How to put together your first Sensory Bin

As a child I had this game I played that drove my mom nuts.

I would find the smallest, cutest little bottle I could find, magically turn myself into a witch or fairy… and then go around the house hunting for ingredients for my secret potion… Needless to say my mom didn’t think it was funny at all because I went through her stuff like a hurricane!

The ingredients that I used would include any liquid or semi liquid substance I could get my hands on. And it was a bonus if it smelled nice too. I would add bubble bath and lotions, oils and even perfume now and then, sorry mom! It created an explosion of smells.

The best part came after my potion was done. I would pour it out in the basin, squishing and squeezing, rubbing and smearing it around.

That was sensory play.

Every time a child plays, they enlist all their senses to experience the moment. When you go and play soccer in the forest, you will both feel the icy cold morning breeze, and smell the fresh dew. So your senses are always involved, but…

Sensory play includes activities that specifically focuses on adding new and interesting textures and elements to play. It mainly involves the touch, smell and taste senses.

Playing on the beach is a full sensory experience where you feel the sand and small the salty air
Playing on the beach, you can FEEL the sand in your fingers and between your toes and you SMELL the salty sea breeze.

A sensory bin is basically just a box filled with any fun materials that have texture, like sand, rice, pasta, seeds or water. Putting together your first sensory bin is easy! Sensory play can be as simple as pouring rice into a bowl and playing with scoops and funnels and spoons. Or you can create an elaborate themed sensory box with all sorts of theme based items.

For example you can use coffee beans and seeds with little plastic pots and fake flowers. You might want to add some small gardening utensils to perfect your gardening sensory box.

How to put together your first sensory bin is as easy as pouring rice into a tub and adding some utensils
This sensory bin was filled with rice and some small wooden bead to add some fun.

Sensory bins can be so quick and easy to set up and have SO many benefits, so here are my top 10 tips on setting up your own basic sensory box:

Make sure that the container you choose to play in, is big enough. Dropping a few seeds on the ground is one thing, but watching sand fly everywhere because your little one is creating a tornado in a tiny box, is a scene that can cause you to never want to do sensory play ever again. My three year old does a mean potion brewing witch impression in our lego container and it ain’t a pretty sight!

If weather permits, let your kids mess outside! We invested in a plastic water table. They are available everywhere and they aren’t expensive. We put this table outside and let the kids have a ball. When the kids play outside and the weather is nice you can also add water.

Try to choose biodegradable materials as far as possible. Playing with colorful plastic confetti might be loads of fun, but it’s very difficult to clean up and dispose of. Rather stick to natural ingredients like rice, beans and other degradable seeds.

Kids learn fine motor skills while scooping rice during sensory play

Start with only using one medium and work your way up. Some kids are very sensitive to sensory experiences and it might be a good idea to first introduce your kids to one new material at a time, and then build up the experience. My suggestion is to start with rice. Rice flows nicely through the fingers, it scoops easily and kids love to play with it. Next on the list would be beans and seeds. When your child is comfortable with one texture you can add another.

Be aware that sensory play might irritate some children’s skin. My eldest had severe eczema as a baby and so we couldn’t use certain materials in our sensory boxes. She couldn’t play with colored rice too often as it would trigger a skin reaction. So we stuck to all natural ingredients. My youngest on the other hand, has no skin problems can play with a wider range of materials like shaving foam for sensitive skin and colored edibles. So make sure you choose materials based on your own kids.

Using a variety of utensils during sensory play makes playtime exciting
Use a variety of tools to keep sensory play interesting to little ones.

When choosing utensils to play with VARIETY is important. Go for different shapes and sizes. Start with spoons, cup measures, funnels and bowls.

Make time to play WITH your child and experiment with different ways of pouring, squeezing and transferring the rice. But also try not to interfere too much. Copy what they are doing and you will find it gives them a huge confidence boost to explore.

Add sensory play to your play ‘schedule’ at least once a week. Kids who have sensory issues and picky eaters will get extra benefit from sensory play!

Make sure that there is nothing dangerous in your sensory bins so that you can step away for a couple of moments if needed.

Allow your kids to have fun. Remember to not get stressed about this! If you get anxious about the time it will take to set up or you get worried about the mess they will make or you feel that you don’t have the knowledge to come up with new sensory play themes every week, you are missing the point! This activity should be fun and relaxing and shouldn’t add more stress to your life. So take a deep breath. This activity is just another way to create a special memory with your child.

Oh and here’s a bonus tip for you. Buy 1 big container and store all your different utensils and materials in zip lock bags inside of it. When you want to set it up, choose a base and empty it out into the container. When they’re done, store everything in that container again.

Storing sensory play materials is easy. Put everything away in one big plastic tub.
Storing all your sensory play items in a big plastic tubs makes set up and pack away so much easier.

The are so many benefits to sensory play! And it can be as easy as 5 minutes to set up! Little effort for hours of fun!

Are you ready to set up your fist sensory box now?

Here are some suggestions for the base ingredients:
Rice
Pasta shells/macaroni/penne (Basically any type of pasta that is cheap)
Lentils
Dried beans
Seeds
Water
Biodegradable water beads (These are tons of fun but make sure that they are good for the environment.)
Coffee beans
Shredded coconut

Benjamin Franklin said: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” I like to think that is exactly how it is with sensory play. When kids DO, they learn.

Let’s make the most of today and give our kids more opportunities to learn.

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