Welcome to your ultimate guide to all things sensory bins!
With this guide, you will come away with new ideas to implement sensory bins in preschool plus the research behind their value.
What You Need to Know About Sensory Bins in Preschool
Sensory activities are a somewhat new idea in the early childhood world… but now sensory bins and sensory play are popping up in classrooms, museums, libraries, and even at home. We now hear all the time that sensory play is healthy for our kids. But why?
Sensory bins provide children with the opportunity to explore and learn through hands-on tactile play that engages their senses. These bins encourage and support various types of development and are great activities to have in your home.https://www.salusuhealth.com/Occupational-Therapy-Institute/Resources/News-Events/News-Stories/Six-Developmental-Benefits-of-Sensory-Bins.aspx
Take a moment and think about a preschooler. He is spirited, rambunctious, and full of energy. Always adores splashing in rain puddles with his rain boots on and delights in squeezing his banana until it is a pile of goo. He presses the sound button on his sound books over and over again to make a pattern and is overjoyed by jumping over the cranks on the sidewalk. He finally tries that new food – tomatoes – only to make a face of disgust and declare it yucky.
Now it may not seem like it, but these are all examples of things a preschooler might do. Many preschoolers are still developing language skills and because of that preschoolers learn so much through sensory play. Through touching, smelling, listening, tasting, and through seeing.
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What is a Sensory Bin and How do I Use it With Preschoolers?
A sensory bin is a container filled with items chosen to entice the children and cater to their budding senses. Our favorite fillers to use include sand, dried beans, dried pasta, birdseed, colored rice, and water! The container should be large enough to let your child explore without spilling the filler out of the container.
The beauty of sensory play is that it is open-ended. Children explore the materials inside the bin and decide how they will play with the materials. Providing high-quality tools for sensory play ensures that children are stimulating the senses and having fun too!
What are the Academic Benefits of Sensory Play in Preschool?
Sensory play provides a child with much more than just the feel of rice on their hands or the crinkled paper in their tweezers. Inviting children to play with sensory materials encourages academic, social, and emotional support during play.
Improve Language Skills
Language develops naturally when young children play with sensory activities. Adults and peers discuss while children play. You might hear, “Wow that rice falling in the bowl sounded like rain!” Or, “I am searching for four butterflies, but I only have two. Can you help me find the rest?” Children are so engaged with the excitement of sensory play that the language comes naturally and it’s a perfect time for the children and grown-ups to participate in conversation together.
And it’s important to consider that through sensory play children learn to express their opinions. Many children enjoy playing with slime while others can barely stand the touch of it. Sensory play teaches children the vocabulary to describe their feelings, wants, and needs.
Develops Fine Motor Skills
So many sensory activities naturally include a fine motor component. Wringing out sponges in water, scooping ladles of rainbow rice, rolling playdough into snakes or balls, using tweezers to pick up jingle bells, or packing cloud dough into cups, to name a few, all help children develop their fine motor skills as they play with sensory materials. Even offering children various art materials including paintbrushes, q-tips, and cotton balls can be a sensory and fine motor experience combined.
Increases Cognitive Development
Adding hidden items into a sensory bin encourages children to use problem-solving skills. For example, if you create a sensory bin where toy animals are frozen in ice cubes, children have to figure out ways to free the animal.
For a more no-frills sensory experience, include number and letter shapes in the sensory bin. This can provide children the opportunity to learn the alphabet and numbers in their open-ended play.
Don’t Forget the Sensory Books!
Young children love books that have sensory components like fuzzy animals, silicone bumps, and squeaky noise buttons. Take a look at some of my favorite sensory books for preschoolers.
What are the Social Emotional Benefits of Sensory Play in Preschool?
Calms and Relaxes Children
Children often find sensory play to be calming or soothing. For example, kinetic sand is popular because the sand sticks together when force is applied. This magical sand can be put into molds or cut with play knives and creates a very satisfying effect. Also, preschool teachers love using glittery calm-down bottles to help regulate a child’s emotions and take a mental break.
Helps Children Socialize and Communicate
Interacting with sensory activities helps to support social skills, such as taking turns, sharing, cooperation, and communication with others. In order to play with a sensory bin, children are in close quarters and must practice conflict resolution and communicating their wants with each other. Plus, the dialogue during sensory play is often so interesting… children love to incorporate dramatic play!
What Are Sensory Bin Ideas For Preschoolers?
There are endless sensory bin ideas out there and they often use materials already on hand in many classrooms and homes. Here’s a list of some of your favorites for any time of the year:
- Dyed Beans Sensory Bin
- Fruit and Veggie Sensory Bin
- Sink or Float Sensory Bin
- Scooping and Pouring Sensory Bin
- Dyed Spaghetti Sensory Bin
For some extra special holiday or themed sensory play ideas, check out this list full of thematic fun!
- Easter Sensory Bin
- Winter Sensory Bin
- Creepy Crawly Halloween Sensory Bin
- Christmas Sensory Painting with Pine Boughs
- St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Bin
- Ocean Animal Hide and Seek Sensory Play
- Foreign Money Sensory Bin
Materials For Your Sensory Play Activities
Having a few great options on hand to create your sensory experiences is a great place to start. I have included some of my favorite sensory items for preschoolers that we use all year round.
Tips and Tricks to Sensory Play in Preschool
We have put together some important tips and tricks, including safety reminders, to help you make your sensory play the best experience for your preschoolers!
- Sensory play can take some children time to become comfortable with. Some children are very concerned about getting messy (think shaving cream, paint, slime, etc.) and can struggle to participate in sensory play that has a new texture or even smell. It’s important to allow children to join in at their own pace and to encourage them to watch if they are not interested in participating.
- Sensory play can be messy… but if you’re prepared for the mess, it’s not so bad! Set the expectation to children that they must keep the filler items in the sensory bin. Many teachers like to put a large tablecloth on the floor around the bin for easy cleanup. Place a few small dustpans and brooms near your sensory bin and invite children to clean up any messes that they make after they’re finished playing.
- Some early childhood programs restrict the use of food items in sensory bins for safety reasons. If you have students that are still mouthing, be sure to use large and safe items in your sensory bins.
- Change out the sensory table theme and materials to keep engagement. Many preschool teachers create a sensory bin for each theme.
I am an educator, book enthusiast, and a stay at home momma to two precious and long-awaited littles. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and Curriculum and Instruction and I have spent the last 15 years working with young children. I feel very fortunate to have this time to watch my babies grow and I can’t wait to share my passion for learning and reading with you!