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Homeschooling Fun: Sensory Bins

Some time ago, I noticed that Noah’s fine motor skills needed to be worked on, so I started making simple sensory bins for him to play with. The play options are endless, and I think it encourages him to use his imagination and creativity too, as he comes up with different ways to play with what I give him. You might have seen photos of him messing up the house exploring the different sensory bins that I prepared for him, if you follow me on Instagram and/or Dayre (@GrowingwiththeTans), and I thought I’d share a few of our favourites. Do note that Noah no longer puts random objects into his mouth, so these sensory bins are safe for him. If your child is still prone to taste-testing everything and anything he finds, I would recommend that you start with food-based fillers, such as rolled oats, instead of beans.

I started off with the largest beans I could find: black beans, because I figured they’d be easier to pick up, if he scattered them on the floor. I added some small plastic animals (from Toys”R”Us), and buried them partially, so that Noah could dig them up. I didn’t have a large enough container initially, and thought I’d make do with a large aluminium tray, but it was too easily damaged, and too shallow, which meant the beans ended up on the floor pretty quickly. I also gave him a disposable plastic spoon to scoop the beans with, and although it worked pretty well for the first few sensory bins, it snapped into two after Noah exerted too much force on it, so I gave him some sand play tools (from Daiso) instead, which are definitely safer.

First sensory bin


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Starting off carefully


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Scattering beans everywhere


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Noah really enjoyed his first sensory bin, and asked to play with it again the next day, so I set up the same one for him, and added some of his smaller construction vehicles (from Toys”R”Us) to it. He had a lot of fun loading up the dump truck!

Scooping and pouring = Happiness


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I then realised that I needed sturdier containers, and got a few from Ikea (the Trofast range is cheap and good). I thought it meant that there would be fewer messes, but I was clearly wrong. Noah had gotten used to the idea of playing with the beans, and his favourite activity for a period of time was scooping the beans out of the bin. The mess was crazy, but I told myself that it was all part of his learning process, and that I should allow him to experiment, as long as it was safe for him to do so. I also used the opportunity to teach him how to pack up the beans after he’s done (I store the beans in ziplock bags).

Cautiously playing initially


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The MESS!


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Learning to pack up the beans


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Most of the time, when Noah plays with the sensory bins, he wants me to play with him as well. On one such occasion, we started having dinosaur fights, which really amused him! (I got the small dinosaurs from Toys”R”Us.)

Dinosaur sensory bin


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Dinosaur fight!


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I found some miniature toy soldiers from my neighbourhood bookshop, and thought it might be fun to set up a “battle scene” for Noah. I used green beans this time round, to see how he would handle the much smaller beans, and also, I admit, for the colour. After a while, I gave him a small bottle, and asked him to try filling it up with the green beans.

Ready for war?


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Working on his hand-eye coordination


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I mixed black-eyed beans, red beans, and green beans together for another sensory bin, so that there would be different sizes for him to touch and hopefully, learn to differentiate. I added the usual animals and sand play tools, as well as some bottle caps, so that he could use them as feeding troughs for the animals. Noah doesn’t like sand, so when he was done playing with this sensory bin, I asked him to climb into it after we picked out all the animals and bottle caps, to see how he would react to it. The beans are a lot bigger than sand, of course, and although he was quite tickled by the experience initially, he started whining to come out of the bin after a while, declaring, “Don’t like!”

Mixed beans


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Unsure if he likes sitting on the beans


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After a few rounds of playing with beans, I decided to mix things up a little by throwing random items together in the bin for him. There were plastic bottle caps, pom-pom balls (from Spotlight and Daiso), bean bags (from Spring Maternity), zippers, wooden pegs, sand play tools, and even a small dump truck (all from Daiso). My aim was to let him work on his fine motor skills with the zippers and wooden pegs, but he wasn’t too keen on those, unfortunately. I’ve also given him a bin full of scrap paper before, thinking that he would love tearing everything up, but he had absolutely no interest in it, and walked away after less than a minute, which explains the lack of photos for that one!

Random sensory bin


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I found a fishing set at Daiso (gotta love that place!) and decided to let him try fishing in water, since he already had experience fishing on dry land, with my DIY fishing game. After he was done fishing, I added some water beads (also from Daiso, in the gardening section) and small toy sharks (from Toys”R”Us), then gave him some sand play tools, to create a water-based sensory bin. Everything was done in the toilet, as I didn’t think it would be fun for me to clean up huge amounts of water in my living room. Noah really enjoyed this one, and spent quite some time splashing the water around while he played with the sensory bin.

Fishing


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After the success of the water-based sensory bin, I froze his small sharks in large ice cube trays, in preparation for the next round. Daiso has these capsules with animal-shaped sponges inside, which I thought would fascinate Noah when the capsule dissolved to release the sponges. I also added some foam letters, since we were working on the alphabet. The water beads were a huge hit with Noah previously, so they had to be added as well. Noah was intrigued by the ice, and kept trying to get the sharks out from them. It was a good way for me to show him how to melt the ice, and he had fun pouring water over them, and holding them in his hands for as long as possible.

Frozen


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Capsules


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Just add water!


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Capsule floating in the water (Warm water works better for this)


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Playing


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Trying to melt the ice


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Found the sponge animal!


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It’s more fun sitting on the wet floor


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There’s no one way to create a sensory bin, so go ahead and use whatever you think might work! It’s a fun way to introduce different things and concepts to children, and I love that Noah can be entertained for quite a while by these sensory bins.

PS. More sensory bin ideas here and here!

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