Blog written by California Beach Co.
Kids love getting their hands in things - it’s in their nature! But, instead of coming home to find 3 tubs of play-doh caked into the carpet, what if your kiddo had their very own space to touch, feel, and learn?
Welcome, my friends, to the sensory bin! With one of these, you can help your child learn through hands-on tactile play that engages all of their senses - keeping them entertained while they develop new skills and interests.
But, if a sensory bin can really do all that, it’s gotta be expensive, right? WRONG! You don’t need some high-end pre-made table full of sand and toys when you can make your very own DIY sensory bin for the 1 year-olds, 2 year-olds, and/or toddlers in your life, in the comfort of your own home - for way less than just buying one (plus, the process is honestly kind of fun for adults, too).
We’ll start with the basics - Sensory Bins 101, followed by the amazing benefits you need to know, then we’ll get into all the parts you need to make your own bin (which playpens are the best to use, what toys and crafts you’ll need, etc.)
Alright, time to get hands-on!
What is a Sensory Bin?
Well, let’s start with the title - while ‘bin’ is pretty self explanatory, sensory bins can honestly just be any small, contained space filled with materials and objects that are hand-selected by you for the purpose of stimulating the senses. Some popular sensory bin fillers include shredded paper, water beads, sand, dried beans, slime, plastic containers, and more! Honestly, anything that is safe to touch, smell, and non-toxic to eat (though kids shouldn’t really be eating any of it) would all work perfectly for your DIY sensory bin.
With no real age limit, you can craft a sensory bin for toddlers, tiny tots, or even older children who might need a little more sensory stimulation in their life.
Moreover, sensory play can be very beneficial for children with autism, as it can help stimulate their brain and improve social skills, create pathways for sensory processing systems, and help with communication.
That’s the real in and out on what sensory bins are, but what are the exact benefits? Which senses do they help exactly, and how?
Well, let’s get into it:
The Main Benefits of Sensory Bins
Aside from being fun and engaging, sensory bins are super beneficial, both educationally and developmentally. Let’s go over some of the top benefits of having one of these play bins around for your kiddo:
1. Sensory Exploration
By stimulating multiple senses at the same time (touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste), your child gets the opportunity to learn more about each at their own pace! For example, a good way to use multiple senses at the same time would be to place objects in a tub of water and feel the objects/see whether they float or sink.
2. Communication & Social Skills
Nothing improves a kid’s social skills more than by letting them learn how to take turns! If you’ve got more than 1 kid at a sensory bin station, they may have to communicate and work out who gets which station when. It’s a great way to learn how to share and play together!
3. Language Development
Making your own DIY sensory bin is the perfect opportunity to work together with your little one and try to establish communication. Ask them questions like “what is this?” or “what does this feel like?” and see their responses! You’d be surprised how much kids love to explain things (at least I did).
4. Cognitive Development
By finding hidden items under sand/rice and sorting them by size/color/type/etc, children can really improve their cognitive skills and critical thinking (this works especially well for rice sensory bins). Using letter or number shapes can also provide new opportunities for kids to learn about the alphabet and number orders, and get practice counting and spelling things out.
5. Motor Skills
Not only can sensory bins for toddlers help kids learn, but they can strengthen their physical abilities as well. While children stir, dig, scoop, and pour, their hand strength increases. You can also put more complex tools in there like funnels and spoons to encourage complex tool use and grasping patterns required for handwriting and eating.
6. Calming Benefits
Last but not least, sensory bins are just really calming. They can help relieve anxiety by focusing your child on a simple task. It’s a quiet, peaceful activity that allows children to calm down, get in touch with their emotions, and play independently!
How to Make Your Own DIY Sensory Bins for Toddlers
Obviously, these stationary play spaces have a lot of benefits - which is why store bought ones can be so expensive. That’s why we here at The California Beach Co. are here to help you save some cash and create a just-as-good (if not better) sensory space for your tiny tot! With this guide, you can create the perfect sensory bin for 1 year olds and up without draining your wallet:
Step 1: Minimize the Mess by Setting Up a Playspace
While sensory bins are a great solution for a kid who likes messes, it doesn’t mean messes aren’t avoidable with one. That’s why setting up a designated playspace is a great way to keep the mess contained in one space that only needs to be cleaned up periodically!
We recommend the California Beach Voyager Beach Blankets for this one - it contains any mess and sets boundaries for kids (even for those kids who like to throw a little too much). It’s extremely durable, and can even be taken outside with a bonus travel bag. Made of high-quality bamboo, this blanket is machine washable, highly absorbent, doesn’t wrinkle, and is perfect for outdoor activities (like a day at the beach or in the yard), or to use with an indoor sensory bin on rainy days!
Step 2: Choose a Set of Containers to Use
This depends on the amount of children who will be using your DIY sensory bin. For a small group, you can use a couple cardboard boxes, roasting pans, a shallow tupperware container, or even a dish tub. For larger groups, an unused litter box, large cardboard box, or shallow storage container will work just fine!
Step 3: Pick a Theme
What does your child love Dinosaurs? Cars? Clouds? Animals? Try to pinpoint a good theme to use and work with that. For a dinosaur themed sensory bin, you can use sand to create an archeological dig with little dinosaur toys. For an ocean themed one, you can use water and fish toys with aquarium beads to get your child more interested in the ocean. Here’s a great resource filled with sensory bin theme ideas!
Step 4: Pick Your Sensory Bin Fillers
Overall, textured fillers are the best to use for sensory bins. Things like rice, dry pasta, sand, and small, round rocks are the way to go! For an extra fun idea, you can also dye your rice or pasta fun colors!
Here are a few other filler suggestions to fill up some space:
- Coffee beans
- Corn kernels
- Bird seed
- Water beads
- Aquarium stones
Step 5: Place Your Tools & Toys
Grab all of your toys (themed or not), and place them strategically in the sensory box. You may also want to try placing some safe tools in there as well! Measuring scoops, funnels, and kid’s shovels are great tools to help kids learn while they play.
Step 6: Set Up Clear Instructions & Start Playing!
Kids need direction, that’s just a fact. Be stern and clear with your child about what to do with the sensory bins - no eating, tossing, or throwing! Spend some time supervising the process to ensure they’re using the bins correctly and seem interested.
And with that, you’re ready for your kiddo to get learning!
We hope this has helped you get creative about your kids’ learning (without the mess or the screens)! If you’re looking for other ways for your kids to have fun while you keep it clean, check out our other playpens and products! For any other info, check out our website!
Have a happy, hands-on day!
Contributing Writer: Aurora Detor