Sensory Bins: The How And Why

Sensory play is so important for our students.  That’s why we love having sensory bins in our classroom.  These sensory bins are one of the easiest,  most effective, and most engaging ways to learn and explore while using our senses.  I get asked about sensory bins a lot so today I wanted to share the why of having a sensory bin in your classroom and then give some tips on how to set up and use sensory bins.

What is a sensory bin?

A sensory bin is a tactile, hands-on learning experience for our students.  Sensory bins are in contained spaces such as a simple container like a Rubbermaid box or can be an actual sensory table.  In our classroom, our sensory bin is just a Rubbermaid container.  When thinking of containers for your sensory bins, you want something that is big enough for students to get their hands in and play and dig and scrape and dump without the filler materials falling out.   Just think about your classroom and the space you have and pick an appropriate size container!

Why do I need or want sensory bins in my class?

That’s an easy answer.  Sensory bins are fun, engaging, and easy to differentiate.  But they also offer a lot more than that.  Sensory bins are a great way to get the benefits of sensory play without a big mess!  And sensory bins are a fantastic way to incorporate fine motor skills into the classroom on a daily basis!

Sensory bins offer the kids a hands-on way to explore their world using their hands and senses!   Our sensory bins give the kids a chance to explore the world through different materials and fillers and textures!   Sensory bins can be calming for our students too!  There is something very soothing about running your hands through some confetti or rice!   Yeah…it even works for adults.  You never know when you’ll come into my room and see me running my hands through the sensory bin to calm and soothe myself!

Sensory bins offer a chance for our kids to play and be social.  They get to dig and play in different kinds of fillers and materials while talking to their friends about what they’re doing and what they’re feeling and experiencing.   Sensory bins also offer great language development experiences for our students, especially when they’re working with a friend!  The tactile learning allows for great conversations!

Sensory bins allow for differentiated practice or review of skills that we’ve learned.

And, for us grown-ups, sensory bins can offer us a creative outlet.  It’s a lot of fun to come up with ideas for fillers and themes for our sensory bins!  And what’s better than getting to be creative?

And most importantly sensory bins are FUN!!!

So now you know why you need sensory bins in your classroom….but how do you make it happen?!

How Do I Set Up  Sensory Bins In My Classroom?

We have a sensory bin for math and a sensory bin for literacy.  The sensory bins are a choice on our center wheel.  We allow 2 students at a time to work in the sensory bin.

Making your sensory bin is pretty easy!

   Here ya go:

Choose a container.

A Rubbermaid or similar-type container works great.

Choose a theme.

My sensory bin themes match what we’re doing in our class.  These themes are usually seasonal or holiday-related.   Think apples, Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter and snow, dinosaurs, space, ocean…your sensory bin can have any theme you want!

Choose filler to match the theme.

Filler can be anything that adds textures and sensory experiences to a sensory bin.  Some fillers we use are:  scented and colored rice and pasta,  confetti, floral moss, corn and birdseed with acorns, Epsom salt, and aquarium rocks.

Along with fillers, I like to add objects that create more sensory experiences.  A good example is our Happy New Year sensory bin.  The filler is confetti and we added in some mini disco balls.  This gives the students something to play with and interact with and opens up lots of conversation when at the sensory bin.

Add cards to incorporate the academic skills you want students to learn.

Our sensory bins provide a differentiated learning activity as well as the benefits of sensory play.  Here’s how our sensory bins are differentiated:

There is a set of cards in the bin.   These cards contain academic skills (literacy or math).  For example, it might a set of cards with letters.  That means students can work on letter recognition or beginning sounds.

The recording sheets show the student what skill they’re working on.  These use clipart to show students what to look for in the sensory bin.  They might be doing letter recognition or beginning sounds.  They might be doing numbers or counting with ten frames.

Make sure to grab our sensory bin activities for the year!  Over 500 pages of sensory bin activities!

What about the mess?

Will there be a mess?  Of course.  That’s half the fun!   I am a firm believer that the bigger the mess, the more we learn.  And we learn to clean up our mess.  We have expectations and procedures in place for the sensory bin.  The students know when we finish that they have to hide our cards for the next person.  We know to clean up anything that is spilled.   Accidents happen and we just fix them and move on.    They’re kids.  Let them get messy and dirty.  And then teach them to be responsible and clean up!

More sensory bin ideas and resources:

sensory bin fillers

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