Lots of sensory bin/box ideas are floating around in the blogosphere and pop up on Pinterest from time to time. As an occupational therapist this is one play idea that I use very often, as most OT’s do. Have I lost anyone? Don’t know what a sensory bin is? A sensory bin is a box or bin, usually a Sterilite container that you fill with some kind of texture like dry rice. Throw in a couple of play toys and voila you have a sensory bin. Easy peazy!
Sensory bins are great for kids because they receive loads of tactile stimulation and it encourages imaginative play. On the other hand they are particularly helpful for children that are tactile defensive (experiencing discomfort when touching various textures). Because these bins usually catch the curiosity of a child, they will often push themselves out of their comfort level to explore. If you suspect that your child may have a limited diet because they don’t like certain textures of food, playing in sensory bins will begin to help desensitize them to various textures and may help them feel more comfortable with the textures they eat. Also, sensory bins may be a great activity to include in a sensory diet, depending on the child’s needs. So basically, sensory bins are great for just about every kid! I am sure some of you are cringing at the thought of a bin of dry rice on your living room floor, it can be messy, but your kids are only kids once, so I say go for it!
Some things you want to keep in mind….
- Choking hazards, if your child is still putting everything into their mouth, be mindful of what you are putting into the bin. See the category for babies below.
- Some textures have a shelf life, you may need to recycle or replenish some textures.
- Never, yes I am saying NEVER, force your kid’s hand into a texture. If they don’t like it or are having a hard time touching it, respect that and don’t force it. Don’t clean up shop though, encourage imitation (from you), and proceed slowly. Maybe they need to use a shovel before they can put their hand in and then maybe it is just a finger. You get the idea.
- Have towels ready for wet textures. Kids will wipe their hands off on you or the sofa, if you don’t. Also, if your child is tactile defensive, you want to have a towel on hand in case they start to freak out. By the way, letting them know the towel is there in case they need it will help them feel more comfortable touching the texture.
- First and foremost let your child explore the bin without any input from you, which will allow their creativity to shine. You could set this up when you need a few minutes to wash up dishes or make a phone call. Of course, you can also sit with them, asking open ended questions. Click here for a great post from Little Stories on this topic.
- Have cups, scoops, bowls, shovels, serving spoons, dump trucks, and/or ladles in the bin for scooping and dumping. Scooping, dumping, and filling is a great play skill for toddlers, preschoolers can begin to learn some math concepts, and older kids can actually practice measuring and fractions.
- Draw or write letters with fingers in the different textures by making a smooth surface out of the texture on the bottom of the bin. Actually feeling the texture will reinforce shapes and the way letters are formed in the brain.
- Get creative with themes or learning concepts. Add artificial or real flowers to coffee (because it looks like dirt) so they can plant them. Or, use diggers and dump trucks to haul away the packing peanuts.
- Play hide and seek with various toys, seeing if your child can find them. Also, try giving directions to teach concepts like left/right, top/bottom, and shallow/deep. You could say something like, “The alligator is hiding on the left side.” Or, ” The rock is in the middle, but it is very deep.”
- Search with closed eyes. Lay some different objects shallow in the texture so that your kid can’t see. Have them search with just their hands and try to figure out what the object is without looking at it. This will help improve their tactile discrimination which will help them master fine-motor skills like handwriting!
- Get those feet in there! Bury feet and have them explore too, it is such a wonderful sensory experience! If your child is tactile defensive, feet are usually more sensitive than hands, so take it slow if you need to.
- Throw magnetic letters into the bin and have your kid hunt for them to spell their name or spelling words.
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