our kids to play with it them way they want to play with it.
Avoid dictating how to play with the materials. Sit back, watch and be amazed at the ideas that our kids have!
Admittedly, some of these play activities can get messy, so be prepared. I encourage outdoor play with materials that may be hard to clean indoors (sand and water, for instance) and make sure that floors and tables are protected for indoor play, especially if it involves paint that may stain. Of course, we can always ask our kids to help clean up after play, which is altogether another fun learning activity.
Have you tried making sensory play bins for your kids too? Post your pictures, please. We’d love to see your ideas.