Weeknight Sensory Bins

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

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:

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Rocks from the dollar store. Toy: Snakes and bugs (also dollar store). 

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

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.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Uncooked rice (green from St. Patrick’s Day – still good!) Toy: Wild animals, from Target.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

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.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

Base: Uncooked black beans Toy: None – but added kitchen equipment for tools.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

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.

Weeknight Simple Sensory Bins

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:

Easy Shaving Cream Sensory Bin

Sensory Bath Sunday: Squeeze Colors

The Cheapest, Simplest Sensory Bin Ever

Coloring Rice (Sensory Bin)

Dried Beans Sensory Bin

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Valentine’s Day Soup Water Sensory Bin

Please visit my Facebook Page for more sensory ideas as well as cheap, simple crafts and activities for toddlers and preschoolers!

“Faux Snow” Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

Wintertime in New England means it’s too cold to go out. And staying indoors all day, every day means cabin fever. So I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to find different, DIY-type cheap and easy things for my twins to do and play with. On our first snow day, we did our pom-pom contact paper activity and then we journeyed out into the snow. It was very cold and underneath the snow was a sheet of ice in the backyard, so the twins mostly stood there. They enjoyed the different environment and the change of pace but we didn’t last too long. I took a few pictures and we went back inside.

 

That afternoon, I knew they needed another activity. These naps, as I’ve mentioned before, are so damn short – an hour and a half max (but they sleep 12.5 hours at night..). It’s a long afternoon from 2:00-7:00! B thrives on stimulation, so sensory bins are his new favorite thing to do.

I decided to try making a “faux snow” potato flake sensory bin, since it was a snow day after all. During the nap, I quickly gathered up my materials and set up the bin:

DSC_0479Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

The large storage container I’m using for my sensory bin is actually for shoe storage. In typical fashion in our house, I dump my shoes on my bed while we’re doing the activity and put them back in later! I probably should buy another bin, but for now, this works. I bought a box of instant mashed potatoes and dug out my small storage container of sensory bin tools – cooking spoons, measuring cups and spoons from the dollar store and a few toys. I first saw this idea for a potato flake sensory bin at The Train Driver’s Wife, but apparently it’s a common bin to do. I put down a vinyl tablecloth I bought at the grocery store for $4 and taped it to the ground, assuming this bin might be a little messy (foreshadowing alert!). As usual, the twins dug right in.

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory BinDSC_0605

The texture of the potato flakes is very dry, almost like sand. It’s easy to scoop and drive trucks through. The twins did some stirring and transferring for a little while. They also found the fun in grabbing handfuls and releasing it, though it wasn’t always over the bin.

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They started to get a little antsy though, sooner than I expected they would, so I added water and asked them to help me stir the bin. I continued to add water to the consistency I wanted – more “snow” like and easy to mold and squish. After that, they were able to make little balls and pick them up, pat the chunks down and really explore the texture.

Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin Faux Snow Potato Flakes Sensory Bin

My goal with each sensory bin is to keep them occupied for at least 45 minutes. As they started to get bored of the activity, they went into their storage drawer in the kitchen full of their cups and lids and started taking them out and bringing them to the bin. I was a little conflicted for a second because on the one hand, I wanted to keep this bin going. At the same time, each container joining the game would be more clean up for me! Obviously, for all of our sanity, I let them take out some containers. Then they practiced stuffing the containers with the potato flakes and pushing the lids on. I made my goal of an hour. We finished with C learning how to drink from a little tiny cup.

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The twins had fun. I added it to my growing list of sensory bins we’ve tried. It was super easy to set up and extremely cheap. HOWEVER. The mess factor, from a 1-10, was an 8.

First of all, it smells like potatoes and spices. Because that’s exactly what it is. I didn’t mind it, but there was an ever-present odor of food in our kitchen. Second, after adding water and stirring, we essentially made potatoes. If I slapped them on a plate and heated them up, they’d be ready to eat. I expected the twins to taste it at some point but they never did. This is probably for the best though because they both hate white potatoes! More than the fact that they smelled like and WERE potatoes – it was messy. Even with a large tablecloth, inevitably dry potato flakes and wet potato chunks made their way off the mat. Little feet in socks stepped in them and then trailed them around the house. It was sticky. The dogs had a field day with their tongues doing the job of a mop all over the halls. Luckily we didn’t have any houseguests who would have been in some shock 🙂 And because it was food, each and every storage container, spoon and toy had to be washed. Next time, I wouldn’t add toys because it was hard to clean wet potatoes from them! After I cleaned it all up, I swiffered the floors in multiple rooms.

With all of that said, it wasn’t a failure at all. It was fun and the toddlers enjoyed it. I’m glad we tried it. We may even do it again – but not for a while. 🙂