Have you ever noticed little kids wanting to touch and feel everything they see around them? Kids have an innate tendency to explore things through their senses. And why not? Like a healthy diet, sensory exploration is vital for a child’s development. When kids touch, smell, see, hear, and taste items, they engage in multisensory exploration, fostering cognitive development and enhancing their understanding of the world around them.
A fun way to expose kids to new textures is to allow them to get their hands into a sensory bin. Want to know more about it? Then, keep reading as we share with you what a sensory bin is, its benefits, and how you can make one for the kids at home or school.
What is a sensory bin?
Sensory bins are wonderful tools to boost sensory skills in children. A sensory bin is basically a large container filled with items of varied textures and tools to support exploration. When kids play with items filled in a sensory bin, it stimulates their senses and promotes hands-on tactile experiences and learning.
What we like the most about sensory bins is that they are not meant to be in a particular way. You can choose the filler items based on your goals and what the child enjoys the most. It could be multiple fillers to support exploration or just one or two items to keep it simple.
What are the benefits of playing with a sensory bin?
Learning is strongly linked to the effective use of senses to gather, assimilate, and retain information. Indulging in sensory play benefits children in multiple ways and helps them build their ability to use their senses to support lifelong learning. Some benefits of playing with a sensory bin are:
1. Allows sensory exploration
When kids play with items filled in sensory bins, they use their senses to explore and learn about the items they are handling. They can see their colors, touch and feel the textures, identify their smell, listen to how they sound when they hit the bin, and more!
2. Supports self-regulation
Sensory bins are great tools to support self-regulation. It is a calming activity that can be performed independently in a quiet corner. When kids are overflowing with emotions, allowing them to play with a sensory bin can help them calm down and feel like their normal selves once again.
3. Helps develop motor skills
Picking rice or cereal and transferring them into bowls, lacing pasta in a string, and pouring sand from one container into the other are all activities that promote the development of fine motor skills in children. Providing them with a variety of tools, like funnels, spoons, and tweezers, can help strengthen their muscles and refine their motor skills.
4. Helps in language development
Talking to kids as they play with a sensory bin can support language development. Using words like up, down, pickup, pour, scoop, sort, etc., while they’re playing can introduce them to these words and enhance their vocabulary. Further, using sensory words that are part of the sensory words list while playing can give kids the exact vocabulary to express their experiences and emotions.
5. Promotes math skills
Sensory bins are not just about sensory play. You can use them to engage kids in pre-number concept activities and promote basic math skills in young children. Activities like sorting, counting, and identifying shapes can be incorporated to teach math in a fun and non-traditional way.
6. Helps in cognitive development
Sensory bins are excellent for cognitive development, too! When kids sort items present in the bin based on different attributes like color, shape, or size, it stimulates their minds and enhances their cognitive skills as they try to differentiate between them and collect them in the designated bowls.
7. Builds social skills
Enjoying a round of sensory bin fun on a playdate or at school can boost social skills in little children. When kids take turns to find items hidden in the bin or work as a team to sort items, they learn to work in unison with their friends and peers and exist harmoniously in a social environment.
Fun sensory bin idea for toddlers and preschoolers
Things you’ll need:
- A large cardboard or plastic box
- Extra cardboard
- Fillers – kinetic sand, elbow pasta, black beans, fruit loops, rice, plastic sea creatures
- Items to hide – seashells, marbles, small plastic trinkets
- Additional tools – spoon, wooden pin, lace, paper cups, or small containers
- Scissors (Disclaimer: Adult supervision is required as a pair of scissors is a sharp tool. Please be vigilant.)
Steps to put it together:
Take a large cardboard or plastic box deep enough to keep spills from happening.
Use a pair of scissors to cut out a piece of cardboard of the same width and height as the cardboard box to create a divider.
Place the divider in the box such that you have one large section and one small section to hold the fillers.
Add kinetic sand to the large section. Spread out some sea shells after adding a layer of sand.
Add another thick layer of sand to hide the sea shells and place plastic sea creatures that kids can use to stamp on and scoop the sand.
Now, add the other fillers to the smaller section of the cardboard box. Start with a cup of pasta and follow it up with black beans, fruit loops, and rice. Try not to mix the fillers so kids can see the distinction. They will soon be mixed up once the kids put their hands into the sensory bin!
Add some small, colorful plastic trinkets to the rice and cover them with another layer of rice.
If you have some transparent marbles, add them to the black beans. They will easily get camouflaged in the dark color and will not be very easy to find.
Place tools like a spoon and a wooden pin for kids to scoop and pick the filler items. Arrange some containers, like paper cups and colored bowls, as well. And don’t forget the lace!
Activities to do with the sensory bin
1. Treasure Hunt
Let kids use their hands for some tactile fun! Ask them to use the spoon and their fingers to search for the items hidden in the fillers. Finding seashells, colorful beads, and plastic butterflies will be a fun treasure hunt activity for the kids.
2. Pasta Lacing
Show kids how they can use pasta for the lacing activity. Let them practice holding a piece of pasta in one hand and using the fingers of the other hand to gently insert the string into the pasta hole and pull it out from the other end. This activity may be a little challenging, but it is rewarding as it will help refine their fine motor skills.
3. Color and Marble Sorting
Support cognitive development by encouraging kids to sort fruit loops based on their color and put them in the bowl with matching colors. They can also find the hidden marbles and segregate them in another bowl. This activity will teach kids to look for similarities and differences between objects and segregate them based on color or transparency.
4. Bean Transfer
The next activity involves the use of a wooden pin or a tweezer to transfer black beans from the cardboard box to another container. Using a pin or tweezer improves dexterity and supports fine motor development. It also improves concentration and teaches kids to be patient because getting a proper grip on the bean is not an easy affair.
What other fillers can be used in a sensory bin?
Don’t have the fillers we have suggested above? Worry not! You can always make a sensory bin with the items you have at your disposal. Some suggestions for fillers are –
Things to keep in mind when kids engage in sensory play
1. Pay close attention to the kids when they are playing. Make sure they don’t put anything in their mouths.
2. Introduce a mix of textures, colors, smells, and sounds to provide a holistic sensory experience.
3. Ensure that the kids wash their hands before and after play.
4. Use readily available and affordable material.
5. Keep a towel handy to clean the mess and spills during play.
Besides the numerous benefits, sensory bins have a very high fun quotient. It can keep kids engaged for hours on end. These bins work well for group or individual play and can be put together easily with a few readily available materials. They can also serve as a great add-on activity after reading a book for developing sensory skills.
Sensory bins may be a little messy, but they are great for igniting creativity and imagination in young minds. So, the next time you want to do something fun with the kids that promotes learning and development, sensory bins are the way to go!
I am Priyanka Sonkushre, a writer and blogger. I am the person behind “One Loving Mama,” a mom blog. Equipped with a Bachelor’s degree along with an MBA, my healthcare background helps me deeply understand learning difficulties. I know how challenging it can be for parents to find the right resources to help their children excel in life. So, here I am to blend my healthcare expertise with my parenting experience to create valuable and helpful resources for parents and teachers supporting children with learning differences. If you wish, you can follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn.