Learn how to make the best sensory bins that entertain and teach your child, and to facilitate creative thinking and fine-motor development.
Some of the hooligans, now 8, 9 and 10 years old still talk about the sensory bins they loved best during their early years here in my daycare. Those bins still stand out in their memory. They made such an impression that the kids still recall the feelings they had exploring the bin, the exciting discoveries they made, and um… how much they smelled like shaving cream for the rest of the day, even though it was more than half a life-time ago for them.
Oooh, I know what some of you are thinking…
“No way! My kid would make a huge mess with a bin of rice or corn kernels”, or “Are you crazy? My toddler would just want to eat everything in the bin!”.
Hear me out.
First of all, if you’re worried about the mess, a plastic tablecloth, or a bed sheet placed under the bin will keep the mess a minimum. You can just tip any spills back into the bin when your child has finished playing. Or take the bin to the deck, porch or yard where messes won’t matter.
Secondly, with clear instruction (telling your child how the bin is to be used, and not abused) and supervision (especially if your child is still at an age when they put things in their mouth), you’ll find that the joy and the developmental benefits (both physical and educational) that a sensory bin provides will outweigh any mess. Well… okay, maybe there was that time that the 3 year old climbed into the bin of shaving cream, and slathered her entire body in soft, fluffy foam, but we were outside, so mess wasn’t an issue. And truthfully, I’d kind of anticipated it would happen because that kid REALLY gets into sensory play. Literally.
A great sensory bin is like a fascinating world of discovery in a box that encourages open-ended play, and provides many opportunities for experimenting and learning.
Today, I’m sharing some tips and suggestions, and some examples of our favourite bins to help you create the very best sensory bins for your children and students.
In this post, I’ll discuss:
- The Benefits of a Sensory Bin
- Good Containers for Sensory Bins
- Suggested Themes (with Photo Examples) to Get You Started
- Base Materials to Use in a Snsory Bin
- Interesting Items to Put in a Sensory Bin
- Good Tools and Instruments for Sensory Bin Play
If you’ve never made a sensory bin before, you and your child are in for so much fun!
What are the benefits of a sensory bin?
We know that sensory play has many benefits, and a sensory bin provides you with an affordable and convenient way to provide your child with new and exciting sensory-play experiences.
Our ability to learn and retain new knowledge and information is enhanced when multiple senses are engaged, which is one of the reasons sensory bin are so often recommended for play and learning.
- A sensory bin will encourage your child to think critically and creatively. He will problem-solve, make observations, and draw conclusions as he scoops, pours, measures and manipulates the items and substances in the bin.
- A sensory bin fosters imagination. Your child may pretend to be a baker, or a scientist, for example, as he uses the instruments (tongs, tweezers, labels, jars) to exlore the contents of the bin.
- While using these small tools, fine-motor skills are strengthened.
- A sensory bin can help build language skills and introduce new vocabulary when new and unfamiliar items are used in the bin.
- A sensory bin can be based on an infinite variety of themes: season, colours, construction, farm, outer-space etc., so it’s a wonderful addition to a lesson plan or a unit in your curriculum.
- And of course, a sensory bin provides hours of fun.
Before you make your sensory bin,
you’ll want to think about:
- what kind of container to use for your sensory bin
- a theme for your sensory bin
- what to use as a base for your sensory bin
- toys/materials to fill your bin with
- tools and instruments to provide with your sensory bin
I’m going to talk about all of those things, and I’ll share photos of many of the popular sensory bins that I’ve made for the hooligans here in my home daycare. Feel free to duplicate them in your home, daycare or preschool classroom.
Ok! Let’s get started!
How to make a sensory bin:
Start with a container for your sensory bin.
The size of your container will depend on how many children will be gathered around the bin at one time.
If just one child will be playing at the bin, your container can be fairly small. I often use:
- a shallow cardboard box
- a foil roasting pan
- a small baking dish
- a shallow Tupperware container
- dish tub
If you want to make a sensory bin to take with you when travelling or visiting, choose a container with a lid.
Here are some examples of small containers I’ve used for our sensory bins:
A small baking dish serves as a tiny ocean
A construction site sensory bin in a foil roasting pan
A dinosaur small world in a dollar store plastic saucer
For 2 or more children, you’ll want a larger container so the kids can gather around it comfortably. Some of my favourite containers for larger sensory bins are:
- a new, un-used litter box
- large, shallow cardboard box
- shallow storage container
Children gather around a new litter box filled with cloud dough
A shallow storage container makes a great sensory bin
Choose a theme for your sensory bin:
For your theme, it’s always fun to choose something that your child is passionate about. You can always choose a theme that is new to your child too, as that will offer lots of opportunity for learning. Dinosaurs, farm, ocean, and construction themes are always popular here.
Construction Sensory Bin in a cardboard box
I scour the toy room and my craft cupboards to find the items for our sensory bins. Animals, vehicles, characters and small accessories are always great. The dollar store and thrift shops are great places to find interesting items too.
“Frozen” Sensory Bin with White Rice, Cotton Balls and Plastic Gems
It’s also fun to make sensory bins to match the season.
Choose a base material for your sensory bin:
For your sensory bin base, items and substances that are interesting to look at and touch. Textured items that make a nice sound when you run your fingers through them are wonderful.
Suggested base materials for a sensory bin:
- coffee beans
- dried coffee grounds
- corn kernels
- bird seed
- shredded paper
- water, coloured water, soapy water
- coloured ice cubes
- shaving cream
- water beads
- aquarium stones
Sensory Play with Corn Kernels and Chestnuts
Snow Sensory Bin with Little Tykes Characters and Vehicles
Items to put in a sensory bin:
To make your sensory bin intriguing, add lots of small, interesting items. Along with little toys and accessories, I often incorporate natural materials into our sensory bins because their colours, shapes and scents and textures are wonderful to explore, and they help children to connect with nature.
Some of my favourite natural materials for sensory bins are:
- small gourds
- flower petals
- sea shells
Other items that add interest to a sensory bin are:
- dollar store gemstones
- artificial flowers/fruit/vegetables
- pom poms
- small wooden blocks
- foam shapes
- magnetic letters
- cotton balls
- fabric scraps
- magnetic letters
I Spy Sensory Bin with Coloured Rice and Random Small Items
Add tools and instruments to your sensory bin:
In a construction bin or a farm or ocean bin, you may not want to add tools and instruments, because the vehicles and animals may be enough, but for more experimental bins, your child will require them to examine and explore the bin’s contents. Some of my favourite tools and instruments play to include in a sensory bin are:
- small spoons
- magnifying glass
- small bowls
- measuring cups
- ice cube trays
- muffin tins
- baby food jars
These tools and instruments are all great for strengthening fine-motor skills, and coordination.
Adding an assortment of scoops, tongs, small jars and containers will take your sensory bin to a new level as children pour, sort and sift the contents of the bin!
The best thing about a sensory bin is the endless entertainment, skill-development and learning it provides. The next best thing, is that you can create countless bins using items that you already have on hand.
You know what that means… hours of good, old-fashioned play without spending a dime!
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