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!