There are two times of the day I usually really need the kids to, for lack of better words, leave me alone. I just really need them to play alone for like 15 minutes 1) on school mornings when I need to pack their lunch and diaper bags like *now* so we can get out the door on time, and 2) in the evenings when I am cooking dinner so I don’t burn dinner or cause a fire. (Also, children underfoot while boiling water is on the stove is never a good idea). These are usually the times I’m quick to turn on the TV, but of course I feel bad about using the TV twice or more a day just to get a few things done myself. So, in an effort to come up with something besides television that was relatively quiet and contained to keep my two toddlers’ attention for a small chunk of time, I made sensory bins.
Sensory bins are easy to stack for storage and easy to pick up when playtime is over- just close the lid!
Sensory bins are my new go-to distraction when I really need those few uninterrupted minutes. I’ll try to only bring them out during times I really need them so that the novelty of the bins stays fresh and interesting to the kids. But when the kids do get bored of the bins’ contents, they are easy to switch out. All you need to make a typical sensory bin is a “base filler,” such as sand, rocks, water, water beads, ice, cotton balls, Easter grass, rice, beans, shaving cream, Mardi Gras beads, pom poms, birdseed, and so much more! Plenty of household items and cheap dollar store items can serve as great sensory fillers that are easy to dump in a Tupperware or small Rubbermaid-style bin and BAM! You have a sensory bin!
Water beads, found in the floral section of stores, are really fun and make great sensory bin fillers.
Then you can have fun with it by adding in small objects and toys to the filler, as well as provide small measuring cups, spoons, colanders, or shovels that the kids can use to dig up, bury, scoop, or strain the objects. You can add in a mix of random fillers and objects from around the house, or make bins that carry a theme of some kind, such as:
- Spring time (dirt filler with silk flowers, small flower pots, and a mini shovel)
- Beach (sand filler with shells throughout and sand toys)
- Mardi Gras (beads filler with fake coins and purple, green, and gold feathers)
- Ocean (water or water bead filler with sea life toys and a fish net)
Seasons, holidays, and ecosystems (jungle or desert, for example) are all great places to start for theme ideas. There are plenty ideas to help you along on Pinterest, of course, but any filler and objects you put together are sure to be great! The three sensory bin themes I made to start were ocean, dinosaur, and magnets (shown in pictures below). The good news is, most of these items came from the Dollar Tree, and some of them you may already have around the house!
Ocean bin has water beads, sea creature toys, and plastic aquarium plants.
Dinosaur bin has rocks, large glass beads, dinosaur and amphibian toys, and an explorer man toy.
Magnet bin has cut up colorful pipe cleaners and Dollar Tree horseshoe magnets.
While I’m happy to use these bins to buy a few minutes of quiet while my kids play independently, it is also true that sensory play is very beneficial to a child’s development. There are plenty articles out there backing this up, and I was able to see it with my own child, Eli, who was sensitive to new textures for a while. I could see firsthand that letting him explore things like finger paints and shaving cream (even though he would cry and wouldn’t touch these things at first!) have helped him warm up to new textures and situations and even new foods. Now he loves sensory bins and other sensory experiences as much as the next toddler! And while I think much of that is just due to him growing, maturing, and getting used to the world around him, I know I was also able to help him along by giving him access to new sensory experiences in the meantime.