Fall is officially here, which means many parents are beginning to look for things to do with their kiddos indoors. One of my toddler favourites, whether indoors or outdoors actually, is sensory bin play. If you’re new to them, sensory bins are exactly what they sound like… A sensory experience contained within a bin. Besides being oh so much fun, sensory bins engage the senses while allowing little ones to explore, discover, develop their fine motor skills, practice critical thinking, build their vocabulary, and use their imaginations. Sounds pretty great, right?
So what do you need to put one together? First off, a theme a theme of some sort. This will guide what your sensory bin looks like and what items it includes. Next, and probably the most important, a big shallow container. We love using short, stackable storage bins, but a shallow cardboard box, a big roasting pan, or a plastic basin will all work. Now time for the filler or base. This should be something that is interesting to look at and touch while being fairly inexpensive (since you’ll need a good amount). Some of our favourites include water, sand, rice, oats, beans, birdseed, and pasta. Lastly, you’ll need loose parts, objects, toys, and/or tools. The ‘extras’, if you will. These will vary greatly based on the theme of your sensory bin and can really be anything you feel safe letting your toddler explore.
Because we love visiting our local pumpkin farm throughout the month of October, we decided to create a pumpkin patch sensory bin so we can pick pumpkins all month long – right from the comfort of our playroom. ;D
Here’s what you’ll need to recreate our pumpkin patch sensory bin:
- dry black beans
- mini pumpkins
- small cups of some sort
- small scoops or spoons
- any other pumpkin patch themed object you’d like to add (I added a tractor because my little one is tractor obsessed, as well as spiralled pipe cleaners to give a vine effect)
Now here’s the thing: When it comes to sensory bins, there’s really no right or wrong way to set them up. I usually just pour the bin filler (in this case the black beans) in the bin and then arrange the other objects and tools in a way that is both visually pleasing and inviting. And that’s it – it’s time to play!
Now if you’re just getting started on sensory bins with your little one, you’ll probably want to make the expectations clear from the get go. Since the beauty of a sensory bin is its open endedness, I usually stick to two simple rules… Firstly, the items in the bin are not for eating, and secondly, the bin filler must stay in the bin (though accidents do happen – a cheap shower curtain or tablecloth under the bin makes for quick and easy clean up). With that out of the way, I sit back and let my little one explore while supervising from a couple of feet away. (As with all toddler activities, direct supervision is key here.)
What your toddler does with the materials in the sensory bin is up to him (so long as the the expectations you set out at the beginning are being followed, of course). This particular bin lends itself very well to scooping, filling, and dumping, but your little one might swish his or her hands through the beans, drive the tractor through the ‘pumpkin patch’, hide the pumpkins in the beans, stack the pumpkins, or something completely different. I usually like to let my little one direct the play for as long as he is interested and quietly join in only when needed. When he’s starting to lose interest, I might come and sit beside him and demonstrate how the little pots of beans can be stacked or how the beans can be used to make a hill for the tractor to drive over.
When you’re done playing for the day, simply cover or stow the pumpkin patch sensory bin away until the next time you’re ready to play with it. And of course have fun creating other sensory bins too… Check out some of our favourites here, but let your little one’s interests guide the way if possible. The possibilities are truly endless.
Jen is a teacher, blogger, and mama to a spirited little lady and a preemie baby boy. She’s passionate about play, loves a good DIY project, adores travelling, and can often be found in the kitchen creating recipes that meet her crunchy mama criteria. You can follow Jen on her blog, Mama.Papa.Bubba, and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.