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Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Be Awesome at Sensory Play

(If you don't have kids or are not interested in sensory bins, you might enjoy this post from the archives instead.  Check back on Wednesday for a non-kid related post.)

I approach parenting like I approach everything else.  With a desire to get an A+. 

This means research.  And planning.  And reading.  And quizzing myself.

My personal parenting philosophy most closely follows that of the Montessori style of teaching, focusing on heuristic learning through exploration and discovery.  I recently read a book called Montessori From the Start, and it really inspired me to start creating prepared environments and invitations to play even at this early age. 

Enter the sensory bin/bucket/basket/whatever.

A sensory bin is a collection of items that you put in a container and make accessible to your child.  The idea is that it helps them learn on several levels.  They are exploring them with their senses, such as touch, sight, hearing, and yes, taste, but also, you are introducing them to groups of items that they can begin to categorize in different ways.  I usually spend some time introducing the items to her, but then most of the time she spends with it, I allow her to explore them in her own way.  Here was her first:

It was mainly just an assortment of things I thought she would like to explore, and I tried to use different textures, shapes, and materials.  She loved it.  This was when she was six months old.  She would play with it for 20 minutes straight. 

There are tons of things you can use for sensory boxes, and most of them you can find around your house or at a dollar store.  Here's a list of a few:

Sponges, bath poofs, plastic cups, rice, pasta, oatmeal, different sizes of balls, and kitchen utensils like measuring cups and spoons, basting brushes, wooden spoons, coffee scoops, colanders, etc. 

After a while, I started focusing more on a theme.  Here's one from Christmas:

I even used a little Christmas scent in this one, along with some empty boxes I wrapped, a small stocking, jingle bells, ribbon, etc.  It's mostly all stuff I had around the house or found at Dollar Tree.  Again, she loved it.

I've done some with themes of different rooms of the house.  I keep a box of kitchen things for her to play with in the kitchen, and I did a bathroom themed one.  I try to give her a new sensory bin each month to keep it interesting.  I have one in my room, too, and I try to put new things in it every now and then for her to discover.  Here is her Easter one, which was also her Easter basket, but I gave it to her early so she could play with it for a month.

I put some puffs and toys in some of the eggs so she could enjoy opening them.

Here's my most recent one.  I'm super proud of it.  I used one of her picture books and made a basket out of the things in the book.

Pretty cool, huh??  Since she's a bit older now, we are practicing correspondence.  I point to something in the book and she finds it in the basket. She'll do about two before she gets bored, but it's pretty fun to watch!

Hey, gimme a break.  It keeps me from getting bored all day, and it gives me an outlet for my creativity and teaching.  If she learns something from it, too, awesome.

Oh, and by the way, I find most of my sensory play ideas on Pinterest.  You can follow my Raising Kids board for lots of other ideas, and you can follow my Mission Accomplished board to see what I've already tried!  I usually comment on the pins there so you can see what worked and what failed horribly.


  1. Love the corresponding basket! We have so many little books I could do that with! BTW, I've found a series of itty bitty board books at the Dollar Tree lately and I stocked up on the rest of them that we didn't have. They're the small chunky ones with like 6 pages and one word on each page. Love them!

  2. Question: do you usually keep each bin out for the month, then put the items back around the house where they belong? Or do you just keep adding to all the bins you have and they are starting to accumulate?

    1. When I rotate the bins, I put new stuff in there, and put the old stuff back. If it's household stuff, I just put it back where it goes, and if it's stuff I got at the dollar store or whatever, I have a little box I keep her sensory stuff in, so I can get it back out again for another bin in a few months. That way it's new and fresh to her, and it doesn't pile up to the ceiling! :o)