What is a sensory bin?
A sensory bin is a large container filled with materials that a child can experience in a tactile way. Sensory bings can be filled with lots of different materials – anything from water to sand, rice, or even dry beans.
Today I’m going to go over the basics for setting up a rice sensory bin.
Setting up a rice sensory bin for a toddler is quick, simple, and worth the 5 minutes it takes to get it up and running.
There are lots of cool ideas for sensory bins for toddlers – some more elaborate than others. I like anything that I can throw together using the materials I already have on hand at home. Nothing fancy!
When putting my bin together I wanted to make sure I had a container that was not going to be hazardous if my 14-month-old tried to eat the contents. (This is my 3rd child, but the first of my kids who has been really intent on shoving anything she can get her hands on into her mouth. She reminds me of myself at an Indian buffet that way).
This past Easter, I looked away briefly to find that she had gotten ahold of her brother’s jelly beans – and not the small Jelly Belly kind, but the super cheap, giant, generic kind you get at the convenience store.
And then I noticed that her cheeks were full, like a baby chipmunk. Want to venture a guess as to how many jelly beans she had in her mouth?
She had eleven jelly beans shoved into her mouth. I share this to make you feel better about your own parenting, and also to relay why it’s essential that her sensory bins don’t have anything she might really want to eat.
I decided to go with a simple rice sensory bin.
Rice is easy to vacuum up if there’s a spill (and obviously there will be a spill). Messier sensory bins can also be great, especially outside. But a rice bin works well if you want to avoid anything too messy, and you want to use the bin in the house.
It’s important for your toddler to learn how to handle a sensory bin properly. The two crucial rules are:
- Don’t eat it
- Don’t dump it out
Toddlers require patience and a lot of repetition before they’re ever going to internalize rules that are so “oppressive” and “limiting their freedom as toddlers.” Ahem. So, you can expect messes to happen. That being said, it’s important to reinforce the rules as best you can so that your toddler will learn how to handle the bins correctly over time. Eventually, your persistence should pay off. I can’t guarantee any particular results here, because with three kids of my own I know how different children are! Some are more naturally…..how do I say this nicely……destructive than others.
In any event, keep an eye on your kid, and be prepared for some messes.
Setting up the Sensory Bin
I used a plastic clothes bin for our rice sensory bin. I like this option because it has a lid that simply snaps into place when you’re done. It’s sturdy, and large enough without being too deep for a toddler. You want a bin that’s deep enough to easily hold materials, but not so deep that your kid is going to fall head first into it and get stuck.
When I want to change out the rice for another material (like water beads), it will be easy to dump out the rice and store it in a separate container. That way it can be used again when it’s time to cycle it back into rotation.
I would highly suggest getting a cheap plastic tablecloth to put under your sensory bin. Lots of rice will spill over the sides, and although it’s easy enough to vacuum it up, it’s also nice to be able to just gather it together in the table cloth and dump it back into the bin so you don’t waste a lot!
What to include in your rice sensory bin
You don’t need much at all for your sensory bin – just a few simple items to keep your toddler busy and engaged.
Here are some suggestions for what to include in your bin:
- Rice! (Clearly)
- Small containers
- Cookie cutters (as long as the edges aren’t sharp)
- Empty ice cube trays
- Toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls
Having a few simple objects in the bin will let your child have a chance to move the rice around – dumping it into and out of containers, mixing it with a spoon, filling cups or trays, etc.
My 3-year-old and 1-year-old like to play with the bin together sometimes, so it’s important to have enough supplies for both of them.
Sensory bins are great for many reasons.
Tactile learning, fine motor development, independent play, exploring schemas, working on self-control, even developing life skills – these are all benefits children get from working with sensory bins.
Toddlers learn how to complete various tasks through play schemas. This is a natural part of child development, and one that you can support through the materials you have available for play.
One play schema you’ll probably notice your toddler engaging in is the transporting schema. Toddlers love to move objects from one place to another. You might want to try having two separate bins of rice available, and let your child explore moving the rice from one bin to the other!
Yes there will be a bit of a mess, which is why the tablecloth is handy.
Your toddler might also want to put the rice in a cup and then dump it back into the bin. This is the trajectory schema in action! (And it’s the reason babies love to hurl food to the floor, which as a parent I’m sure you love and appreciate).
Just know that the messes your child is making are all part of a very healthy and normal developmental process, and that they are learning through their play.
I hope you have fun with your rice sensory bin! And by “fun” I mean that I hope you get at least a few minutes of peace and the chance to finish your coffee.
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