Why Your Kids Need A Sensory Bin and How to Make One Right Now

Jan 10, 2018

“Mom, my tummy doesn’t feel right!”

“I don’t want to go to school! I’m scared!”

Yesterday, the kids went back to school after having two weeks off for winter break. Our first and second graders were filled with feelings of apprehension, uncertainty and nervousness.

I knew this would be a transition day, so I planned to have a slower morning and made sure to cuddle and talk with the kids about their feelings. We talked about what to do when we feel this way. My daughter likes to gently rub the fingers of her one hand against the palm of her other hand when she’s feeling nervous. We talked about how it will help when she gets to see her best friend in class and reminded our son how much fun he has running around at recess. We also use the technique from the popular book, The Kissing Hand, at drop off.

Days like these are perfect days to make sure to spend some one-on-one time with the kids when they get home from school. Since we are a family of three, that means I need to occupy the others to get that alone time. It must be with something soothing, calming and comforting after having a day filled with big emotions.

Have you ever created a sensory bin for your kids?

Sensory bins help quiet emotions and soothe little bodies and minds. Like the feelings you get at the beach or raking a zen garden. They also entertain little kids for a really long time, and big kids for long enough to destress them a bit.


Here’s how to set one up:

1. Gather your base material. Ideas are often found in your pantry: dry beans, pasta, rice or corn. Try water or sand - or both - if you’re outside! Other options are water beads (used for plant vases), cotton balls, pebbles, leaves or small balls of any kind. The idea is the kids can run their fingers through the material and use it to hide things in. Use whatever you can find today, but also add to your next bulk store run a big bag of one of these items so you can make a bigger bin next time. Note: when creating bins for children under age four, please don’t use nonedible materials that can fit inside a paper towel roll to avoid choking! Also watch out for bigger kids wanting to put things up their nose. Crazy but it happens!

2. Find a container. Plastic bins, craft storage trays, kiddie pools, empty water tables or deep trays will all work. Find a size that fits the amount of base material you have with a little extra space on top to reduce spills.

3. Scout out a location to minimize mess. It’s almost inevitable that after a certain amount of time, little ones will not keep the material in the bin. If you show and tell them the first time it needs to stay inside, it’s quickly taught, but even when they know, young kids just can’t resist throwing or jumping in after a certain point. Older kids are better, but there’s a good chance that whatever base is in your bin will not magically stay inside completely. Lay out a sheet, blanket, oilcloth or tarp underneath or put the kids in the tub or outdoors.

4. Think about what you child is into and add those elements of play to your bin. Since we have a mix of boys and a girl, we’ve found animals to be a great gender neutral topic that all three kids love. We have gobs and gobs of little animal figurines and accessories to work with. You could also use the time of year to inspire you - with snow or arctic life play for winter, nature elements like acorns, leaves and rocks for autumn, sand/water and beach scenes for summer or flowers and dirt for spring. Use all kitchen tools or a bunch of items that are red or little action figures.

TA DA! You’re done! Have your bin all set up so the kids can discover it after school. You might have to watch a few minutes and make sure they know the rules and get started before you can walk away. This is a fantastic way to transition your kids from their hectic day of school and free you up to give just one of them extra attention. Or - get dinner ready!

Let me know how it goes! Share your sensory bin creations with me in the comments below, use #InvitePlay or hit me up on Instagram at @msstephanderson.

Would you like to have a bunch of these ideas to use more often? Check out my free guide to Switching the Witching Hour for more activities to keep the kids busy and happily playing! I also go into greater detail on how we use sensory bins for kids from infants up to big kids.

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