Sensory bins are tactile ways for children to play that encourage various skill development. They are essentially a box filled with a textured filler like dry rice, pinto beans, or flour with various toys and tools in them for children to find and play with.
A fantastic sensory bin is like a whole world of learning contained in a box. It promotes free-form play and offers a never-ending supply of chances for experimentation and learning.
Sensory bins help young children get comfortable feeling different materials with their hands in their bodies. Each child is different, so each sensory bin can be tailored to your child’s specific needs in areas of development.
What types of sensory bins and fillers are there?
First, use a large washable container with one or more fillers.
Dry sensory bin fillers are excellent because they can be readily available and recycled time and time again.
“You can put craft feathers in them for a feather sensory bin, packing peanuts, beads, gardening soil, leaves, un-popped popcorn, cotton balls, shredded paper, raffia/crinkle grass, cornmeal, dry rice, beans, and/or pasta, as well as sand, and toys made of small plastic that may be hidden and found, such as play food, play animals or insects, blocks, and magnetic letters.” suggests Laurice Constantine, Digital Managing Editor @ Forbes Middle East.
Sensory bin fillers that are sticky or moist tend to be messier. You can fill them with play dough, kinetic sand, shaving cream, handmade “snow,” equal parts cornstarch and baking soda, water, soap foam (made by blending 2 teaspoons dish soap with 1/4 cup water and optional food coloring), or water beads.
You can also make a mixture of cornstarch and water as a fun science experiment that is similar to making slime. Making slime together can also be a great sensory experience and you can keep a small container of slime in your child’s sensory bin.
You might have a big Tupperware filled with rice and beans that your child has to reach in to find a toy car at the bottom. You might also have beans that can be soaked in water is a sensory experience for your child.
Extras for Sensory Bins
Tongs, tweezers, and spoons, measuring cups and bowls, silicone muffin cups, ice cube trays, magnifying glasses, whisks, sieves, colanders (for water-based bins), funnels, cookie cutters and molds, fake jewels and rhinestones are some of the best tools and items to put in a sensory bin.
Benefits of Sensory Bins
They are a little bit messy, but here are seven benefits of sensory bins and why they’re worth the effort.
- Sensory Exploration
The first obvious benefit of sensory bins is the fact that it encourages sensory exploration in children. Kids can stimulate multiple senses at the same time with touch and sound being the main senses that will be engaged.
Some young children may be averse to certain sensory experiences. Sensory bins allow children to get used to new textures and feelings and develop sensory confidence.
It’s important to encourage your child to really get in there, allow them to dig in the tub, or bury their feet in the filler.
You also want to remember that lots of children learn by exploring objects with their mouth. As such, you want all items to be taste-safe and choke-safe, including anything you are adding to stimulate the smell sense.
Avoid essential oils if your child will put stuff in their mouth as several of these are toxic when ingested.
- Improving Motor Skills
“Children will enjoy any tools you throw in there, trying to pick up everything and digging into the filler. This is a great way to improve the fine motor skills,” says psychology writer Carl Albarado from UK Writings.
Children gain increased hand strength with tools available to scoop, stir, dig and pour inside the box.
If you use kid-friendly tweezers and spoons or funnels, kids will learn to develop fine motor skills and grasp patterns they require for skills like handwriting and using utensils.
An added benefit is that kids who are enjoying picking stuff up may actually start picking up the small pieces of filler (using a pincer grasp) that have landed outside of the bin.
- Increased Socialization
Whether it’s with siblings or friends on a playdate, playing together in a sensory bin is a fantastic way to improve your child’s social skills.
Children learn teamwork, communication, sharing, and communication when playing. There’s potential benefits to this where your child may learn from the person they are playing with, improving their other skills further.
When kids work together, they can come up with creative solutions or new ways to play.
- Promotion of Life Skills
“All children have an independent streak where they insist they can do everything themselves. Sensory bins actually allow children to gain some independence and learn these skills in a safe and less messy way,” says parenting blogger Virginia Small of Paper Fellows.
Whether it’s using liquids and learning how to pour, helping to deal with the mess outside the bin with tweezers or dustpan, you’ll find that kids begin to learn basic life skills. These skills may be learning to pick up after themselves or to pour themselves a glass of milk.
You might also have a sensory bin that has a mirror that can allow your child to look at themselves and understand different facial expressions.
- Language Development
This is a benefit of sensory bins that comes with social play or by you actively engaging your child while they play.
First, kids learn basic concepts like up/down or full/empty while they work their way through the bin. However, if you engage with the child about the toys hidden in the bin, you can give them new adjectives to describe what they are experiencing i.e. soft pom-poms, hard rice, shiny tinsel, sparkly glitter, smooth stone etc.
- Calming Activity
A big benefit of sensory bins is the way that it helps your child self-regulate. “Tactile outlets for stress such as fidgets, a soft stuffed animal, or Play-Doh are great in sensory bins” states Katie Ziskind, LMFT, RYT500
While you can engage with your child and should where possible, sensory bins are certainly a quiet activity for children to play with independently if needed.
It helps children understand where their body parts are and can even help them to sort through their feelings in a productive way.
You may find that children begin to use the bin independently when they get upset, as a method of calming and self-soothing.
- Improvement of Physics, Math, and Imagination Skills
The number of skills that your child will be able to develop using a sensory bin is the biggest benefit of using this system. Children can be taught to count, how to spell, and basic organization skills for example.
If you hide the letters of your child’s name in the bin, you can then work on putting them in order when they find them all. You could encourage your child to count the number of a specific item in the bin, i.e. stacking cups, or have them organise things by size or colour.
Children can use liquid sensory bins to learn the concepts of sinking and floating. They can learn that certain things like rice will go through a funnel easily, but beans will end up stuck as they are too big to get through the hole.
It even improves your child’s creativity and imaginative skills as they come up with new solutions and new ways to play.
Overall, the benefits of sensory bins for your child’s development are numerous. This is just a high-level look at seven of these benefits and there is much more that children gain from playing with sensory bins.
Whether you want your child to improve their language skills, learn more about the world around them, become more social, learn how to care for themselves, or even just how to deal with their emotions in a safe and productive way, sensory bins are the tool you need.
Yes, they can get messy, they need you to take time to set them up, and will require some clean-up. However, you may find that through playing with a sensory bin, your child wants to help with the clean-up as they develop their fine motor skills and show off their independent streak.
It’s definitely worth taking some time to consider creating a sensory bin for your child.
About the Author
Marketing strategist and writer Rebecca Leigh, Assignment service and Pay for research paper, spends most of her career attending marketing and tech conferences or consulting businesses. Where she can she also contributes articles to online magazines and blogs like OX Essays.