Summertime is when we study our ocean theme in preschool. Fun aquatic animals and marine vegetation and all the works. Our ocean sensory activities are usually limited to the water table, but this one is designed for our usual sensory bin.
And bonus points for this ocean sensory bin including an extra helping of sensory and a humongous helping of science!
Teach Scientific Thinking with this Unusual Ocean Sensory Play
Ever met a preschooler who doesn’t enjoy the old school and traditional baking soda and vinegar science experiment?
It almost seems magical when that chemical reaction takes place and the two ingredients begin bubbling and foaming. Baking soda and vinegar experiences are always a huge hit!
Unless you have a four-year-old like mine. The first time we did a baking soda and vinegar science experiment he said, “Whoa! What the heck?”
But this is not your typical baking soda and vinegar science activity. It’s ocean sensory.
Here’s Why This Works
We have to be deliberate about what kind of activities we include in our ocean preschool lesson plans. Here is why I like this sensory bin for my preschoolers.
- The visual stimulus of the chemical reaction.
- The sound of the foaming.
- The scent of essential oils (and not vinegar).
- The textures of real ocean materials nestled within the sensory bin.
All of these things combined creates a wonderful playful learning experience, which is always a top priority when doing hands on activities.
Ocean Sensory Bin and Science Experiment
Still as easy as ever, this ocean sensory bin requires just a few extra ingredients to hit all your preschooler’s senses.
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Food coloring or liquid watercolor
- Essential oils
- Small, glass spray bottles (one for each color)
- Pipettes or eye droppers
- Natural ocean materials, such as sea shells, rocks, etc.
- White, iridescent glitter (because the ocean is sparkly)
Pour the baking soda into the sensory bin, enough to thoroughly cover the entire bin. You may need to use an entire box, depending on the size of your bin.
Fill each spray bottle with vinegar about ¾ of the way full. Add a few drops of food color or liquid watercolor, and then add a few drops of essential oils to each bottle.
Since we are using vinegar, you’ll want to use the stronger scents of essential oils. My preferences are orange, lemon and peppermint. These are also the same essential oils I like to use in my famous softest-ever play dough recipe.
What can I say? It’s summertime! And to me, summertime calls for citrus and mint!
The Ocean Sensory Activity
I invited my preschooler to join me at our new ocean sensory bin. He loved the colors to choose from in the bottles. But it doesn’t take a preschooler long to figure out what to do. So, he grabbed a spray bottle and tried spraying the vinegar into the bin.
Now, the glass spray bottles were difficult for my preschooler. The nozzle was a little stiff and he had to hold the bottle with one hand while using his entire palm to push down on the top. This may have been a good exercise in coordination, fine motor skills, and hand strength, but he quickly grew tired, so we opted to use an eye dropper instead.
You may find your preschooler loves the spray bottles and already has the hand strength to use them. So try it out, because it’s a fun change from the predictable eyedropper or pipette.
My preschooler’s favorite part of the ocean sensory bin was the sea urchin skeleton. (If you don’t have a few of these for your ocean theme, they are well worth the expense).
It took extra coordination to drop the vinegar into the tiny hole at the top, and my preschooler challenged himself to fill it with enough vinegar to make it bubble and foam out the top like a volcano. Through some trial and error, we learned that we needed to fill the skeleton with a lot of baking soda to make it foam and overflow.
But it was such a surprise to uncover the smaller seashells and rocks as he used the eyedropper to drip the vinegar solution onto the baking soda, and the mix of colors was fun, too. While it wasn’t my intention, we got in a little learning about color theory, too. (You can see my other posts about color theory here, here, and here).
By the end, my preschooler had enjoyed a good half an hour or more of fine motor work with the eyedropper, and the sensory bin smelled lovely. (Remember the orange, lemon, and peppermint?)
In addition, I got to witness my preschoolers talking about the ocean creatures and ocean life, and the baking soda and vinegar reaction never stopping being fascinating to the preschoolers. This is definitely a sensory activity we will keep in our ocean themed activities.
Questions to Ask to Promote Scientific Thinking
I am a firm believer that while sensory activities like these are wonderful for keeping the chidlren busy, preschoolers benefit most from them when the supervising adult engages them in “science talk”.
Here are a few questions to ask your preschooler are he explores the materials in the ocean sensory bin:
- What does it sound like with the baking soda and vinegar start to react and foam?
- What happens when the different colors are dripped in the same place?
- How could you make color…?
- What happens when you squirt a lot of vinegar in one spot?
- What happens when you only squirt a little?
- How can you make the bin bubble a lot?
- What kinds of ocean things have you found in the bin? Can you tell me about them?
- What kinds of animals might have lived in the seashells in our sensory bin?
You get the picture.
The point is to talk to your preschooler about what he is doing as he explores the sensory bin. Invite him to engage with you in the language that is associated with a science activity like this one, and don’t be afraid to teach new vocabulary or extra big words. Language development is a predictor of reading success, so use activities like this one to develop your preschooler’s language skills.
More Sensory Bins for Preschoolers
More Preschool Activities About Ocean Animals
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.
Awesome for special needs students. We use differentiated instruction model via a multi-sensory approach for all of our lessons. Thanks for another great idea.