Sensory Play & Sensory Bins

Most people have heard about sensory play and its importance to learning and development. The basic concept outlines how children learn things through experience and engaging their senses. Through free exploration with no previous knowledge children make connections and learn through investigation, developing vital fine motor, concentration, and linguistic skills-all while having fun.

Unfortunately we live in a world where sensory play is often disappearing. Even young children now spend so much time in the two dimensional world of tablets and TV’s with a study finding that preschoolers are on exposed to 4 hours of screen time a day on average. The time and space must be created so that children can thrive in an exploratory sensory play environment. Additionally, our resistance to ‘mess’ is also problematic when it limits sensory experience.

Sensory play happens naturally through everyday life and play. However, there are also many forms of guided sensory play, one of the most prominent being sensory bins. These bins take the form of a collection of objects, often plastic toys, foam letters, craft materials, scented rice, containers and other pieces. Sometimes these objects are chosen at random and other times they are specifically chosen to fit a particular theme (such as a book or colour). These objects are placed in a bin to contain the ‘mess’ while allowing children to explore the contents. I think these bins can be very effective, and there is definitely a place for the conventional sensory bin, but I also think they could be even more.

My ideal sensory bin design:

  • Few plastic or commercial objects.
  • Eco-friendly options where possible.
  • Natural materials with a variety of colours, scents, and textures.
  • Scented with essential oils instead of synthetic fragrances.
  • A large shallow bin or tray for ease of use.
  • A variety of tools for children to investigate the contents with: for example- chopsticks, spoons, egg cartons.
  • Willingness to let go of the design and the ‘plan’ if the child decides that the bin should be used in a different way.

I think sensory bins are a great way to encourage sensory play when it might not be possible to engage in other sensory experiences. For example: a long trip, entertaining a sick child who needs to rest, or on a rainy weekend. However it is important to remember that sensory play occurs away from plans and bins. It can be as simple as going for a walk outside and exploring nature, playing with the family dog, building a sandcastle, or baking with a parent. The best way a guardian can provide students with sensory play opportunities is by providing them with opportunities to engage with the world and their surroundings with safety and support.

If you’re not sure where to start with sensory bins- check out the following posts:

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Want to learn more about sensory play? Check out some of these great sites.

What is the point of a sensory bin?- Suzy Homeschooler

Child Development Sensory Play- PBS        

Why is sensory play so important?- Creative Connections For Kids

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