Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sensory Bin Ideas for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

My 4 year old LOVES sensory play. We have tried all kinds of materials and themes and have made zillions of messes in the name of fun - and it is worth it! Now that my 9 month old has started to play with sensory bins as well, I have discovered some new materials to use.  Everything the baby plays with must be edible, not a choking hazard, and not something he is allergic to (for him, that is a lot of things).

Start with a deep bin so it contains the mess a little. A cover is nice because you can put it away and save it to use again another day.

At 12 and 9 I thought my daughters had outgrown these sensory bins for the most part, but I do often see them playing with their brothers.  So perhaps every age likes to dig in and get a little messy?!
  • Water – try tinting it or adding colored ice cubes!  For little ones 2 and up add dish soap and wash cars or baby dolls (it’s safe to eat but doesn’t taste good for babies – and they rub their eyes with it on their hands).
  • Dried Beans – I advise waiting till at least 2 because babies put everything in their mouths – and this one can be a choking hazard.
  • Oatmeal (dry)
  • Cornmeal
  • Cereal – Cheerios, Alpha-Bits, Fruit Loops, Kix
  • Chia Seeds
  • Millet bird seed - 2 and up
  • Whole Coffee Beans (this one is strong smelling)
  • Dry Rice – cooking it is a nice option for little ones who put everything in their mouths (try coloring it)
  • Dry pasta – again, you can cook it too, but it’s not reusable (Try: dying the noodles, glue them on art or thread onto pipe cleaners or yarn for kid-made jewelery)
  • Pumpkin Seeds – for 2 and up (these can be colored as well!)
  • Flour
  • Cornstarch
  • Shaving Cream – for 2 and up b/c it does not taste good
  • Instant Potato Flakes – also can add water and food coloring for edible dough/finger paint
  • Cool Whip – try coloring it and finger painting
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Microwave Ivory soap – cut a bar into quarters microwave one fourth of the bar for 30 seconds.  It makes a very fun soap mountain.  Mold it, play with it, it will become flakes of soap.  Use the flakes for sensory play or add water for a “car wash.” Also – makes a great homemade laundry soap, so there is zero waste with this one!  It was safe for my baby but he was not a fan of the flavor!
  • Snow- bring some snow inside - give the kiddos spray bottles of colored water to paint the snow with!
  • Pom-poms - large enough not to choke on for babies
  • Play-doh - we love homemade versions w/ Kool-Aid packets added for fun scents!
  • Beads - for 2 and up. 
  • Buttons - 2 and up
  • Feathers (fake, from craft store)
  • Dry popcorn kernals - 2 and up
  • Tinsel - score some on clearance after Christmas
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Quinoa
  • Fabric scraps
  • Foam shapes/stickers
  • Fake leaves
  • Baby food purees - fun finger paints too!
  • Water beads - these are small enough (size of marbles) for baby to put in mouth but they squish easily so when he played with them I wasn't real concerned about choking, but in general I didn't like him eating these, so I kept it out of his reach and only let my 4 year old play with these. 
  • Cotton Balls
  • Glitter - this one is harder to vacuum up but oh boy did Dean love it!
  • Puzzle pieces - we have several 500 piece puzzles missing pieces, besides crafts I found this to be a fun use for them (oh, and add them to homemade "I Spy" bottles).
  • Powdered Hot Cocoa Mix - special just for Christmas!
Make mixtures:
  • Baby oil and cornstarch
  • Shaving cream & cornstarch
  • Shaving cream & baking soda (cold, great fake "snow")
  • Baking Soda & Vinegar - try using an eye dropper in colored vinegar to "paint" (make mini volcanic erruptions), or mix together to make a paste - it is smelly and doesn't taste good but it is fun to watch the reaction of the two and is perfect for molding!
  • Mini marshmallows and chocolate chips - yes, your child WILL eat this one so watch them closely to monitor sugar intake! (Or not, your call - but you've been warned)
  • Candy Corn & Pumpkins - same deal
  • Split beans, various dried beans, and sunflower seeds make a colorful mix!
What we put in a bin or table to play with:
  • Funnels
  • Measuring Cups - or any kind of cup to scoop and pour
  • Scoops - we have one from an old ice maker and some from formula cans a friend let me nab from her recycling
  • Measuring Spoons
  • Washcloth or Sponge for car wash/doll wash
  • Cars, especially dump trucks and bulldozers with scoops on them
  • Something little to find in the bins -- we love to hide little cars and toy figures 
  • Magnetic Alphabet Letters & Numbers
  • Old Scrabble, Boggle, and Take Two letter tiles
  • We've used the Angry Birds playing pieces from the board games
  • Dice of various colors (2 and up!)
  • Bottles - such as empty 20 oz soda bottles or mini water bottles
  • Counting Bears
  • Alphabet stamps, a kids butter knife, and cookie cutters for play-dough
  • Straws
  • Stacking Cups
  • Plastic Easter Eggs
We scoop with cups and trucks, mold with hands or bottles, and search for letters, cars, bears, etc. There is no limit to what you can put in a sensory bin! I'd love to hear YOUR ideas so we can give 'em a try!





Here's Bruce and other babies in his ECFE class playing with potato flakes - one day they were dry, the next week our teacher added food coloring and water to make a mashed potato dough.

Mashed potato dough - Bruce mostly just ate it.


Here are my 2 boys playing with cornmeal (yes, my house is a mess).  I LOVE watching them play together and interact - so sweet! They are using a dump truck and stacking cups. Bruce ate a little but mostly they just played in it.  Dean wrote his name with a straw over & again.





These alphabet stamps are very loved. They've been used with ink pads and markers, stamped into play dough, and mixed into bins full of cornmeal and oatmeal to do a letter scavenger hunt.

Here's our bin of colored pasta (check out this post for how to dye pasta).  Scoop into plastic eggs and make shakers, string onto yarn and pipe cleaners (great fine motor activity), glue onto paper, mix a few into a bin of plain flour and hunt for the colored pieces...



All 4 kids loved this one! Oatmeal is a staple for us - cheap, easy to clean, safe to eat.  This time we had Angry Birds in it from a card game. Totally safe for Brucie to chew on.


A Batmobile ended up in there at some point. And yes, my child and floor are both covered in food - it took maybe 3 minutes to clean up but entertained the boys for a good 2 hours!  





I added Alpha-Bits cereal to the oatmeal bin the next day. Baby Bruce ate it of course; Dean spent the afternoon spelling words - mostly the names of everyone in the family (since he's only in preschool).  He also found all the As, all the Zs, etc. and grouped them in alphabetical order. 








How adorable is it that they are playing together?! I love it! A brand new season for our family!



This is my first attempt at making a sensory bin as a gift.  It was for a First Birthday present for a friend of Bruce's.  The box is VERY important - I love these nice, sturdy, deep bins from Target that "clasp-lock" shut. (These are the ones I use for Busy Boxes).


It was also my first trip to a Dollar store in years - I found many treasures there! The rest is from Target.  I included a colander and pipe cleaners to thread through the holes, a bottle with beads to shake, cornmeal, some pasta I colored, a dump truck, measuring cups and spoons, a fun shovel/scooper, and plastic cups (they look like bumble bees). I couldn't find a funnel, bummer.