Truth be told, it took me three years of teaching kindergarten to discover the beauty behind sensory bins. Little did I know at the time, they allowed children to explore, touch, create, communicate and discover while also learning important skills. Yes, learning. That’s what I hadn’t understood just yet. I was going stir-crazy trying to constantly come up with different activities for our sand and water table that would keep students engaged when learning kindergarten skills…until I finally realized they had been learning all along. Whether children are making lemonade, baking muffins or building a shelter for animals, they are scooping, pouring, measuring, counting, building, communicating – they are learning through play.
Below, you will find a few tips and tricks to help you set up sensory bins for your little ones at home or in your classroom.
First things first: bin choice! Over the last few years, I have experimented with different types of bins, but I always come back to a deep square sensory bin or a large sand and water table. Not only are large bins sturdy and great for both indoor and outdoor play, but they also give students more room to explore.
Next up, fillers. White sand has been my go-to for years, but changing your filler is a simple way to keep your learners motivated and engaged. Reusable fillers are a must! Find fillers that you can use over and over again, no matter the theme. I especially love using dry black beans, dry dyed chickpeas, shredded coloured paper and oatmeal (with a dash of cinnamon – yes, it smells delicious!). Mulch, shaving cream, snow and flour fall into my ‘messy fillers’ category and let me tell you, they bring a whole new level of excitement! They’re also a great way for children to discover and manipulate different textures. And of course, you can never go wrong with water. It’s free, simple and can be used in so many different ways. From scooping and pouring to bathing dolls, water is always a hit!
And finally, manipulatives! Adding manipulatives is my favourite part. In most sensory bins, I add mixing bowls, spatulas, muffin tins and easy-grip tweezers. Depending on my intention, I’ll add more manipulatives such as letters, numbers, pompons, corks, seasonal loose parts, animal figurines and sometimes, I’ll even throw in some blocks! These are just a few ideas. Be creative. Think outside the box.
Sensory play often doesn’t make sense to adults and that’s ok. Children are exploring, learning and having fun; that’s what’s important!