Welcome to our newest series. In “Friday Favorites,” our team will share a handful of favorite items. These can range from clothes to beauty products to recipes to books and anything in between.
The weather here in West Texas has been windy and back and forth on whether it will rain or not, so I ditched my plans to do this activity in the driveway. My best friend thought I was crazy as we put a plastic tablecloth on my floor and arranged bins full of small little things that we know are going to roll beyond the black tablecloth and lurk beyond the broom bristles.
“You’re braver than me” she said.
“As long as it keeps them entertained I don’t care at this point,” I respond.
What in the world could I be up to with seven kids and an activity that without a doubt is going to make a mess? Something that makes pediatric therapists and special needs teachers super happy!
Sensory bins can be tailored to your kids’ preferences and sensory needs if you are trying to introduce a texture they seem to avoid. Making the bin both visually appealing and interest driven helps entice little hands to explore.
I made eight bins for the kids and while they played in all of them, they definitely had their favorites.
Dyed Rice, Pasta, + Beans
I’ve been dyeing rice and using different colored dried beans for sensory play for nearly a decade, but I decided it was time to branch out a little. My preferred method for rice dyeing is liquid food coloring and a dollop of gel hand sanitizer mixed in a ziplock, which is then laid out in a pan to dry. This time, I attempted pasta and learned that while the same method works gel food coloring is the way to go with getting the pasta beautifully saturated.
Normally I would buy multiple colors of beans but this time, I bought white beans and used neon paint with a tablespoon of water mixed into the paint. I also used the acrylic paints on some bags of rice to try a new method to see how I liked it. I have to say while the rice was well covered, I still prefer the liquid food coloring due to issues with the paint slowly drying and some clumping.
On a side note, the paint feeling flaky on the beans and hardened rice balls could have been due to user error. The kids enjoyed playing through the pasta, rice, and beans while finding shells, fake gemstones, sea glass, and other small treasures.
Four cups of all purpose flour and half a cup of baby oil thoroughly mixed together creates a silky, soft powder that holds its form when squeezed. I bought aloe scented baby oil so another sense was also used when playing in this bin.
I believe this one was actually my favorite. I found myself lifting the lid numerous times before set up and just running my fingers through and squeezing the mixture into balls. I imagine it’s what it would feel like to form a pure snowball without the bitter cold, making my hands ache. The aloe scent was an added bonus I didn’t anticipate when I experimented with making this for the first time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t figure out how to properly color the dough so while I had some speckles of colors from failed attempts, it was mostly off white. I added in some Playdoh tools and small cookie cutters to this bin for the kids to explore.
This one is a little more expensive to fill a bin with and can dry out and be hard to play with. However, it is available in a variety of colors. Unlike regular sand, kinetic sand isn’t single grains; rather, they stick together and have a stretchy feeling. Ours is several years old and while a little on the dry side, it was still usable. The boys particularly liked this one but that may have been because along with the shovel and rake, I also buried dinosaur fossils to dig up.
Luckily I made two water bead sensory bins full of ocean animal toys. THIS ONE was without a doubt the absolute favorite. The kids learned quickly that once they played in the water beads they needed to wash their hands before moving to another bin to avoid having rice, moon dough, or sand stick to them. Charlie is not a fan of things being stuck to his hands. My friend’s daughter would push her hands in and she would shift on her knees until she nearly had her shirt sleeves submerged through squishy little slippery balls. I thought for sure a few times she was about to stick her face in too. The kids gathered 2-3 around these two bins and had a blast. FYI- these things do not sweep up easily.
No matter what sensory bin fillers you use or treasures you decide to include, do not forget small tools for the kids to use to explore with. Try Dollar Tree or the kitchen utensil aisle in Walmart for an inexpensive way to gather some cute sensory tools. Small measuring cups and spoons, slotted spoons, mini tongs, and ice cream scoops are just a few ideas.