How to create a sensory bin
We love sensory play. But I need it to be easy to set up and easy to clean up. Frankly if I'm staring at a pile of laundry, a mountain of paperwork and enough dust to sell wholesale, the last thing I want is something that takes a tonne of effort!
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Sensory bins are the perfect way to get that sensory fix without the fuss. It's my go-to when I've got to get things done and the boys always enjoy it. And as long as you set some ground rules (things stay in the tray and out of mouths) you can keep mess to a minimum.
I'm going to show you how to create one and why it's worth that little bit of effort!
The benefits of sensory play
Children love to explore new materials and see what happens when they manipulate them. Playing freely in this way helps them learn about cause and effect.
Fine motor skills
Sensory bins encourage hand/eye coordination through scooping, pouring and transferring materials. Tools like tweezers help develop a tripod grip which is important for writing.
Introducing new materials helps your child to develop their vocabulary relating to sound, smell and texture as well as encouraging conversation.
Children love exploring new and interesting textures - where most toys are made of smooth plastic, sensory bins introduce materials with diverse textures.
Research has found that sensory play builds nerve connections in a child's brain, so it helps them to complete more complex learning tasks.
Not only is it a welcome distraction for a child who is anxious or stressed, but sensory play helps in self-regulating emotions.
Containers for your sensory bin
There are some brilliant sensory play tables on the market - if I had the money and the space I wouldn't hesitate to get one - they tend to come with lids and are at standing height, which is ideal for children to explore.
But you don't need to spend money on any special kit to create your own sensory bin. Any large container with a flat base and relatively high sides is suitable - in the past we've used a plastic under-bed box from IKEA, a Really Useful tub, a round enamel tray and a gravel tray. If space is limited you could even make a mini bin using a large Tupperware. If you choose a bin with a lid, it can double as storage for the materials and tools.
Base / fillers for your sensory bin
With the base material or filler the sky's the limit really, just bear in mind the age and development of the child that will be playing with it.
With younger toddlers and babies, edible fillers are preferable just in case they put something in their mouth. You will also need to closely monitor them whilst playing.
If you're worried about food waste, then just use edibles that can be used over and over again, such as rice or lentils. You might want to pop an old sheet underneath to protect against any spillages and make clean up easier.
Once again there are some fantastic tools out there to buy but you can just raid the kitchen - think spoons, tongs, sieves, spatulas, bowls... If you want to add some fun accessories to your bins then here are our favourites:
There's no end to the extras you can add to a sensory bin to enhance its potential for fun and learning. Just don't put too much is it can be a bit overwhelming and most will end up on the floor! It can help to have a theme in mind (e.g. holiday or favourite book), or an objective (e.g. water play to cool down or learning colours through sorting).
Extras to add to sensory bins:
small world people
recycled tubes & boxes
Some sensory bin ideas to get you started...
Water beads, marble run and scoops
Citrus slices, water and ladle
Cloud dough (cornflour & baby oil) construction site
Plastic eggs, spoons and rainbow rice
Jelly baff, leaves and dinosaurs
For loads more ideas check out this list by My Bored Toddler.
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