How to Make Fun Sensory Bins for Young Learners

Today we have a guest post by Jessica from The Primary Parade on how to make fun sensory bins for young learners.  Sensory bins are perfect from the earliest age and can be used to explore, play, discover and learn about shapes, numbers, animals, materials and letters.  Here's how...

Have you ever wondered how to make a Pinterest worthy sensory bin? One that is visually appealing, hands on, and engaging? You know the kind, the ones that look so fun, it makes you want to grab some tweezers and dig through the sea of water beads and pom poms right alongside your kiddo.

I love sensory bins because they can be a blast to incorporate into your everyday schedule, and they are not difficult to plan. #winning

Stick around to learn the ends and outs of sensory bins and how you can integrate them into your classroom or home today.

What are Sensory Bins?

A sensory bin is a container filled with material that is hand selected to stimulate your senses. Research shows that children learn best when they use a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile learning. These are the perfect activities to use with your little learners because it allows them to imagine, learn, explore and create all while activating their senses.

Sensory Bin Materials

Sensory bins are typically large tubs with objects inside. You can use various “fillers” such as: water, sand, beans, pasta, rice, water beads etc.; along with any manipulative such as: small toys, legos, magnetic letters, bells, rocks, pom poms, cotton balls, leaves, sticks, etc.

This list is definitely not the end all, be all to materials. Anything that enhances the senses will work! Think various scents, colors, sounds, and textures (squishy, crunchy, rough, crinkly, smooth).

Teaching Academics in Sensory Bins

Sensory bins can be plain ol’ fun with open ended exploration, meaning there is no set rules or expectations to follow; however, they can also target academic needs.

It’s extremely easy to tie in learning with these centers by simply adding new objects into the bin. You can build upon a child’s vocabulary, teach them about capacity, have them learn to measure, practice their fine motor skills, and much more, all by engaging in a hands on way.

Are you wanting to find a fun way to teach academic standards in your sensory bins? Here is one way that I did just that:

As my toddler was learning her letters and letter sounds, I incorporated different ways to practice these within her sensory bins at home.

These are heart shaped rocks with lower case letters written on them. My daughter practiced scooping the rocks out of the container with a cup, identifying the letter and it’s sound, and matching it to the correct capital letter on her recording sheet.

In this example, I froze magnetic letters in water. My daughter poked and broke into the ice to find the letters. Each time she discovered a new letter, she pulled it out with her tweezers, repeated the name and it’s sound, then matched it to the worksheet.

I’m telling you - This is so much more engaging than flashcards! Your kids will love it and be BEGGING for more!!!! Do you need a FREE copy of this worksheet to get started in your home or classroom? Click HERE to download the capital and lowercase letter worksheet.

I know what you’re thinking… how can you integrate this with older kids in a way that is still engaging? It’s easy. When you’re gathering materials for the upcoming week, set aside a few minutes to plan and choose the learning objectives for your sensory bins. Think about the standards you teach and what your students are expected to know by the end of the year.

If you are currently teaching beginning sounds in your Kindergarten class, have objects that start with different initial sounds in your sensory bin. As your little learner scoops them out of the bin, they can name the object, identify the beginning sound, and name the letter that it starts with! If you have a set of magnetic letters, you could also match the object to the letter. (You can use that same FREE alphabet page from earlier!)

Or maybe your students are starting to blend letters together to create CVC words. (YAY!) Toss in objects that follow the 3 letter CVC pattern (dog, cat, pot, sun, pig, hat, rat, net, jet, pin, etc.). As your students are rummaging through their sensory bin and pulling out one item at a time, have them use magnetic letters to build the word. They could also add in a handwriting component by writing the word out. Or another fine motor component by building the word with play doh. The possibilities are endless!

Why should you use Sensory Bins?

Sensory bins can be so simple and fun. They are a sure fire way to please your administrators and ensure that your students are constantly learning.

Sensory bins are one of my favorite things to use with kids because they allow children to learn how they do best, through play. Although playing may sound like just fun and games, it is a vital part of a child’s learning experience. What I love about sensory bins, is that you can easily integrate real life and fine motor skills, along with academics for all ages.

Who can use Sensory Bins?

Sensory bins are appropriate for all age levels! I started using sensory bins when my kids were one. I know what you’re thinking. How can you let a teething baby… who sticks everything in their mouth… use a sensory bin? When working with young children the objects should be larger, so it’s okay if they go in their mouth. Mouth exploration is a part of a baby’s development and all!

Just be sure that the objects that you are choosing to put in your sensory bin are not choking hazards. Think large Duplo blocks in uncooked rice! Throw in some cups for pouring practice and you have a match made in heaven! Honestly, even the youngest learners can participate with proper supervision!

As your little learners grow from baby, to toddler, to a young child, the objects can get smaller and less supervision has to take place.

Sensory Bin Expectations

Just like other classroom or household rules, expectations have to be instructed, modeled, and set! Here’s a list of the expectations I like to teach again and again to my little ones before I allow sensory bins in my house and classroom.

  • How to clean up: You must explicitly show students how to clean up exactly how you want it to be done. It’s smart to keep a rag, dustpan, and broom near this center to make the clean up process a breeze.  (Give them ownership with this child-size cleaning set.)
  • For example: I would model splashing water out of the bin and say “oops!” Then grab a towel, and wipe it up. Do this again and again with various fillers. Try it with rice. Practice scooping and dumping rice from one area of the bin to another. Then practice accidentally pouring the rice out of the tub. “Oops!” Model cleaning this up with the dustpan and broom.

With enough practice your students will have less and less to clean up. If they do have an accident, you can trust them to pick up their mess!

  • How to handle the materials: Show students how to take care of the objects in the sensory bins just like they take care of materials in the classroom. The students must understand that they have to be gentle so they do not break a piece or hurt one another.
  • Sharing with others: There should be several materials inside of the sensory bin so a few students can participate at the same time. Even then, it’s important to model the proper way to share ideas with one another and how to share the space within the container.

Remember, these should all be explicitly modeled by the teacher and practiced by fellow students.

Like I said, sensory bins are so much fun to incorporate into your daily learning activities. They provide enrichment in the classroom and instill a life-long love of learning. When will you try your first sensory bin?

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