Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care

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Learning Through Play With Sensory Bins


Welcome to our special guest-blogger: Allison Schultz! Allison and her children attend 4C Play & Learn groups. Thank you to Allison for sharing this story with us!

I’ve used sensory bins sporadically over the years—a tub of rocks for construction trucks, colorful shape buttons with dried beans for shape recognition—but it’s never been part of our daily rhythm. That’s my goal with these large sensory bins. I want to integrate them into our everyday activities. Sensory bins are a great tool for emotional regulation. If a child is overstimulated, moving their hands through something that is smooth, heavy, and cool to the touch can be a very calming and soothing experience. Adding in a simple activity can contribute to the grounding effect and also help children focus. My hope is to have sensory bin time throughout the day if my kids are getting overly wound up, whiny or grumpy, before nap time to wind down, and even as an alternative to time-out. I plan to switch out the theme and contents regularly to keep them engaged and also mix in other benefits, such as practice with scooping and pouring or learning about a particular topic.


Our current setup has my four-year-old and seven-month-old sitting across from each other with their boxes in between them. There’s a large, outdoor table cloth under both boys and their boxes to contain the mess. I chose short and wide tubs to create a large play area that is also low enough for my baby to reach. Each box is based on a book.

My four-year-old’s is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault for some extra letter practice. We made a coconut tree out of cans from our recycling bin and green fabric from a giant bag we no longer needed. I painted the cans brown, hot glued them together, cut the leaves out of the fabric, and hot glued those to the top. I added in our set of magnetic letters and a handful of acorns to serve as coconuts and voila! One of my favorite things about sensory boxes is repurposing items that would otherwise be trash or clutter. The giant bag was a gift wrap bag from Amazon; it covered a trampoline from my dad last Christmas and it was on its way to the trash after being stored for a year. The cans were obviously about to be recycled.  And the acorns had been sitting around in a jar after being picked up at the park by my son this fall. No, we’re not saving the earth one sensory box at a time, but I’d like to believe it also teaches the value of reducing waste and using what you already have!


My seven-month-old’s box is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I made more leaves from the same bag for the filler. It’s hard to find a filler that’s safe enough for babies, but fabric is usually a good option. We happened to have a pull along toy caterpillar that I put in, but closely supervise as it has a string attached. We also had a caterpillar magnifying glass I added; I guess we’re big Eric Carle fans! We have this great pretend food set from Learning Resources, so I chose a couple items in each color, some that matched the book, some that were just good for a baby to grab. I put in one of the baskets, as he’s at a good age for putting things in and out of containers. And lastly I put our small board book in.

Both boxes have been a huge hit! We’ve hidden letters in the rice and looked for them by name or by a word that begins with it. He has come up with games on his own, making them hide from a storm in the rice or telling each other to run up the tree. The caterpillar box is easy to transport as it’s not messy, so I’ve plopped it down in other rooms when I’ve needed to get a chore done. My oldest has requested sensory time often and they both enjoying sitting with each other, doing it as a shared activity.