With so many flashy toys for sale these days, it can be difficult to choose the best items to fire the imagination, teach multiple skills and provide safe and appealing fun for a variety of ages and developmental levels.
To help support many areas of development, you can get creative and save some money by creating a sensory bin from things in your own kitchen that help children learn, create and have fun. Here’s how to use common kitchen items to create a sensory bin:
- Find a large container– a mixing bowl or food storage container. If you have two or more children, use a larger container or several small ones.
- Fill the container about half full with something that feels nice to the touch, such as warm water, rice, beans, lentils, flour, corn meal, cornstarch or homemade play dough.
- Look through your drawers for fun things to add to the mix: measuring spoons and cups, funnels, mixing spoons, plastic caps, a turkey baster, tongs, small jars, straws, small toys from the toy box. Be careful to avoid items that can poke or cut a child’s hands or be too small or tempting to put in his/her mouth.
Sensory bins can be used to support many areas of a child’s development, including social and emotional. While using the sensory bin, children of different ages and developmental levels can play together, practice sharing and taking turns and collaborate with one another. Additionally, sensory play calms the brain, making it easier to focus and learn, and because there is no ‘right way’ to play, all children can feel successful.
Another development area that play with sensory bins can help develop is language. Natural conversations happen around a sensory bin as children describe what they and others are doing.
Also, adults can provide desirable and educational verbal cues to the children as they physically experience the sensory bin. Here are some examples:
- Location words: “I am pouring water into the bottle.” “You are pouring water out of the bottle!”
- Descriptors: “You have a big cup!” “The ice makes the water cold.”
- Action words: “Let’s stir the water with the spoon!” “I’m squeezing the play dough.”
- Following multi-part directions: “First put the food coloring in, and then stir.”
Sensory play can also develop cognitive concepts. Adults can help children improve their understanding of concepts by putting items of different colors/shapes/sizes by putting items of different colors/shapes/sizes in the bin, and then talking about them (“I have the blue cup, you have the red cup.” “Can you give me the largest funnel?”); math and problem solving (“I wonder how many tablespoons of rice it will take to fill up a half cup?”); and science (“What happens when ice cubes are put in warm water?”)
And finally, children’s basic motor skills are put to use with sensory play. Manipulating small items allows children to develop their fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination, with actions such as scooping and pouring, picking up small items with tongs or fingers, and squeezing play dough or a baster.
Children can play with the same items in different ways on different days. Watch their imaginations take off!
It can be tempting to buy the latest, greatest toy. But instead, save some money and walk into your kitchen – a world of wonder awaits children there!
Krista Shultz is a development specialist with Early Childhood CARES, which provides early intervention and early childhood special education services to Lane County children from birth to age 5. Call 541-346-2578 or 800-925-8694 to schedule a free screening in English or Spanish. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education.