I recently took a blogging break, a FB page break, and an arts and crafts break. Birth to 3 started up at our house and I had more on my mind than I could allot time for in the evenings. Plus, the closer it gets to the end of the school year, the more work I have to do. I can’t wait until summer! I do enjoy this hobby, so I’m back for a few posts but at a more leisurely, less urgent pace.
I know I’ve raved about them many a time before, but sensory bins are my go-to activity when the twins are antsy and I think to myself, “What are we going to do now?” Open play can only last for so long, especially for my son who likes to work. I used to do sensory bins periodically and typically on the weekends. However, after purchasing a $5 36-quart bin from Walmart (of which will eventually be part of our DIY water/sand table), I decided – I have the bin. Why not keep the bin OUT in the open all the time? That way the twins can access it whenever they want to. So this is what I’ve done.
The first thing I recommend is that the bin has a cover. When the cover is on, it’s not in use. The bin is OUT all the time, but it’s not available all the time. The kids would have to ask for it if they wanted it, otherwise I’d have beans and rice all over my house constantly. Secondly, I’ve found we need to have a designated area for sensory bins. When we play with water, it’s in the kitchen. For dry ingredients though, I’ve put two blue towels down in the living room and shut the gate to keep the dogs out. My common phrase to the twins is, “Do you want to do something fun?” and I bring out the towels – they know what’s next. Third – sensory bins are the most fun when you change up what’s inside. I decided to start keeping the bin tucked in the corner of our living room with whatever’s inside it for a few days to a week. Then, when they’ve played with it multiple times a day for a few days straight, I switch up what’s inside. It keeps the activity fresh!
I LOVE sensory bins. Sometimes, on Saturday mornings when I’m cleaning the kitchen after breakfast, I leave the toddlers to it in the living room and they’re fine. It’s something they can actually do by themselves without chasing me down. But after work, from when I get home at 4:00 and before my husband gets home at 5:30 – if it’s raining or 90 degrees out – I pull out the bin and get on the floor with them. And I find myself with my hands in that bin just as often as the toddlers’. It’s actually kind of therapeutic and relaxing!
I know a few friends who want to incorporate sensory bins into their households but say it seems daunting to do so. Sensory bins can be complicated – there are beautiful, themed bins on Pinterest that take just as long to set up as it would take to play with it. But sensory bins can also be unbelievably simple, and at this point, I don’t think my toddlers can tell the difference. So simple it is. When doing a simple sensory bin, I only need three major things: the bin, the base, and the toy.
My son doesn’t care for slimy, sticky sensory bins. I need to do more of those. But those are messy – those are weekend bins. My day to day bins after work need to be easy to clean up. I’m still in work clothes, I’ve got to get dinner ready – it can’t be messy. So for a base, I tend to rotate between various dry ingredients: uncooked rice, uncooked beans, seeds, rocks, uncooked pasta, etc. On my base addition list in the near future is epsom salt and oats. All these dry ingredients can be swept or vacuumed if need be. But honestly, it’s not typically a problem. I put the towels down. I ask the twins to stay on the towels. If beans make it across my living room (which just happened this weekend), they help me pick each piece up. If it were rice, I would vacuum. And as for the toy – the toy is optional, first of all. I know that if I add a toy to the bin, my son might not play with the base. He’ll be too enamored by the toy. When I want the twins to work on scooping and pouring, I don’t add any toys at all. Another option for the bin are the tools. We always had tools, until my Birth to 3 people told me if I wanted B to touch the materials in the bin, I needed to keep the tools away. He’ll always choose a spoon if it’s there. Nine times out of ten, I offer the twins bowls or cups at least to pour into, mostly to keep it off the floor.
As I recently organized my basement, I have a container full of gallon-sized ziplocs with various bases in them, and another container with small toys I keep just for this purpose, such as jungle animals, cars, dinosaurs, etc.
Here are four simple sensory bins we have been playing with over the last week or so:
Base: Rocks from the dollar store. Toy: Snakes and bugs (also dollar store).
This one I introduced today, and my toddlers played with it for an hour and a half. It’s been a long time since they spent that much time in one place. C was super into scooping and pouring, and B was loving the bugs, the snakes, and the various colors and shapes of the rocks. They were sad when the bin went away for the night.
Base: Uncooked rice (green from St. Patrick’s Day – still good!) Toy: Wild animals, from Target.
This was before I had the new bin. Rice can easily spread out across a room, so I tend to only give them a little of it in a smaller bin. That day, C was into the rice, but B was into the animals.
Base: Uncooked black beans Toy: None – but added kitchen equipment for tools.
This bin was a huge success, and we kept it for three or four days before I switched it out. If you’ve never stuck your arm in a container of black beans, do it. Like smooth, soft little stones! On the first day, they scooped and poured for an hour. The next day, they enjoyed burying their cars and their hands in piles of beans and playing a bit of hide and seek.
Base: Beans and seeds Toy: Dinosaurs
Finally, I didn’t take more pictures of this bin and I should have. I was in desperate need of an immediate sensory bin that didn’t require thought, and I looked in my cupboards and found sunflower seeds no one was eating and uncooked lima beans. I mixed them together and added plastic dinos and the twins loved it. As usual when there’s a new toy, B loved the different colored dinos and played with them both inside and outside of the sensory bin. C, as usual, was into the base, and enjoyed separating the sunflower seeds from the lima beans in little piles on the towel.
Born out of necessity, these daily sensory bins are now the easiest part of my work day. It’s already set up from the day before and easy to clean up. Not to mention cheap – most bases and toys were bought from the dollar store, making the total amount spent on each bin just under $2.
I’m a little obsessed with sensory bins – I love how they can be changed up, like getting a brand new toy from the store a few times a week, but with multiple uses and hours of playtime. I hope we still have years worth of bins ahead of us!
Here are a few other sensory bins we have tried (and loved) over the past few months:
Please visit my Facebook Page for more sensory ideas as well as cheap, simple crafts and activities for toddlers and preschoolers!