Sensory play is important for children. Before I researched it, I underestimated the skills my kids gain through sensory play. There is so much learning involved. When they pour too much into a cup, it overflows. They also hear the magical sound of dried corn when you pour it into a cup. Through this activity they get to practice pouring water so one day they can pour their own milk. There is so much learning coming from every pour and scoop. It makes me feel like I have won a tiny victory in motherhood. There is so much pressure to be a “good” parent. There are days where I am just happy I kept them all safe and we made it through the day. Then, you have days where you feel like Superwoman for throwing together a couple items in a bin. I never imagined the excitement that comes from a bin of dry black beans. My son goes into a world you can’t replicate with an i-Pad.
We have done so many bins over the years. I have learned some tricks to make it easier to clean up and switch out! I always put down a sheet or blanket so I can contain the sensory item. In the beginning it took a few sessions for my son to learn when he makes a mess, he has to clean it up. But truthfully, he knows the bin is a privilege, and he doesn’t bat an eye when I ask him to clean up. Depending on the sensory item, you can take the learning out to the driveway, backyard, porch, or the bathtub.
Pictured below are some of our favorite bins and items you may already have around the house. I took these pictures over the last four years just to remember the fun times. I never thought I would be sharing them with others. So, please understand, my kids are usually in their pajamas. We take advantage of the morning play time and they may only be in their diaper. This is real life, real learning.
I included a list of some items to spice up your play! I use items like cereal, rice, or cooked pasta for when my kids still put things in their mouth. When my oldest was little, I put in his pacifier when we did a bin. You can use any bin or bowl you have around the house. The cooking utensils, measuring spoons, and measuring cups are always a good go to!
Some sensory bin fillers include Legos, rice, pasta, beans, water, Cheerios, Rice Crispy Cereal, rocks, sand, kinetic sand, mud, shaving cream (bath tub), beads and string, Pom Pom Balls, cotton balls, paper scraps (for tearing and cutting), Easter basket grass, straws (add scissors for cutting practice), and water.
In case you love a good theme like me, I added in some of our favorite picture books that go along with the theme! You know I can’t pass up an opportunity to add in a picture book.
Construction Bin- You can use uncooked (dry) black beans or corn. Here is a picture of my son playing at a farm in a giant play area of corn. He didn’t want to leave! We use the mini construction vehicles when we are playing at home.
Farm Bin- This is my son’s favorite bin! The first sensory bin picture was when my oldest was two years old. The second picture is a set a teacher friend brought back from Germany. I also added in some measuring cups, spoons, and these Fine Motor Scoops that open and close like scissors!
Snow Bin- This was a spur of the moment bin! I laid down a Paw Patrol Blanket, used a tub, and put some gloves on my son. I added in some utensils and he had a blast! It just goes to show it doesn’t have to be classy or Pinterest perfect. My son had no idea his mom was in survival mode, with horrible mom guilt because I had infant twins that took up most of my time. This bin was a blast and allowed him to play with the snow in a safe and warm environment! A perfect book to pair with this bin is The Snowy Day. This is a great classic Caldecott book that talks about a little boy’s adventure on a snowy day. The little boy even tried to keep the snow in his pocket after playing. This pairs perfectly with the snow sensory bin!
Sea Animals- This is a great deal! They are 12+ in each tube and a really great price. They aren’t the highest quality you will find, but they cover a wide range of themes! The first picture is a picture of my twins on Boppy pillows. I placed a bin in the middle and added one of our baby bath sets. If your children are older, you can try out this fishing set. Our water bin is always a hit! There were so many giggles and splashing. It was a great opportunity to introduce words like water, boat, and splash! The second set of pictures was when my twins were 14 months. I grabbed some bath toys and laid down some towels in the kitchen. My youngest twin always seems to find himself in the sensory bin. I have tried and tried to teach him. When all three of the boys were deep belly laughing at him in the water, I couldn’t help but laugh too. Sometimes you have to embrace the crazy. I have three boys, I better get used to it! I added in an Ocean book that my son has loved since he was 3 years old! We play a game where he picks five pages and we read facts. I love how I am able to expose him to nonfiction books and their text features. We talk about the table of contents, captions under the picture, glossary, etc. It is great because there is just the right amount of facts on each page. This book is one that will grow with him over the years! It would be great to read before a beach vacation.
Pom Pom Balls- This is a picture of my oldest playing with Pom Pom Balls. I added some scoops and put in his pacifier. Pom Poms are also fun for older children! Add in some scoops, bowls, and an imagination! My four-year-old son makes me “Pom Pom Soup.”
Cooked Pasta- I had some extra pasta and decided to make an impromptu bin. My oldest started out playing and scooping the pasta. He decided to try it, and then it went downhill.
Sand is a great bin to play outside. We keep it in this bin and store it in our garage with the lid. I like this beach set because the company is known for their quality. I also love that you can use these toys in other bins!
I bought these bins to use with my first graders. When I took time off school, I got them out to use with my boys. The last time my oldest played with them he accidentally combined the vehicles and dinosaurs. This made for a great sorting activity! I love when he doesn’t realize he is learning! He also chose to sort each dinosaur by color. Talk about a proud teacher/mom moment!
Car/Truck Wash- My oldest loves the quick car/truck wash bin! I bought a scrubbing brush and he got out his hot wheels that needed washed. My son loves to make his cars shiny! It is adorable and takes two minutes to set up. You can follow up this bin with two of our favorite truck books! I love the moral of Little Blue Truck. It was a book I borrowed from home to read to my first graders. They loved it too! Red Truck is another favorite. Rhyming is an important skill for little ones. When you read rhyming books like Red Truck, you are setting your child up for success when they learn to read!
Another bin we love is our (drinking) straw bin. I add scissors and my son will literally cut straws for 30+ minutes. The straws do go flying, but it is so much fun! Tip: Get the neon straws. They are easy to find when they go flying.
Here are some of our other favorite sensory bin items and ones that are similar to what we have: