Hint: it’s not just a mess. Here are 10 reasons why you need a sensory bin in your homeschool.
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Before I was a homeschool mom, I worked in a pediatric rehab setting as a speech-language pathologist. I was lucky enough to work alongside some fabulous occupational therapists who knew all about sensory issues. They introduced me to the many benefits of a sensory bin full of pinto beans. All the kiddos that we saw for therapy loved those beans and would play with them much longer than they did with any other toys.
At the time, I was a young mama of two preschoolers. So, as you can imagine, I jumped on that idea very quickly and found an empty plastic tub at home for my two little ones. No matter what filler I put in it, the sensory bin held my kids’ attention for long periods of time. Therefore, the possible messy factor was a tiny price to pay for happy, involved kids while I got some of my work done.
See my directions on how to color rice, pasta, and beans here. You can add scoopers, measuring cups and funnels to extend the play. The small toys from TOOBS are always a big hit too. For educational and engaging ideas for your sensory bin, check out this list.
Here are ten more reasons why you should also include a sensory bin in your homeschool.
Sensory bins involve all of the senses.
Like it’s name implies, kids use their senses while playing with a sensory tub. However, it’s more than just touching and feeling the sensory tub fillers. Most porous fillers (like rice, beans, paper) can be scented with a couple of drops of essential oils. My favorite oils to add are Eden’s Garden synergy blends Hope, Harmony, or Bee Happy. Even if you don’t have any essential oils, you could add some vanilla or almond extract from your spice cabinet.
Next up are the senses of sound and taste. Toddlers will learn that rice and other small objects make a lighter, more delicate sound than larger objects like beans or pebbles. If your children are at the stage where they explore every object with their mouth, you will need to have taste-safe and choke-safe fillers in their sensory bin. Conversely, I have to be careful to limit the use of real food items on our bins. Because my adopted kiddos experienced hunger before they came to us, they will eat any food items, regardless of whether it’s meant for consumption. I am able to use colored, scented rice now that they’ve realized it really doesn’t taste good and when it’s colored, doesn’t really look like the rice served at dinner.
Sensory bins promote self-regulation.
Proprioception is closely associated with body awareness and includes awareness of motion and equilibrium. Playing in a sensory bin can help organize the child’s feelings of where their body parts are in relation to other things. Sensory bins can also be a technique for calming an upset child.
Sensory bins promote language development.
Toddlers and preschoolers can learn about basic concepts such as full/empty, up/down, above/below, or same/different while they are pouring, sorting, and moving the objects in the sensory bin. This is also a great time to introduce new adjectives to give them the words for what they are experiencing. For example, when exploring the bin pictured below, an older sibling or parent can describe the soft pom poms, pokey pom poms, smooth hearts, fat hearts, hard rice and shiny tinsel. Other times, you could work on the names of new items or action words as the objects are moving.
Sensory bins promote fine motor skills.
Adding in kid-friendly tweezers or scoopers to move or pick up the sensory bin filler can strengthen your child’s fine motor skills. As an added bonus, picking up any small pieces that landed outside of the bin with their fingers is great fine motor practice too.
Sensory bins promote an awareness of physics.
Kids can learn so much about how the world works by experimenting with the sensory bin filler. For example, rice goes through the funnel because it’s small and gravity pulls it through, but beans get stuck in the funnel because they are too big to fit through the hole. While playing with liquids, they can experience how some items in the bin float, while others sink.
Sensory bins promote math skills.
Seeing if it takes more dried corn to fill up container A than it does the smaller container B helps a child learn about volume, the measure of the amount of space of an object. I love to use stacking cups because the volume of the number 2 cup plus the number 5 cup equals the volume of the number 7 cup. Therefore, elementary age kids can work on their addition and subtraction skills. You can also use measuring cups to introduce fractions. By adding in some objects to the filler, your child can practice counting or sorting. Playing with quantity comparison helps with visual spatial skills, which leads to better understanding of math concepts.
Sensory bins promote critical thinking skills.
Kids need the opportunity to explore actions and reactions in a safe way. They need the chance to wonder what will happen if I pour this water into a full cup? Or why didn’t that fall over when I touched it?
Sensory bins promote imaginative skills.
Pretend play is so important for children because it helps them grow in all areas of development. It can especially help develop their social and emotional understanding of their world. In other words, pretend play with others supports the development of empathy, creativity and flexibility.
Sensory bins promote homemaking and life skills.
Most kids want to “do it myself”, right? Playing with the different textures in a sensory bin gives them an opportunity to learn how to do it independently in a safe, less messy way. For example, with liquids, they can learn to pour so they can eventually pour themselves a glass of milk. Or they can sweep up the bits that fell out of the bin with a small dust pan and brush. Finally, they can practice scooping so they will be able to scoop the pet food out of the bag to feed their pets.
Sensory bins promote brain development.
All of the ways your child is learning while playing with a sensory bin is building pathways in your child’s brain. It’s pretty cool that learning actually physically changes the brain.
In conclusion, playing in a sensory bin isn’t just a messy, extra thing on our school list. It can be an extraordinary tool to boost your child’s development. Check out this page of themed ideas for sensory bins.
By the way, some kids are tactile defensive and don’t like the way certain textures feel on their skin. Alisha, an OT mom, has some great advice on her blog, yourkidstable.com about tactile defensiveness and sensory seekers.