Sensory bins can be super fun for kids and lead to prolonged independent play (which means a bit of relaxation time for moms and dads!). B...

Sensory Bin 101


Sensory bins can be super fun for kids and lead to prolonged independent play (which means a bit of relaxation time for moms and dads!). But they can also cause giant messes and lead to huge headaches. So I've put together a list of tips to help you have the former experience rather than the latter.

Tip 1:
Create some sensory bin rules. Just remember, the fewer rules, the better. Our one main rule is, try your best to keep the sensory materials in the bin. Accidental spills happen, but I've let them know from day 1 that pouring the filler onto the floor, table, anywhere outside the bin is not ok. Aside from that, different bins may have special rules. For example, when I set out the two bins pictured above, I told Squidgy that the toys can wander from bin to bin, but the rice and moon sand have to stay in their own bins.

Sometimes snack time becomes sensory play time for little ones...

Tip 2:
Plan to play with or right next to your child at least the first few times (it'll be longer if you're doing this with a toddler). This way you can model proper use of the bin and offer gentle reminders of the rules. Once they are able to play with few reminders, you can move away and just stay in the area. Definitely stay close by if they are young and still might put things in their mouths or noses. Regardless of how well they normally play or how old they are, you should always stay in the room for the most part, because sometimes play gets a little extra creative and you want to catch it before it gets out of control. 

A dish bin with water on a crate with some cups and bottles is a great sensory activity for little ones

Tip 3:
Babies who are able to sit up can use sensory bins! However, there are 2 important things to remember. Babies will not be capable of keeping the sensory materials inside the bin so expect mess. I often gave Lil C and Squidgy bowls while they were sitting in the high chair - the tray helped catch the spills and I could put towels under the chair to catch spills. The second thing to remember is: babies should not be given any materials that are unsafe to put in their mouths. My favorite sensory material for babies is plain old water! You can add a little food coloring to make it more visually appealing but they can scoop, stir, pour, and splash without you worrying about them ingesting something dangerous.

Tip 4:
I prefer to stick with non-toxic fillers such as water, beans, rice, oats, pasta, and flour so I don't worry if a little ends up in their mouths or they lick it or something. I also don't like using food for play and crafts (because there are people who don't have access to enough food...), so when I get food fillers for sensory bins, I keep them in large zip-top bags and try to reuse them as long as possible. 

Tip 5:
Smaller is better. I used to try to fill large bins with materials because it seemed more fun and somehow I thought a bigger bin would contain the mess better. But bigger bins just mean more filler. Last year I got a stack of plastic shoeboxes and I've been using those ever since. The smaller bins also allow me to make separate bins for Lil C and Squidgy so they don't argue or make two bins with different materials to use in the same play session (whatever you put in one bin WILL get mixed together). I can also put the smaller bins inside a larger under-bed storage bin so a lot of the accidental spills end up in there and the kids have a place to put their toys/tools when they don't want them in the bin. Finally, I can put the lid on the shoebox and put it in the closet to play with another day! 

Tip 6:
Have fun! Messes can always be cleaned up (and little ones can help wipe, sweep, or vacuum up spills!) but your kids will only be young once so let them play - and if you want get your hands in on the fun too!