These containers full of tactile materials serve as a wonderful way to explore, refine fine motor skills, and contain mess! They are an especially great indoor activity during these cold winter months. There are specifically manufactured “sensory bins”, but you can easily use a storage tub of any size to achieve the same goal. When you Google or search on Pinterest for “sensory bin” you will encounter an overwhelming number of options. How does one possibly choose? We are here to help! Our teachers have tested quite a few and the options listed below are some of our favorites. Many of these ideas can be modified for older or younger children.
- Polar Sensory Bin
Embrace the cold! There is something extra magical about bringing snow inside! Your children will watch with wonder as this solid becomes a liquid. Provide snow gloves to prolong the play. No snow? You could also fill the bin with water and add floating icebergs which can be easily created by freezing water in small containers. If available, you could also add small polar animals. Want to take it one step further? Conduct a quick experiment on the benefits of blubber as an insulator by placing a large amount of vegetable shortening, lard, or butter in a bag and molding it around your child’s hand (Pro-tip: use a second bag or rubber glove to protect your child’s hand from grease before molding it with “blubber.” This will reduce the mess!).
2. Gelatin Bin
The tactile experience of gelatin is very satisfying! It is also safe to taste so it provides excellent sensory material for infants. While it will always be sticky, you can purchase the unscented/unflavored variety so there is less of an appeal to eat it. You can hide all kinds of items for your child to discover in this goopy material.
3. Fire Extinguisher Bin
Have a future firefighter in the house? Create flames with construction paper and then either laminate or place them in water tight bags. Then provide your child with a squirt bottle full of water to “put out” the flames. Enhance the experience by allowing your child to dress up as a fireman or woman.
4. Bubble Bin
There are few things better than bubbles! By using some dish or hand soap create a car or toy wash. This is a fun way to involve your child in chores. Be sure to closely monitor this activity since many soaps are not child safe.
5. Gardening Bin
Gardening can easily be brought indoors with a sensory bin. Fill the container with organic soil and bring inside some of your child-safe tools (small dull trowel, watering can, pots, buckets, etc.). You could also include plastic vegetables or flowers for your child to plant or harvest! Ready to get messy? Add some water to your bin and watch together as the dirt quickly turns to mud!
6. Colored Spaghetti Bin
Spaghetti is an especially great sensory material for toddlers who want to put everything in their mouths. Jazz it up by boiling it in colored water! With younger children you can even allow them to sit and stand in the material. To extend the play with older children provide them with safety scissors to practice cutting.
7. Archaeology/Paleontology Bin
Children of all ages love digging up treasures! Fill the tub with child safe sand and hide dinosaurs, plastic bones, or even mummies. Use the same tools as real excavators such as toothbrushes, paint brushes, sifters, buckets, and trowels to uncover the hidden items.
8. Leaf Bin
Just raked your yard? Fill your sensory bin with leaves! You can also include acorns (for older children), pine cones, and even small sticks. Enhance play by providing your child with tongs and a magnifying glass.
9. Bioluminescence Bin
Bioluminescence is the light created and emitted by a living organism. This big scientific word can easily be explored in your sensory bin. Fill the tub with water and black washable paint (Pro-tip: do not use food coloring! It will dye your child’s hands) until the water becomes murky and opaque. Then throw in some glow sticks and allow your child to go “fishing” for bioluminescent organisms. Include some non-glowing “fish” to extend the fun.
10. Sensory Panels
We are breaking the rules a little with this “bin” since, in fact, it is not a bin at all. Create sensory panels by removing the glass or plastic from a variety of frames and fill them with tactile materials. You can use anything that you think your child would be interested in (safely) touching (our favorite is a piece of a high pile bath mat). These framed sensory materials are great because they can be placed on the floor for infants to explore during tummy time or hung for toddlers to touch while stretching their legs! The hanging aspect also allows for easy storage and can even provide a fun decoration for your child’s room.