Sensory Bins: A Starter Guide

In the Pacific Northwest we have a LOT of rainy days so when we’re not at the local drop-in or the park in full rain gear we’re indoors trying to find something to occupy ourselves. Most rainy days we do baking that we need to do anyway but a few times a week now we pull out the sensory bin!

I’ve been following Susie at @BusyToddler for ages now and she’s big on the importance of sensory play but even considering all the pros she states I cannot tell you how much I hated the idea of putting a sensory bin together. With a 1 and 3-year-old I feel like I’m already picking up toys, sweeping, and generally cleaning up pretty much constantly just to keep the house in a general state of functionality, so the idea of creating extra mess on purpose was not appealing to me. But one morning I wanted desperately to drink my coffee uninterrupted so I figured I’d give it a shot. Afterwards I realized that the set-up took longer than the clean-up and now we sensory bin whenever we want and it’s no prob! Plus it’s an activity that the kids do well together and I’ve grown to love stepping back and watching them interact with each other and the bin.

If you wanna try it out here are a few things I’ve learned. PS I didn’t spend a dime!

Set it Up: I found a shallow tub storing shoes under our guest bed and gave it a quick wipe, but you can use a large tray or baking pan with a high rim, anything convenient you have kickin’ around your house. If you have carpet you can place a blanket or towel underneath for easy clean-up but I prefer to move our kitchen table out of the way and just put it down on hardwood. I keep Hennie’s kid-size dustpan and broom nearby so she can take the initiative to sweep up if something gets thrown out of the bin (spoiler alert: it does).

Fill it Up: since Wells is a very curious toddler we always use a base that is safe and generally edible (you can try dry pasta or beans, raw rice, lentils). You can use whatever you find in your pantry that’s cheap and easy to clean up (don’t use flour, k?). Rolled oats are our favourite these days because I always have a ton on hand. Hen likes it when I throw in a few handfuls of birthday sprinkles for some flair.

Add Tools: the whole point of sensory play is for kids to get to feel different textures and work on those transferring and scooping skills! What do your kids like to play with in your kitchen? Throw it in! Hen and Wells are obsessed with my kitchen tongs but we also use wooden spoons, measuring cups, monkey bowls, and funnels. I like to make sure that there’s enough stuff that they won’t fight over anything (they still will, of course) and I learned the hard way not to include your prized pottery. Make sure there’s some tupperware or something they can fill up and dump out because that’s the best part!

Optional Add-ins: these can be seasonal or just for fun! You could ‘bury’ their favourite toys (Paw Patrol pup figurines!) for them to ‘rescue’ with the kitchen tongs or hide leftover plastic Easter eggs for them to scoop up with their spoons – these are all great ways for them to work on their fine motor skills. This month I made a nature-inspired Christmas bin for the kids and included cedar clippings and pinecones we collected in our yard, dehydrated orange slices (Wells chewed the middles out of these), and some red jingle bells that were a big hit.

Clean it Up: after the kids are done playing with it I sweep up the (usually small) amount that has escaped the bin and save the rest for another time – it’s so easy to change out the tools and add-ins when we want to. The tub I originally found is no longer for shoe storage, it’s now a sensory bin all the time. It came with a lid so I can still store it out of sight under the guest bed and pull it out when we want to use it – the kids get so excited now when they see this tub! Sometimes to increase the excitement factor I’ll put away a few small toys they love to play with for a week or two and throw them into the bin and they get so stoked to play with them again (and I don’t have to buy anything new!). The best part is that oats are cheap and are offered at my local zero-waste grocery store, so I can go in a buy a huge bag without adding any plastic to the landfill. When the oats in our current bin are running low I’m gonna dye some rice for the next bin (google Rainbow Rice to learn how!).

I hope I’ve convinced you to introduce sensory play in your home! Let me know how it goes!

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