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September 16, 2012

5 Simple Sensory Bins for Babies and Toddlers

Here at Train Up a Child we love sensory bins.  We almost always have at least two full bins at any given time.  I wrote a post in my Child's Play 101 series about the importance of sensory bins with many suggestions on what to fill them with.  The most common question I receive from my readers is either where to start, or what can be put in a sensory bin for babies and toddlers who still mouth everything?  My twins are 14 months old.  I am comfortable including them on most of our messy, crazy fun, but there are several bins I set up specifically with them in mind.  Some are messy and take more prep time.  For this post I wanted to showcase five SIMPLE ideas.  These five most likely contain items you already have in your home and can be put together in less than five minutes each.

1.  Ball Sensory Bin
This one takes zero prep time for me, because we have a ball bin on our toy shelf.  All I have to do is pull if off the shelf, and the babies can dig into it and explore the different textures, sizes, weights, tastes and shapes.  To make a ball sensory bin, simple grab a variety of balls and fill a box, bin or basket with them.  

2.  Block Sensory Bin
I don't know about you, but we have almost a dozen different types of blocks in our house ranging in size, texture, material and function.  I grabbed several blocks from each collection for my little guys to taste, feel, drop and listen to the resulting sound.

Use whatever blocks you already own.  Here is what was in ours:

rainbow nesting blocks
photo blocks with pictures of our family

When I set this bin out, Peanut played with it all afternoon.  He touched every kind of block, mouthed a few, dropped or threw most of them to see what happened.  He pushed the entire bin around downstairs wherever he went.

He was especially delighted with the family photos.

3.  Cornmeal Sensory Bin
This one is self explanatory.  I put a small amount of cornmeal in a bin, and the babies play and explore.   Unlike the first two bins, this can get messy.  I put a shower curtain down on the floor under the bin to catch any stray bits of cornmeal.  I buy shower curtains from Dollar Tree specifically for sensory bins, crafting, and messy play.  They can be machine washed, so when we are through I shake out the shower curtain outside and toss it in the wash.

Another wonderful benefit to sensory bins is the sibling bond it provides.

When I set out a sensory bin intended for the babies I let them explore on their own first.  Before too long I invite my older boys to join them.  I love watching the four of them play together, and it warms my heart to watch the big boys aid in their little brothers' play.

So far having only one bin hasn't been a problem with my children.  As they get bigger I imagine I will have to set out more than one at a time.  For now I love watching them interact and connect.

Tank has a tendency to climb right into the bins.  The bigger boys are sweet about playing around him.

4.  Oatmeal Sensory Bin
I buy oatmeal at Dollar Tree and put it back in the container marked "For Play Only".  Oatmeal is perfect for sensory play, because it is safe for babies even if they eat a handful.  My twins are very oral and tend to taste everything.  I didn't experience this with my older two, so I have to be more careful what I fill their bins with.

As I mentioned I buy from Dollar Tree and save to use again and again.  I know there is a lot of controversy around playing with food, and I am careful to be a good steward of what we have.  You can read more ways to have fun with food while minimizing waste on the post I wrote about food in my Child's Play 101 series.

Like the cornmeal, oatmeal can be messy.  We use the shower curtain, and any stray oats get picked up by the dust buster.

Sometimes I include a few other containers and/or utensils for scooping, dumping, pouring, etc.

The oatmeal is so enticing.  Everyone wants to play!

I would advise against sensory bin play shortly before you need to head out the door.  Many times we end up needing a change of clothes.  With dry materials I don't worry about baths right away.  I just brush off the oats and give each of them a clean outfit.

5.  Water Sensory Bin
I posted about our water sensory bin earlier in the summer.  We fill this up several times each week and vary what goes in it.  To read the details of the first time I filled here go HERE.

A few things to consider.  Dry grains and lentils are great for sensory play, but please keep in mind that anything in its dry form will swell if ingested.  I don't shy away from using beans or rice, but I remain by my little ones' side and encourage them to keep the item out of their mouths.  When I set out bins with items not safe to ingest I prefer to be one on one with my babies, so I am able to keep my full attention on the one playing.

Playing with sensory bins is an easy opportunity to work on vocabulary expansion.  Give your child space to explore freely, but also talk as he plays.  "Do you like chewing on the soft, green block?" and "That ball makes a loud noise when you drop it, doesn't it?"  I don't talk constantly, but I do remain engaged if my little one wants me to.  Sometimes they interact with me and show me everything they are playing with, and other times they seem to want to do their own thing.

My little guys are almost not babies any more!  How did that happen?  I've shared many other ideas for baby play over the past several months, and now we are slowly transitioning to toddler play.  Twin toddlers, look out!

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  1. I love the pictures of your little boy sitting in the sensory bin. Adorable! These are such great ideas. I especially like the ball sensory bin. That is perfect for babies. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Such great ideas! Mine is a major mouther so I get nervous about so much stuff, but these are great! Thanks for sharing! :)

  3. This is great! I've been looking for sensory plays I can do with my baby, thanks for sharing :)

  4. I don't come on your blog nearly enough, Allison. You have so many fabulous ideas. I love these ideas for baby sensory bins, as well as your set of activities to go with Growing a Rainbow!

  5. Those are great ideas for sensory bins. Please link this to Artsy Play Wednesday on Capri + 3 (now live).

  6. Love love love these ideas. I'll be featuring you in my round up of The Weekly Kids' Co-op and pinning. xoxo P

  7. Loving all these sensory bins ideas! Very safe for babies too! I read a blog at http://aeioumommy.com and the Mom also used rice cereals with colors for her baby! Can't wait to try some of these! :-)

  8. Great post! I didn't do sensory bins with my first son until he was older, so I was having trouble thinking of how to do them with our baby. Thank you!

  9. Oh this is super cool! My toddler loves sensory play and my 8 month old really wants to join in. This is perfect. Thank you!

  10. Love your bins!!!! Just wondering where you get your bins from? I don't want to spend too much money on them.

    1. Thank you! I'm not actually sure where the red bins came from. My sister gave them to me used. The clear bins are under the bed bins, and they have lids which is great for bins that we use again and again. These are the ones we use: http://www.amazon.com/Rubbermaid-3Q2800CLR-Hi-Top-Storage-Box/dp/B002HDJBMQ/ref=tf_cw?&linkCode=waf&tag=trupach-20

  11. We love sensory bins too! Thanks for sharing all of yours. I just want to share my bins with you too... :)
    -Deborah @ For the Love of Learning


  12. I love the shower curtain tip! Thank you for these wonderful ideas.

  13. I just started with a sensory bin for my 16 month old. I was wondering how long your toddlers usually spend playing with them, and how often they play with the same one or how often you change them? I guess my real question is how to keep them interested in playing with one?

    1. Hi Jessie,
      I'm sorry it took me so long to respond. We were on vacation and internet free for a week, and catching up is taking quite some time. :)

      I usually keep the same bin out for a week or so. If it is a reuseable material I put the contents in a ziploc bag for another day. My twins usually play with sensory bins for at least a half hour. To keep them interested I change up the accessories. I set out different spoons, funnels, containers, etc. I hope that helps.

  14. I absolutely LOVE the picture of your little guy looking at the photo cube :)

  15. Thanks for highlighting various types of sensory bins along with these lovely pictures. These details will make it easier for readers to pick the right gift for a child’s first birthday or Christmas.

  16. What a great idea! I have a teenage daughter with Special Needs. One of her teachers made a bin with rice. She put little "treasures" in it, little plastic fish, a string of plastic beads, etc. my daughter loves it!

  17. Hi, I'm looking for ideas to take to visitation at the court house to play with my two year old son together! Something not messy, and rules say no balls allowed. Play dough was great, but he's getting tired of that now. I like the rainbow slime idea, do u think it would be to messy to take up there? Oh, our visits are only for an hour. Thank you. Brandimurphy81@gmail.com

    1. The slime is actually not too messy at all. Take a plastic container for it, and it sticks to itself easily. I would make it in advance, though, because it can be messy while mixing.

  18. Amazingly simple idea! I never thought to fill a tub and put bubby in it, your choice of what to put in it is endless. Thanks so much for the post. Cheers, Julia :)

  19. Some great baby sensory ideas thank you! My kids always loved playing with water, it was something that would keep them busy for hours and always calm them down.


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