Putting my teacher hat on now. What is a sensory bin and does my toddler or preschooler need one?
Sensory bins are a kindergarten teacher’s best kept secret. Kids love to play with them and they don’t even realize they are learning. The reason they are called sensory bins is because kids use their senses (usually touch, sight, and smell) to explore whatever is in the bin. They can be extremely simple, or have multiple elements within a theme. In the classroom, they are usually used to foster language development, and teach early mathematical and scientific concepts. They are also great in helping kids develop their fine motor skills while playing.
I chose to introduce sensory bins to my daughter for a few reasons. First, they keep her busy. She’s the type of kid who gets bored fast, but a new sensory bin usually holds her interest for 20-30 minutes. Second, because she was born in July, she won’t be starting Kindergarten until she’s 4, and because I’m a teacher, I worry (probably irrationally) that she will be a little behind the kids who started school earlier. Third, they have been an incredible learning tool, especially for her language development. Whenever I give her a new bin, I spend a lot of time describing what is in it and what she is doing with the materials. They have provided her with an example of rich descriptive words.
Sensory bins can be easily introduced at home. The first thing you need is a large, shallow container with a lid. I went to Canadian Tire and found our bin for $12.
Next you need filler. I have tried to stick to things that won’t be harmful if eaten. Water is the simplest and the easiest filler, but can become a problem if your child gets carried away splashing water everywhere. Other things I have used are uncooked rice, flour, corn flakes, oats, and dried beans. I even attempted cooked pasta once, which was a horrible sticky mess, but Ellis loved it!
I always include containers and spoons, which can be used to scoop and pour. You can go all out and buy measuring cups, plastic bowls, and cups at your local dollar store, or just use items from your kitchen or recycling bin.
Add in some toys, or treasures collected outdoors like rocks, pine cones, sticks, fallen leaves, etc. It can be really fun making themed bins, and if your children are a little older, you can involve them in collecting items for the bin.
Here are some ideas for simple sensory bins:
– water + cups, spoons, funnels, and bath toys (boats, ocean animals, etc)
– flour + rocks, and toy construction vehicles
– dried black beans + plastic bugs, and kitchen tongs
– oats + leaves, and pine cones
– uncooked rice + hidden puzzle pieces