(Sorry this is so late. We had multiple power outages last night that interrupted my last few edits, and today was just busy, busy, busy! But here it is at last...)
Welcome to Wordy Wednesday!
Every individual from before we are born seeks out sensory information in order to learn about our world and understand ourselves in it. Children are especially good at this. And every child needs to receive sufficient input on a regular basis in order to develop essential life skills.
One great and easy way to encourage this kind of exploration is through sensory tables or bins.
These are very good for avoiders because the contents can be tailored to their tolerance levels, but can easily have gentle challenges added in gradually. And they are fantastic for seekers, especially on sick days or yucky weather days or the I-just-really-need-a-few-minutes-of-sanity days!
So basically they are A+ fantastic awesomeness for any kid, of any age, pretty much any time!
One of the most familiar is the sand and water tables so popular at daycares and preschools. However there is a truly limitless number of ways to provide similar stimulation, most of them being very inexpensive.
Sensory bins can be housed in virtually any container you wish from a shoe box to a baby pool and beyond. Plastic storage containers are very popular as these often come with a lid and they can easily be stacked and stored. They generally cost less than $5 at a typical retailer for the 5 gallon size.
As for what to put inside? Pretty much anything goes! Any items that encourage manual skills, pinching, squeezing, grasping, organizing, tasting, smelling, and visual stimulation are going to encourage skill growth. Here is a great article on why sensory bins are so important!
Some choose to collect items based on a theme, such as colors, seasons, or experiences. Others just like to throw what ever they have lying around in and let imagination take over from there. There is no right or wrong. When the kiddos get bored of the bin, simply change out the items or theme, or have several prepared that can be rotated.
These are great too if several families each have a few, they can swap with each other when the kids are jonesing for something new. No creative thinking even needed for that one!
Also, when your mind runs blank, or your mommy fog is just too thick to get the creative juices flowing, just google "sensory bin ideas" or look on Pintrest, and you'll find literally hundreds of ideas.
Maybe someday, when I have wads of free time, I'll make out a list called "Bin There: 52 Easy Sensory Bins for a Sensational Year!" Which of course would contain a "recipe" a week, full of creative and cheap sensory stimulation. (Yeah, I know how nerdy that sounds, already got the title and everything.)
Until then, I'll just share the one idea I had for this go round. This is actually our first official sensory bin. I didn't really mean to take this long to put one together, but life around here has been really crazy and this was not at the top of the 'have to' list.
I chose a desert theme, loosely. I chose pinto beans instead of sand for two reasons. 1.) We have a sandbox outside, and that is where I want it to stay. 2.) I already had an eight pound bag of pinto beans in my pantry. Handy!
I added several handfuls of polished stones that we always seem to have filling jars all over the house. (Yes, these are choking hazards, which is why I supervise her while she plays with the bin. Of course by the time you have three kids basically everything is a choking hazard, so you really try to prioritize prevention of sharp objects and batteries.)
I buried three ceramic dinosaurs (I bought these in a pack of five with paints a long time ago as a rainy day project) so the kids could be paleontologists.
Bought a big party pack of plastic bugs from Walmart and added one third of them to the bin.
Also threw in several trucks, an airplane and a helicopter for them to find the wreckage of as they explored.
I sprinkled enough foam letters and numbers throughout for each kid to be able to spell out their name and find their age. As I suspected, Grace was most excited by this part and happily stuck all of hers to a piece of paper while Zak and Kit still mashed around in the beans.
As a treat, I also buried three candy necklaces in there. They were a big hit!
The kids really enjoyed playing in the bin. They sorted everything they found into categories, and everyone maintained a pleasant calm, but conversational, demeanor while they played. That is significant because Grace and Zak have been vying for power lately, so arguments and sudden eruptions have been pretty common around here. But they were able to work side by side in the bin very nicely, so that was refreshing.
I'm very pleased with how nicely it came together and that the kids have enjoyed it several more times since.