By Gina Gibson, Fraser Sensory Inclusion Specialist and Fraser Pediatric Therapy Staff • sensory bin, sensory sensitivity, sensory play, sensory bin for kids, autism, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent • April 29, 2021
Sensory play is beneficial for kids because it stimulates multiple senses at one time. According to Pre-K Pages, “When kids can see, smell, touch and even hear something – the learning experience is more meaningful to them, and therefore more effective.”
Creating a sensory bin for your kids is one way to encourage sensory play. Sensory bins can be particularly beneficial for children struggling with language, children with developmental disabilities or those with food or sensory sensitivities.
Open-ended play leads to discovery
Sensory play can be open-ended, which means that there is no desired outcome. Pre-K Pages states, “When the materials inside sensory bins are offered to children without an expectation of a finished product, children use their imaginations and creativity to make sense of the materials in their own way.” Adding small, malleable toys into the bin can increase a child’s interest and allow for all kinds of imaginative play. In other words, open-ended sensory play relieves a child of expectations regarding play and encourages their imagination.
Sensory bins are also used for structured play
However, some kids may struggle with open-ended play because it’s more abstract. You can encourage structured sensory bin play by providing directions to kids. If you hide objects or pictures in the container, you can ask your child to find a certain item. If you hid letters in the container, you ask your child to spell out a word with the letters they find. Or you could have them take out two beans, or whatever you’ve filled the bin with, by using the scoop in their right hand, and then removing two items with the scoop in their left hand.
By asking your child to follow directions, you’re working on their receptive language skills. If you have them spell words, you’re working on their early literacy skills.
It can increase many important skills
To build your child’s fine motor skills, you can give them tools to use with the bin. These might include tongs, cups, bowls and spoons to scoop, stir and sift things in the container.
To improve gross motor skills, you could have your child use the sensory bin in different body positions like standing, lying on their stomach, lying on their side or kneeling.
You can encourage cooperative play skills by having your child take turns finding items with a sibling or a friend. Sharing a sensory bin also encourages your child to socialize and communicate with another child.
You can also increase your child’s learning during sensory play by asking them questions about what they’re noticing, feeling and experiencing. You might try questions like these to help your child with language development:
Ask your child to count items or sort items by size, shape and color. When a child assesses an item and sorts it with other similar objects, they’re improving their logical thinking skills. This is an important step to helping kids learn math.
Creating a sensory bin is easy
You can create a sensory bin with common household items. Some dry items might include beans, rice, uncooked pasta, craft glass, beads or kinetic sand. You could also use wet items like cooked pasta, pudding, soapy water, shaving cream, water beads, snow or slime. Please watch our video for simple and easy steps to make a sensory bin for your child below.
If you’re concerned about your child making a mess with a sensory bin, put an old blanket or sheet on the floor. You could also have your child use the bin outside or on a tile floor, so it’s easier to clean up spills.