Sensory Bins 101 

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! 

Written by Genevieve Landry

Top 5 Outdoor Sandbox Resources

Spring is officially here and with it comes dreams of long outdoor days and outside lessons for this educator. We have talked about sand and water play before but here we are discussing outdoor sand resources. Sand resources that we can use indoors at the sensory table and then pull outside for spring, summer and fall are versatile and have a dual purpose. Investing in resources that are suitable for multiple areas are also a great way to extend the budget.

Not all toys we would like to use in the outdoor sandbox are suitable. They must be rugged enough to survive the strong summer sun and heavy use for outdoor rougher sand and water. Some vehicles will struggle to survive with sand in their wheels and plastics may become brittle. Here are our 5 favourites:

1. Construction Vehicle Set

The classic sandbox toys, loader and dump truck, are two great quality bigger toys sure to provide hours of learning discovery. With the big shovel of the loader, large amounts of sand can be easily moved and transported to the desired spot. The dump truck helps to bring sand where it needs to be. The steel axles ensure extra stability and the quiet EVA tires leave real tracks in the sand. They can also be used in the snow in the colder months (of which we have many).

2. Textured Sand Rollers

This set of 5, sturdy, plastic-handled rollers make creative designs in the sand.

3. Dinosaur Bones

These dinosaur bones are just waiting to be discovered. Bury them in sand, soil or even water, and they will instantly appeal to children’s instincts to explore, investigate, sort, collect and measure. Perfect for all those budding paleontologists!

Designed to use alongside the Dinosaur Bones, these  Match & Measure Card Set activity cards are an ideal way to encourage children to match, count, compare, order and measure the bones they discover. Made from durable PVC, the cards are ideal to use in the outdoor area as children discover the buried bones.

4. Sensory Stones

These large tactile stones are designed to enable children to have sensory experiences by experimenting with the raised and indented shapes and patterns. The set of stones includes four raised/bumpy designs (circles, dots, wavy lines and a grid) and four indented/hollow designs (circles, lines, zigzags and a spiral).

5. Little People-Sensory Play

These charming little people have been designed to invite play, but not dictate it. They will fit into any environment. The stone mix they are made from gives them a good weight in the hand and means that they are durable enough for outside use in all weathers and environments.

What are your favourite outdoor sand toys?  

Sand and Water Play

Activity Tubs come in a set of 4 and Activity Tub Covers are available. This allows multiple sensory stations to be set up and ready at the same time, then conveniently stored out of sight.

We have discussed The Importance of Messy Play for Young Children in prior posts and the benefits of sand and water play in particular. Here are some suggestions for how to play with both.

Water

Water is the perfect place to play with measurement.

The Measure and Pour Water Play Set is a wonderful introduction to formal methods of measurement. A preschool child may simply count the number of cups poured into a container, while grade 2 students might use the spoons as a recipe intended, identifying fractions. The joy with this set is that it has something for everybody. The funnel and tubing may delight one child while the 3 play jugs will intrigue another.

Fishing, for fish or letters, is a worthy pastime.

It is also a great way to develop fine motor control. The Pretend & Play Fishing Set includes a charming vest and three sizes of fish and worms, perfect for sorting. The ABC Magnetic Fishing Set has enough letters and poles for 4 to fish at the same time. Fishing for the letters from your name is an authentic way to develop letter recognition.

Number recognition and subitizing (instantly recognizing how many.)

Number Ducks are a great way to reinforce counting and number recognition with dots on the top and matching numbers on the bottom, odd numbers in blue, and even in red. A quick flip over and children can check if they are able to subitize correctly.

Sorting and matching by colour.

Do Re Mi Dolphins are adorable linked together in a line, a circle or individually. They each play a musical note when gently tapped on the head in the water. The dolphins can be taken out of their rings and sails taken off ships, adding another play dimension. The sails only fit back into their matching colour, encouraging either colour or shape matching.

Sand

Letter Recognition:

Sand is ideal for letter writing as it is forgiving. If a mistake is made, erasing is easy, simply brush the sand and write again. A simple twig makes an ideal writing implement.

Letters moulds are a fun alternative. Getting the sand the right consistency for moulding requires a little trial and error (good problem solving).

Dramatic Play:

Dinosaur Footprints are sure to ignite curiosity, especially if they are buried in the sandbox! They have a dinosaur footprint on one side and its owner on the other. Made from a unique stone mix, they are durable for use outdoors: in mud, sand, water or soil so they can go straight from the sand to the water and back again.

When summer does finally get here, larger sand toys will be more welcome. The Construction Vehicle Set includes two great quality bigger toys sure to provide hours of learning discovery.

This Sand and Water Set is a perfect starter set to encourage exploratory learning.

Whatever way you like to play in the sand and water have fun and enjoy the sensory experience. Remember: When your child comes home messy…. look deeper. Your child has been exploring… but most of all your child has had fun!

Top 5 Manipulatives for Infant and Toddlers

Manipulatives are designed to build strength in infants and toddlers, whether that be hand eye coordination, memory, leg or core strength. Here are our 5 most popular manipulatives for infants and toddlers:

Oballs

The fun and flexible Oball is incredibly easy to grasp and safe to throw. The bright colours and smooth feel are captivating for little hands, while the virtually indestructible design withstands tougher toddler play. Perfect for all ages, Oball is sure to be an instant favourite! The Oball with Rattles is the same classic Oball that everyone loves with four clear rattles filled with colourful beads. Both are available in assorted colours.

Toddler Tough Vehicles

Take to the air, tracks or road with these tough vehicles, including a race car, train, dump truck, airplane, fire truck and police car. This Toddler Tough Vehicles set features no pinch axles and wheels. The cute painted on faces make them even more appealing for little hands. 3″L x 2″W x 2-1/4″H. Ages 12 months+.

Egg Shakers

A classic, these brightly coloured egg shakers are enjoyable for children and adults alike. Sturdy and durable, these larger Egg Shakers (2-1/2″ tall) are suitable for infants and toddlers. They are available individually or in a set of 5. Let’s get music making!

Stack-Up Cups and Cubes

Unbreakable square cubes and round cups can be stacked or nested. An essential for exploring size relationships, Stack-Up Cups and Cubes are fun to stack, smash, build and bash. Their ability to build a large tower and alternatively nest together amazes infants and toddlers alike.  Full stack is 14″H. 18 piece set.

Animal Links

This set of super light interlocking Animal Links can be easily linked together to create a variety of fun chains or exciting three dimensional structures.18 large easy to manipulate pieces made in 3 animal shapes in 6 bright colours, ages 12M+. Stack the shapes, sort by colour and style, make a pattern. Washable and safe, they have been specifically designed to meet the developmental needs of smaller kids, and they don’t make any noise when they fall!

Check out the rest of our wonderful collection of Infant and Toddler manipulatives here.

The Importance of Messy Play for Young Children

Messy play allows children to explore their world learning from the materials they are interacting with. The open-ended opportunities of messy play allow children to explore in an inviting, non-threatening way, there is no right or wrong way to play. The lack of focus on making something or an end goal gives children freedom and confidence.  Messy play is a wonderful way for children to develop the use of their senses, especially touch, through hands-on activities. Yes, the mess is unavoidable but the benefits far outweigh the temporary chaos and summer is the perfect time to enjoy many messy play activities outside.

Types of Messy Play

Water:

Water play is the perfect way to explore so many scientific concepts. Pouring water from one object to another helps children to understand volume, measurement, gravity, pressure, and displacement. Playing around a water table develops social skills as children share equipment and space.

Food:

From babies trying new foods to preschoolers building meals for themselves, exploring food teaches children to try new things. Giving them autonomy in food choices encourages an interest in the food we eat and hopefully leads to less fussy eaters. Helping to prepare a meal as children grow helps them understand and appreciate the work and love that goes into the food they eat. Pasta, beans and lentils make great small scale sensory materials for indoor play.

Sand:

The sandbox is a wonderful way to explore mathematical and scientific concepts such as empty, full, and half full, wet and dry, and force. Older children can practice writing in the sand with room for error. Fine motor skills are developed as tools are used to play. This sandcastle will not work if the sand is dry and we all know how relaxing the feel of sand is under our feet.

Nature:

Now is the time to get outside and explore nature. Our summer is short here in Canada and we tend to try to be outside as much as possible. Grass, dirt, mud, leaves, stones, trees, flowers, snow, puddles, all provide wonderful opportunities to play and learn in a messy way.

Paint:

The options are endless: on paper, on a variety of surfaces, on their bodies, printing with paint, painting with flowers, twigs and water.

Adult Role

Often children are discouraged from getting messy at home and struggle to relax into messy play.

Having smocks available for play can help to reassure those who are nervous and also calm parental worries. Some children wear new clothes to daycare and school no matter what they are advised.

Open-ended questions are an important way to encourage critical thinking “I wonder why that happened?”, “What would happen if…”. These questions are also a way of showing children you support their learning and that it is good to get messy in this situation.

Preparation is key when planning messy play. Often clean up can take time or children are engaged for longer than expected. Allowing lots of time for messy play and then the clean up afterwards is necessary.

Addressing parents’ reactions to messy play can be challenging. Not all parents understand the need for their children to engage in messy play. This wonderful display board from my son’s childcare center explains the concept beautifully:

When your child comes home messy…. look deeper. Your child has been exploring… but most of all your child has had fun!

Skills developed:

  • confidence
  • creativity
  • curiosity
  • social
  • independence
  • communication
  • well-being
  • reasonability
  • imagination
  • identity
  • respect

What a wonderful way to explain the importance of messy play for our children!

Jumbo Number Pebbles and Halloween Fun

We borrowed these Jumbo Number Pebbles to play with a few days ago.

They are lovely to lift and play with, feeling like real pebbles. As with all our pebbles, they are made from a unique stone mix, engraved and painted. The numbers just have to be felt and traced with your finger as you hold them!

Daisy has a wonderful natural teaching ability and began matching the numbers with the Halloween rubbish (I mean… toys). She was counting in French as she was doing it and encouraging Rose to join in.

She then organized the snakes and spiders around the number.

Fred, on the other hand, took pleasure in banging them together with force so they made a satisfying clunk! Each to their own.

Ten scary Halloween things.

As you can see the Jumbo Number Pebbles are strong, like pebbles really. They are open-ended, always a favourite in our house, and can be used in many ways. They would be perfect in the sand tray or water table and can be used indoors or outdoors. The sorting, transporting and game options are endless and with two of each number there are plenty to share.