Children learn by exploring the world through their senses: they watch a bug crawl slowly on the sidewalk, slowly squeeze a handful of slimy mud, listen to the sound that a spoon makes when they strike it on the table, and an infant puts almost everything in their mouths. Child development theorist Jean Piaget refers to children as “little scientists,” which is so fitting when it comes to sensory play and activities. Spending time participating in sensory play leads children to use the scientific method and encourages cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional, physical development and creativity. Sensory play is a great option for both independent and group activities and has great benefits for both sensory-seeking and sensory-avoidant children as a self-regulation or self-soothing tool. And if those aren’t encouraging enough reasons, sensory play is fun!
A great way to encourage a sensory play experience, and way to better control the potential messiness, is to create a sensory bin or bins. We are big fans of sensory bins at my house, and I came up with an easy way to have a variety of bins readily available. I found a rolling drawer rack like this one and picked a different “base” or textured item for each drawer. We have a drawer with rice, one with feathers, one filled with different sizes poms, one with a variety of beans and one with water beads. To each drawer, I added a variety of manipulative items (scoops, spoons, cups, figurines, tongs, kitchen tools) to further promote investigative play.
As you consider adding sensory play and/or bins to your program or home, please remember to be mindful of choking hazards. Most “fill” or “base” will be small and could pose some risks to children and/or pets. Always supervise sensory play closely, and only allow your child(ren) to handle material that you are both comfortable with. Sensory bins can become messy. I’ve found that taking the bins outside to play, or laying a blanket or curtain liner down to “catch” any spills are easy ways to help control the mess.
As your child(ren) are exploring, take a few minutes to watch or join them. Remember that there are no “wrong” ways to sensory play — and have fun!