3 Easy Sensory Bins for Open-Ended Play (As Seen on Steven & Chris!)

Mar 18, 2015

We were thrilled to make an appearance on Steven & Chris to talk about how to put together sensory bins for open-ended play. The segment airs today (March 18, 2015) at 2 p.m. on CBC. Make sure you don't miss it!

Here are the three ideas we covered on the show, plus a whole bunch of supplementary info!

Space-Themed Black Bean Bin

This bin was developed by one of our wonderful contributors, Arlee Greenwood of Small Potatoes. It's a simple bean-based bin filled with magnetic objects, glow-in-the-dark stuff and space-themed toys. It provides opportunities for kids to simply scoop, explore magnetism, create imaginative space-themed adventures and older kids can even explore the constellations using library books or printable constellation maps (we found our constellation printable on Mr. Printables).

See how Arlee put together her space-themed bin here. On the show, ours also included some metal cookie cutters, pompoms, marbles (to look like planets), small silver Christmas ornaments, acrylic gems and a few dollar-store light-up spinning tops.

A bin filled with black beans, marbles, glow-in-the-dark stars, scoops, pompoms and magnets.

We then swapped out some of the space-themed stuff, and turned this bin into a woodland night scene, inspired by this Nocturnal Animals Bin by contributor Ann Harquail of My Nearest and Dearest and using our set of Canadian Woodland Printables (you can download and print them at this link). As Ann points out, kids are fascinated by the idea that there are animals who wake up just as we go to sleep, so this little nighttime theme provides lots of opportunities to talk about nocturnal animals and what animals do when we're all tucked into bed.

We made our little bonfires using battery-operated tea lights, orange and yellow tissue paper and some brown foam logs. Everything was attached with tape. Here's what they look like up close: 

You'll also love: Canadian Woodland Scene Printables

Rainbow Rice Literacy Seek-and-Find Bin

Rainbow rice is so easy to make, you won't believe it. All you need is rice, food colouring and vinegar.

Simply toss rice in a baggie with food colouring and just enough vinegar to coat. Allow to dry overnight, and you're ready for play. (More detailed instructions on how to make Rainbow Rice can be found in our Rainbow Rice Literacy I-Spy Bottle post here.)

We turned rainbow rice into a little literacy-themed treasure hunt, complete with letters and small toys found around the house. 

Before you hide your objects and/or letters, snap a photo of them and then print it out to give kids a map of things to hunt for! If they're working on their letters, you can ask them to find the letters in their name, their friends names or to spell simple words. 

Little ones who are working on colour recognition will have a blast sorting through the vibrantly coloured rice, or you could choose seasonal colours for your rice to reflect holidays and celebrations. 

You'll also love: DIY Literacy Game—Rainbow Rice I-Spy Bottle

Sensory Sand Beach Bin

Contributor Jackie Currie of Happy Hooligans introduced us to cloud dough, and it's an absolute delight to play with. Another contributor, Jen Kossowan of Mama.Papa.Bubba., used a variation on the same thing to make an adorable indoor beach. Combining these two ideas gave us our beachy sensory-sand bin! We opted to use plain vegetable cooking oil in place of baby oil, and used all-purpose flour. You want to use a ratio of about 1 part oil to 8 parts flour. Just mix them together. The mixture is ready for play when it clumps together and behaves a bit like the way wet sand behaves. Err on the side of adding too little oil to begin with, because you can always add more (if you overload on the oil, you might need a lot more flour than you bargained for).

We added rocks and shells and scoops to our beach bin, but this concept can be repurposed in all kinds of ways: kids' imaginations really should lead the way. The kids will really love the sensory aspect of this bin, and you will too. It feels amazing and is completely moldable. 

You'll also love: Sensory Play Idea—Cloud Dough Bake Shop

Clean-Up, Storage and Safety

Kids + little bits usually equals a bit of a mess. Simply lay down a plastic table cloth or something similar before play, and cleanup will be a breeze. Each of these bins will eventually get gunky as kids play with them, but when stored in a container with a lid and kept dry, they will last for months and months and can be played with over and over (they're perfect to have on hand for rainy days!). As with all things, small kids should be supervised while playing with these bins and the small pieces they contain. While the filler in all of these bins is technically mouth-safe, kids should not eat any of it. 

Have questions about our sensory bin ideas that we haven't covered here? Leave us a note in the comments and we'll answer ASAP! 

For more sensory play ideas, check out 13 Sensory Play Ideas Preschoolers will Love.

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