By Tricia Fowler /
Children learn best and retain the most when they engage their senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses, and this type of play helps children develop cognitively, linguistically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
One easy way to engage a child’s senses is by making available a bin full of one or more materials (rice, beans, water, etc.) that they can investigate and explore through play. Here are some suggestions for sensory bin materials to use. You can also add a limited number of other small objects (such as coins, beads, plastic animals, etc.) for children to ‘find.’ Children also love to scoop and pour materials from one vessel to another, so try adding measuring cups, spoons, ladles, tongs, funnels and other ‘tools.’ The possibilities are endless!
- Water & boats – toy ones or make your own boats out of stuff around the house.
- Water & bubble bath or soap – wash cars, trucks, dolls, baby dolls, etc.
- Water and containers or funnels – Kids love to explore with water even in a sink or outside in a container.
- Dry mashed potato flakes – You can add glitter for a fake snow look. Add beads or other objects to add to the fun.
- Shaving cream with food coloring – you spoons or hands for the kids to watch color mixing into new colors or creating fun pictures in it.
- Peanuts in shell with clothes pins – Obviously be aware of allergies before using this one. But have kids try picking up peanuts with clothes pins and feed a stuffed or toy elephant. This is a great activity for fine motor strengthening.
- Different pieces of fabric from old clothes, materials from sewing clubs, The Scrap Box in Ann Arbor, MI or 31 gifts consultants, etc. – Children will be able to feel the different textures and create cool craft projects with them also.
- Sand with shells and fake fish or sand box toys – You can vary it up by adding coloring to the sand.
- Dry beans (any kind separate or mixed together works) or dry rice – kids like the feel on their hands or feet. Then you can always add objects or containers for the kids to explore and learn from this fun sensory time.
- Color paper strips and gold coins- Makes the kids think of rainbows and pots of gold especially during March and St. Patrick’s Day.
- Easter grass or confetti paper for baskets is great to hide objects or have kids find certain colors.
- Dry noodles – any kind of dry noodles that have fun shapes for example, ABC’s, zoo animals, shapes, etc. They can be regular or dye them colors to add variety to the sensory table.
- Cooked noodles – Can be any kind. During Halloween, spaghetti and grapes is fun for the kids. They look like eyes and brains. But a word of caution: they don’t last long without getting gross! I use only for special occasions and throw out after using them.
- Pebbles or color gems or stones – They can add cars and different containers to design a road or village to make it into an interactive play set.
- Dry corn on the cob or Indian corn – They can feel it as a whole item and have a separate container with loose kernels for them to play in with hands. They love to play in a big pool or large container like a sandbox without all the small particles.
- Dry cereal, oats, coconut, etc. – Gives them fun exploring and safe for them to eat especially for little children.
- Cotton Balls – Use them by themselves or add objects to find or animals especially in the winter polar bears, penguins, etc.
- Soil – watch worms dig and makes holes. You can do a gardening sensory bin with eco-pots, garden tags, gardening tools, pinwheels, seeds, etc. Have the kids pretend to garden or design their own garden.
- Jell-O or gelatin mix, dry – you can have students practice writing number and letters in it.
If you have any suggestions on sensory bins please leave a comment below so we can learn from each other and have more to try. I hope you have fun and the children get to experience something new while having fun!
Finally, here are some questions to ask your children during sensory play (this will build their social and language skills as well as make them start thinking and problem solving):
- Find me a (pink) object
- Find me 5 objects or more specific (3 beads, 5 animals, etc.)
- What color is that truck, bead, etc.?
- How many cows are their?
- What are you making?
- When you mixed those colors together what happens?
- What does that feel like?
- Is that soft, hard, rough, smooth, etc.?
- What shape is that?
More resources on sensory play:
Tricia Moyer-Fowler is the Parent Educator at Madison Elementary and Family Resource Room. Tricia has been at Madison School District for the past 7 years. She has her Master’s of Science in Special Education Learning Disabilities. She also has Bachelor’s degrees in Economic and Management emphasis in accounting, Secondary Business Education and Mathematics and Cognitive Impairment from Albion College, Siena Heights University and Eastern Michigan University. She enjoys spending time with her husband, son (13 years old), & daughter (6 years old); volunteering at school; participating in church activities; and working part-time at Michigan International Speedway for the past 30 years.by