I like to keep a few sensory bins on hand. There are honestly hundreds of options when it comes to sensory bins. All you need to do is type sensory bin into Pinterest and you will be flooded with images. There are tons of different materials and tons of different items you can add to change up the type of play that goes on with the material. It is easy to become overwhelmed just by the choices alone. When it comes to activities for young kids and Pinterest in general, I stick with the simple ideas. I prefer to go with simple things I WILL do, rather than complicated things I will never do. I like to think of myself as someone who does a half-ass job of every Pinterest idea EVER. I am working on being the world’s okayest mom and I am doing an awesome job. Our goal is to have fun and not stress about things looking picture perfect. So the pictures you see here are real, in the moment play from the past few years. These are activities that anyone can pull off.
For this blog post, I am going to focus on the sensory bins we have made and used for inside play. Stay tuned for another blog post about our outdoor sensory table. The trays I use for inside play are smaller and the bin is an under bed storage bin. They don’t take up a lot of room when you put them away. For the most part, the contents would fit in a gallon size baggie or two for storage.
As with most activities, sensory play can be relatively clean or very messy. It all depends on the type of sensory material you use. You can change the same sensory material up with the little toys you put with it. We may play with a certain material for a day or two or for many months. It depends on interest.
I set up sensory play as an activity Ruby does on her own or with her friends. It is not something I tend “play” with her. She explores and plays on her own for however long she is interested. It works well this way because then when I pull out an activity, I can tell her I am going to work on making dinner while she plays and she happily plays on her own.
My First Sensory Bin: Fabric Scraps
If you know anyone who works with fabric, try to nab a few different scraps otherwise you can cut old clothes into strips. Look for things with different textures. Cut the fabric into narrow strips and tuck them in a cleaned out and empty wipes container pulling one out through the opening to get it started. You may have to pull to demonstrate for your little one or they may go to town because every baby wants to yank things out of the wipe container. This was our very first sensory box and it was a hit. There is no mess. You just shove the fabric back in the box. It travels well and when you are done you can ditch the fabric and recycle the bin.
This bin was inspired after we went to a Winter In July party at the zoo. We got to play in snow and that leaves a big impression on a desert baby. We continued the play at home with a bin, cotton balls (which you can get super cheap at any local store) and a few of our favorite Schleich animals.
Nature Bin: Crunchy Leaves
An acquaintance sent us leaves one fall and it was the most amazing package to receive. I have many good feelings about the awesomeness of that package. It was thoughtful and so much fun. I immediately poured them in a pot. They were completely mesmerizing for several days until they were pretty well crunched and smooshed but boy did she have a grand time exploring. If you know a young desert dweller and you live in a place with fall, gather up some leaves and send some fun in the mail.
We had pom-poms on our Amazon Wish List and a friend bought them as surprise. Ruby LOVED them. We still have them in a plastic baggie and have slowly been using them for craft projects and smaller sensory bins like the cotton balls. They are a lot of fun because they are all different sizes, all different colors and there are even different textures. They are fun to touch, sort by size, sort by color and even climb in. This is pretty low mess in the sense that nothing is going to stain your carpet or get ground in. You just have to scoop everything back into the bin. You can do a much smaller bin to limit the amount of pom-poms rolling around. In this instance we said “Go big or go home” and dumped them all in. I like to dance on the edge.
I keep a big box of Playfoam stashed away. It is great to play with on road trips, on airplane rides, while you are sick and resting, and anytime. It is easy to have one stashed in your diaper bag for going to a restaurant or any other place where waiting is a part of the experience. They are also a great last minute gift. They come in individual little packs so they are easy to pack for a trip. Ruby likes to start out with a few colors and roll it into a rainbow ball. The great thing is that it never dries out. You can just keep playing with it. We have played with it on the table and put it away in a plastic baggie. We have also played with playfoam on a tray or in a cake pan and just left it sitting out to play with when there was interest. You can also purchase smaller quantities of playfoam.
Kinetic sand is so much fun to play with and there are endless possibilities as to how you can set up invitations to play with it. In the images below Ruby is using her play-doh tools to play and is rolling the sand with a rolling pin. In the other pictures there are construction trucks in the sand. This is probably her favorite activity at the moment. She loves that she can scoop up and push the sand. Other ideas for fun play invitations include: Potato Head pieces, plastic dinosaurs or little sand molds.
Sands Alive is my favorite because it is super soft and like dough or cotton candy but molds incredibly well. I could run my fingers through this stuff all day. I find it very relaxing. It is just like kinetic sand but much finer.
I made the rainbow rice myself. I looked online at a million different recipes. The photos were perfection. I wanted lovely rice. Recipes are pretty similar with things like rice, food coloring, vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Some suggest gel food coloring and others suggest the liquid. I just went with what I had which was a mix of both. I put about 3 cups of rice (I bought the big bag at Costco) into a gallon size plastic bag. I dropped about 15- 20 drops of food coloring if it was the liquid and a generous squirt if it was the gel. I added about a tablespoon of vinegar and skipper the rubbing alcohol altogether. I sealed the bag and shook it up. If it needed more food coloring I added another squirt. I put the rice on cookie sheets to dry overnight. Really, I had rice on every flat surface because I made red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. The next morning I layered it all in an under bed storage bin. I think next time I would lay the colors next to each other rather than on top of each other for a different visual. Ruby was mixing it together in no time. A few minutes later she was walking in it and then sitting in it. She has played with it with measuring cups and spoons. She has planted fake flowers and grown a garden. We had our magnetic alphabet letters in there for a while. Ruby would slide her hands into the rice and fish around until she found a letter. She would try to guess what it was before pulling her hand out.
If you are nervous about mess, here are a few tips:
I set the ground rules for rice before play started each time. Set boundaries that work for you. I have an old top sheet saved from an old set of sheets where the fitted sheet was destroyed. That top sheet goes on the floor for messy play and the rice bin goes on top. Ruby does an excellent job of keeping the rice in the bin, but it is bound to get out. The good thing is rice vacuums up really well so even if it gets out, the clean up isn’t that horrible. Ruby has mastered using the dust buster so she can do a semi-decent job of cleaning up after herself when encouraged. So really, our main rules are that the rice stays in the bin and you play over the bin just like you eat over the table and you have to be dressed to play with the rice. No nakey-butts in the lovely rice bin. HA HA HA- I’m just keeping it real.
If you are an essential oil sort of person, you can add a few drops of lavender oil to make a relaxing night-time sensory box. Here I just have an Aiden and Anais blanket thrown down and the rice in a smaller bin.
Sensory bins can be so much fun. I happen to find them relaxing and will run my hands through the sand while Ruby is resting. They are great quiet activities. Ruby always picks the kinetic sand if she wakes up first from rest time and her friend is over. She will quietly play until her friend wakes up. We play with some sort of sensory activity almost daily. Sometimes Ruby will play for 5 or 10 minutes and other times spend an hour playing and telling stories. It all depends on what little items I have with the material and what mood she is in. They have provided endless amounts of play over the years.
What are your favorite little play invitations for your kids? What are their favorites?