If you’ve ever enjoyed the sensation of beach sand or baking flour sifting through your hands, you can understand why kids enjoy sensory bins so much.

Back in the day, basic sandboxes served as sensory bins, but today’s models include a range of touchy-feely materials geared toward providing tactile play activity for small children. Now they might incorporate anything from water, dirt or birdseed to pudding or shaving cream, along with a broad spectrum of toys and utensils encouraging children to dump, fill, scoop or sift those materials.

Child development experts say that toddlers and preschoolers who participate can improve hand-eye coordination, explore and practice life skills, play cooperatively with other kids, develop descriptive language and learn more about their five senses.

“Early childhood educators cannot overstate the importance of sensory play in the educational process,” advises Kittie Butcher of the Michigan State University Extension service. “It is the foundation of all the skills children will use in school learning to read, write and solve math and science problems. Once a child has these experiences, they are able to draw upon the body memory and cognitive memory of their experiences when faced with new situations.”

Interested in helping boost your child’s sensory play? Consider these tips for putting together a sensory bin for him or her to play with.

  • Very young children can enjoy sensory bins as long as they don’t include toys or materials small enough to present a choking hazard. If your child is so young that he still puts everything in his mouth, include only appropriately sized edible materials and larger toys.
  • The ideal container is smooth, nontoxic, roomy enough to accommodate multiple hands at once, deep enough to prevent spillage and untippable. Consider installing your bin on legs or a tabletop so that several standing children can access it at arm level.
  • The bin can go outside, or you can provide extra protection to your indoor environment by placing a waterproof (and hose-able) mat beneath.
  • Consider your primary material. The following could be rotated to provide different experiences: water, ice cubes, snow, shaving cream, flour, beans, corn, popcorn, oats, dry pasta, cooked spaghetti, rice, cereal, gelatin, stones, sand, coffee grounds or dry coffee, soil, water beads, foam peanuts, cotton balls, marbles, pom-poms, cut-up plastic straws, cut-up sponges, buttons, shells, nuts and bolts, water balloons, rubber worms, shredded paper, aquarium rocks, whipped cream, shaving cream, etc. You could also pursue any of the nontoxic goop, clay, silly sand or foam recipes now available on Pinterest.
  • Add another sensory experience by adding nontoxic essential oils to the materials and challenging children to name the scent(s).
  • Include fun toys and containers of various shapes and textures. These could follow a theme or be completely random. Themes could be magnetic items, seasons, letters of the week, animal species, food groups, building construction, etc.

Once your bin is assembled, participants can play independently or be challenged to complete different fun tasks. You’re only limited by your imagination.

Creative Learning Corp. encourages imaginative play of all kinds through its Bricks 4 Kidz classes incorporating LEGO Bricks. Visit us online to find a class near you.