Why is sensory play so important for kids? There is a LOT of research showing the importance of sensory play in a child’s developing brain! From building neural connections to improving speech and social skills, the benefits of sensory play are so crucial and important! It’s called sensory play because it involves all the senses, which is how we all learn best. When a child is presented with a sensory bin, they first get to SEE it… the shapes, the colors, the symmetry, the presentation. Then they TOUCH it… they FEEL the textures, the temperature, the sensations. As they touch it they’ll HEAR the sound it makes as it moves around the bin and between their fingers. Depending on the material used, they may SMELL its scent, and maybe even be tempted to TASTE it… There is so much going on in their little brains… so much to take in… so much to learn from! Why is all of this important? By combining all the senses and putting them to work together we may be helping our kids to tune out noises when trying to focus on a particular task… or we may be helping our picky eater explore different textures in the freedom of PLAY! Like Maria Montessori said, “What the hand does, the mind remembers.” Our kids are learning essential tasks through their daily play!
There are many ways to create a sensory experience for your kids, and that’s what is so great about it! You can literally make anything a sensory experience! First you need a filler, or the base of your sensory play. Some possible fillers may be:
- Rainbow Rice
- Chick Peas
- Split Peas
- Cloud Dough
- Play Doh
- Foam Soap
- Pearl Cous Cous
- Kinetic Sand
- Play Sand
- Shaving Cream
- Water Beads
You can basically use anything you’re comfortable letting your kids play with as a sensory base! My favorites are rainbow rice, chick peas, and kinetic sand!
But before you even pour the filler into a bin you have to think about what rules you’re going to have and stick to them! For instance, if you’re setting a bin down on the floor over a towel the rules may be that they can’t come off the towel with anything that’s in the bin. Or they can’t leave the kitchen floor, or it all must stay in the bin… you get the jist. In order to minimize the craziness and the mess, and to make this an experience that you would like to repeat for your kids, do the things that will help you keep your cool and help you have fun as well!
For my kids the rules are that what’s on the sensory table stays on the table. Now, they’re not angels… rice falls (or gets dumped) on the floor, and toys sometimes get taken. But my rules are clear. The 18-month-old gets warned a couple of times and if he keeps incessantly throwing chick peas as far as he can throw them, then he “helps” me pick them all up, put them back on the table, and he doesn’t get to play again for a little while. Sometimes he “gets” it, sometimes he doesn’t. But the rules are always the same, so he knows what’s coming and when its coming. My daughter is almost 4 now so she enjoys telling on her brother when he’s decided he’s going to make a mess! Hahaha but she rarely makes a mess any more, and neither does he, really. I have to cut him some slack…
Another one of my rules is NOTHING IN THE MOUTH! This is a big one for us because my daughter would put everything in her mouth… EVERYTHING! So that rule was reinforced very often with her and she was always very closely supervised, as should always be done with sensory play with young children. Now my son, he doesn’t really put much in his mouth, so I’m not as concerned with him…
When they are playing in a sensory bin I always sit close by and I watch them closely, usually while drinking my coffee in the morning! BLESS IT!!!! But enough of rules and party pooping…
After you’ve figured out what base you want to use, you need to decide what purpose the bin will have; and by that, I mean is the purpose just fun? Fine motor development? Working on numbers or letters? A small world perhaps? Here you get to decide what you are adding to their sensory experience! It’s the most fun, for me! You can add some little creatures or animals for some fun and learning, or you can add some scoopers and bowls for fine motor and capacity practice! It honestly can be ANYTHING! They’ll learn to fill and pour and fill again, or they’ll bury their animals and pretend to rescue them, or they’ll find a buried letter and name it or find a match! SO MANY OPTIONS!
So now… on to how to make the PERFECT sensory bin… There is NO ONE WAY! Whatever is perfect for your child and your family (and your sanity) is what will be perfect! If it was my husband getting the bin ready for the kids, I KNOW for a fact it wouldn’t be rice… he just can’t handle stepping on it everywhere. I’m a bit more chill about it and don’t mind vacuuming it up after the kids are done, or 4 times a day, or every 5 minutes… so, I don’t chill well, but I don’t mind the clean-up is what I’m saying. So, you need to do what’s right for you! If you’re doing a sensory bin inside and you shy away from a mess, you may pick a sensory base like kinetic sand or play doh! It’s whatever works for YOU! If your kiddo is suddenly into dragons or fairies, you may pick some of those favorite toys and add them to your sensory base for some fun pretend play! I did a really fun fairies and unicorns one a few days ago:
So, to make the perfect sensory experience for your children just remember to make it something that you can live with, and let your kids interests guide you so that they will actually play with it instead of dumping it all on the floor and spreading it through the house! Add their favorite toys to it, or some kitchen tools they don’t normally handle and let them PLAY! They will learn so much and I can promise you, you will want to do it again! I have a ton of ideas in my Instagram @coffeeandspitup so go check it out and get ready for some sensory fun!