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:
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'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.
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.
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.