Sensory bins are fun and promote development

by Lexi Clark-Kimmel, Early Childhood Specialist, Roaring Fork School District 

Sensory Bins and Early Childhood Development
Those who work with children know that a novel activity will not only energize and excite kids, but also promote new learning. No need for new, expensive, brightly-colored plastic toys. Materials and props can be found just about anywhere, often in your kitchen or recycle bin. The introduction of new play ideas and ways to use materials will not only spark learning and creativity, but may just buy you a few minutes to drink a cup of coffee while it’s still hot.

Sensory bins

Older infants, toddlers and preschool-age children delight in the pure joy of filling, dumping, pouring, and measuring. Kids are experimenting with and developing pre-math skills when they fill cups and containers of all sizes. You can extend their play by adding toy figures like animals and people, and props such as rocks, wooden blocks, and artificial flowers and plants. For older kids who may be ready for a challenge, you can add refrigerator magnet letters and have your child match them to letters you quickly wrote on a piece of paper. Play “I Spy” by describing something in the bin that your child has to find, and switch roles of describer and finder, boosting vocabulary in the process.

Good, old-fashioned potting soil and play sand can set the scene for more play and learning. If you are feeling brave, you can bring a bin of these inside for nature play, especially on days when you can’t get outside. Throw down an old tablecloth and let your child go at it. Recently, my two-year-old daughter jumped with glee when I presented the idea of us getting her plastic animals dirty with potting soil, and using toothbrushes to get them clean again. You would’ve thought the process of buying an inexpensive set of toothbrushes and a bag of soil was exciting enough, but the real treat for her was getting down to the business of dirtying and cleaning the animals.

Water play

Kids naturally love the soothing properties of water.  Start with a bin of water placed at a child’s waist level on a table or other small piece of furniture.  Add bubble bath, dish soap, bubble solution, shaving cream or food coloring (or all of the above).  Add in play dishes to wash, babies to bathe, or small toys to hide among the bubbles.  There is something about adding even the most played-with toys to water: They can take on a whole new life and encourage new play schemes, especially in new pairings such as nesting cups for animals and small dolls to float around in. Washing items is also endlessly satisfying to children, and the bonus is that you end up with fresh, clean toys.