Whether you’re taking a Montessori approach to learning, creating a therapeutic sensory experience for your autistic or special needs child, or just want to add some hands-on fun to your day, you can easily make a low cost sensory bin your children will love. Children learn through play, so giving them something to play with that engages all or most of the senses heightens the learning. It’s also great therapy for autism or sensory disorders, which is why I started making them for Lil Sis (5). She loves to examine each item visually, touch them, and find the patterns and connections within the themes I’ve created for her. Sensory bins can help with hand-eye coordination, pouring, sorting, and other basic toddler/preschool skills. They’re also a great rainy/cold day activity indoors.
We’ve had fun with several different kinds, but I’ll share just a few basic ideas here to get you started.
Step 1: Choose a theme.
I love to make connections within our homeschool lessons for sensory bins. The pictures I’ve included with this post show our ocean theme sensory bin. (Click here for the list of ocean-themed books we used to go along with it.) It coincided with our field trip to the aquarium. Other themes include insects, farm animals, colors (include only objects of one certain color), numbers, shapes, letters, transportation (included some Matchbox cars), and horses/ponies. Anything you can imagine can become a theme for a sensory bin. Consider your child’s interests for inspiration. Once you start thinking about it, I’m sure you’ll come up with lots of possibilities!
|Ocean/aquarium themed toys from Dollar Tree|
Step 2: Gather your supplies.
Begin collecting small items related to your theme. Don’t forget to include things with different textures, sounds, and sizes. That is part of the sensory experience. For instance, my daughters especially love things that make an interesting sound when they pour them, so I look for things that make different sounds. Using glass decorative stones worked well for the ocean theme because they make a loud sound when pouring, but they’re also colorful, shiny, and smooth-textured. They were also big enough to not pose a choking hazard. (Remember that children should be supervised with this activity, especially if your kiddos put things in their mouths!) As I said, check the dollar stores for inexpensive items to include. I found those glass stones and some rocks at the Dollar Tree. You can also raid your junk drawer and re-purpose some toys and stickers. Most homeschool families tend to have craft supplies available, so be sure to check your own inventory for things like craft foam, feathers, beads, sequins, and things of that sort.
|Rocks and glass stones from Dollar Tree|
Step 3: Pour in the medium and arrange the items.
There are several ways to do this. You can fill the bin with the medium, then set the items on top of it. Another alternative is to start with a layer of medium, then a layer of objects, then another layer of medium to provide an “excavation” or “hide and seek” experience.
|I chose a clear bin for this one so the blue stones would show up well, just like a real aquarium.|
|This lid flips open, which makes it easy for little hands.|
Step 4: Prepare a mess-ready environment.
Depending on the medium and the items included, these can get messy. That’s all a part of the fun and learning, though, so be sure to have an area where messes can be easily cleaned up. Use newspapers, trash bags, or some type of splat mat under the bin. Take it outside if you must, but allow your child to explore and play without worrying about being messy for this activity. I’ve found that the more of these we do, the play becomes less messy and more focused.
Step 5: Explore and learn!
Let your child enjoy these for free play. After they’ve looked it over thoroughly, you can begin to ask questions, describe items, and guide their learning. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can create matching cards to play an I Spy game!
Total cost for our ocean sensory bin: $7. That includes the bin itself and all contents. Everything in it can be re-used for other bins, too. I’ve actually made zero cost sensory bins just by using what I had around the house already.
I hope this gives you some ideas to get started on some sensory bins in your homeschool. Feel free to be creative and just have fun! I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you will/have tried these.