sensory bin with corn kernels being scooped into muffin tin

How to be Successful with Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are on every kid blogger’s website because they are an incredible resource for kids to learn numerous skills. But moms who see them have one of two reactions; ooh how fun or dear lord not in my house.Wether you are excited or apprehensive it is time for sensory bin 101 so that you can set up successful sensory bins at home.

Sensory bins play a valuable role in my family’s daily life and I love being able to share them with other moms.

As a former 4th grade teacher I knew the benefits of sensory play and hands-on learning, so when my daughter was old enough I jumped at the opportunity to try a sensory bin. It was a major fail. I was so used to older kiddos that I forgot to teach my daughter the basics. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that dry pinto beans were all over my house for months.
Since then I have learned a lot and we have a few basic principles that we follow for successful sensory play.
sensory bin with corn kernels being scooped into muffin tin

What’s the point of sensory play?

For those parents who are thinking this sounds like a lot of work and there is a potential mess, what is the point, the benefits of sensory bin are huge.

Benefits of sensory bins:

  • kinesthetic learning
  • the opportunity to engage in life skills
  • self-control
  • learning boundaries
  • risk taking
  • communication

Learn more about why you should encourage sensory play here.

Sensory Bin 101

Create a Barrier

The mess is every parent’s concern when they are thinking about wether or not they will be successful with sensory bins.

Here’s the winning ticket piece of advice -> Lay a big blanket or sheet on the floor and place your sensory bin on top.

The blanket will catch any accidents that will inevitably fall out of the bin. When your child is done playing, pick up the blanket on the side like a taco and pour the pieces that fell out back into the bin.

sensory bin on a large towel to catch the mess

Review the Expectations

Repeat after me, “materials stay in the bin“. My kids repeat this to me every single time they play with a sensory bin.

Not only do I say the expectations every single time, my kids do too. We also talk about what is appropriate and specifically what isn’t appropriate.

  • Materials stay in the bin.
  • We do not throw materials.
  • Play inside the bin
  • We don’t put our whole body in the bin
  • Do not carry your creation to Mommy, call me over to see

Your expectations may be different than mine. Be sure to be clear and to communicate them.

contstruction trucks and dinosaurs in a sensory bin with moon sand

Sit Close

I know the temptation to just let them do their thing and play freely. All the mom bloggers brag about how sensory bins buy them 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted time. And it will do that for you too, BUT you have to put in some time up front to be successful with sensory bins.

For first few sensory bins you are going to need to sit closely and provide reinforcement of the rules.

When your sweet angel throws rainbow rice for the the first time, you need to:

  1. Calmly remind him that we don’t throw the rainbow rice. “Don’t throw the rice, remember materials stay in the bin.”
  2. Model different ways your kids CAN play so that you are not just focusing on what they can’t do.
  3. Praise the positives. “I love how you scooped the rice and poured it in the bowl.”

Redirect, focus on the positives, and engage in play.

But, what if that doesn’t work? I give my kids 3 chances. If they have been redirected 3 times I take the sensory bin away or ask them to go play something else while their sibling plays with the sensory bin.

“It looks like we are having a hard time following the rules with the sensory bin. I’m going to put it away for today and we can try again tomorrow.” or “You are having a hard time following the rules of the sensory bin today, why don’t you go play blocks while your brother/sister plays with the sensory bin and you can try again tomorrow.”

Eventually, they will get it and you can sit back and relax while they play.

little girl playing with dinosaurs in sensory bin

What kind of activities will encourage independent play?

If you are just getting started, I highly recommend water as your first sensory bin filler. It is simple, everyone has it, and most kids love it. Plus, when they make a mess, it is easy to clean and counts as mopping.

Our favorite sensory bin fillers are painted beans (it sounds fancy, but it isn’t). My kids add figurines and small toys to the sensory bin and then their imaginations take over. We also add basic kitchen supplies like measuring cups, tongs, bowls, and spoons to up the fun factor.

Check out my list of sensory bin fillers with both food fillers and non-food fillers.

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