"Children learn as they play but more importantly, they learn how to learn." - O Fred Donaldson

Play optimizes child development and is the basis for the overall cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children (Pediatrics January 2007, 119 (1) 182-191). Child-led play and unscheduled free time are essential for healthy brain development at many different levels:  cellular, molecular, chemical, organizational, functional, learning, and academic. (Pediatrics September 2018, 142 (3) e20182058).

According to the experts at Michigan State University’s Extension Program, "Children benefit the most when vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing are combined into their play. Using multiple senses simultaneously in play provides the foundation for all other knowledge, learning, and understanding." (Butcher, K. & Pletcher, J. (December 15, 2016). Cognitive Development and Sensory Play. Michigan State University Extension). 

Engaging multiple senses helps increase brain functioning, sensory-motor skill development, language skills, executive functioning, learning, and retention. The importance of play is so well-recognized that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested pediatricians prescribe play for their child patients during well-child visits! (Anderson, J. (August 21, 2018). Quartz, Kids Are So Overscheduled That Doctors Are Being Told To Prescribe Play.). 

Sensory bins provide a simple and fun way to promote child-led, sensory-rich free-play! All you need is a container, a theme (if desired), a filler base, some fun manipulatives and finger tools, and a little creativity. Here are some simple steps and things to consider to help you get started:

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1.  Select a Container

Shoe boxes, plastic dishpans, disposable baking trays, rectangular cake pans, and/or large Tupperware containers can all be good choices. Think about whether the bin will be for outside or indoor play, and whether it will be for one-time or long-term use before you choose. A container with a lid can make toting, clean-up, and storing your sensory bin easier; washable containers are a plus. Steer clear of containers that are breakable or have any sharp edges.

2.  Choose a Theme

Select a theme that your child will find interesting, appealing, and engaging! Here are some popular theme ideas to help get you started:
  • Under The Sea1552672584 sorting counting fruit erasers therapy s w300 h300
  • Construction
  • Beach
  • Farm Animals
  • Magnetic Fun
  • Tea Party
  • Holiday Theme
  • Bugs
  • Vehicles
  • Treasure Hunt

3.  Provide The Base

For the "base" (filler) of your sensory bin, choose something that engages multiple senses. Consider the visual appeal, how it feels, what it weighs, and the (potential) sounds it makes.  When selecting filler, think about the theme, where your sensory bin will be used (indoors or outdoors), whether it's a one-day/one-use bin or one that will be used repeatedly over a long timespan.  Here are some popular choices:
  • Colored Rice or Pasta *See the directions below about how to dye rice and pasta
  • Beans (coffee beans, kidney beans, etc.)alexander ow Me1R5svkKWo unsplash
  • Corn
  • Sand
  • Colored Salt
  • Bird Seed
  • Beads
  • Buttons
  • Shredded Paper
  • Pom Poms
  • Porcupine Balls
  • Water or Shaving Cream

4.  Add Manipulatives

This is our favorite step!  Use your creativity when choosing manipulatives and bring your theme to life!  Go through your child's toy chest or take a nature walk to find special treasures to include in your sensory bin.
Here's some food-for-thought:

1562169387 bubble tong fidget therapy shoppe fine m w300 h3005.  Include Some Skill-Building Finger Tools

Add some finger tools for scooping, filling, spilling, digging, pouring, and exploring the bin's contents! Use tools that promote imagination, fine motor skills, observation, and creative play; select a variety of tools that make it enticing to practice the sensory-motor skills above. 

Here are some favorite kid-friendly choices:

Play is a wonderful brain-builder!

Be sure to build in lots of time for non-structured free-play this summer! Don't hesitate to get down on your child's level and join in their play, but remember to let them be the one to lead the play. Playing with your child and giving them your full attention makes play even more valuable, promotes attachment, and can help you rejuvenate, too. ENJOY and have a fun summer!

*Sensory bin play is recommended for children ages 3+. Close adult supervision and caution is required with small parts that could potentially be a choking hazard.


Directions for creating colored rice and/or pasta for sensory bins:

1.  Combine 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar in a ziplock bag.

2.  Add 1/8 of a teaspoon of food coloring, then zip the bag shut.

3.  Mix all of the ingredients inside the bag together by gently squeezing it until the food coloring is evenly distributed.

4.  Add more rice/pasta and/or food coloring and mix some more until you reach the desired color.

5.  Pour the dyed rice onto a baking sheet lined with a paper towel and set it out to dry for several hours.  Be sure the rice/pasta is spread out in a single layer to facilitate the drying process.


Please join us again for more helpful tips, tools, summer activity ideas, and fun resources for your family. Feel free to reach out to us anytime if we can ever be of assistance – we're always just an email or a phone call away.

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