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Winter is often a great time for slow and quiet indoor play activities that spark the imagination and provide some often much needed stimulation.
Seasonal sensory bins combined with small world play are a magical way to immerse and engage children in a theme or to extend a literacy experience.
Sensory bins are often created using shallow tubs, large trays, or other containers that are easy to reach into. Clear containers seem to work best, as they allow children to better see the contents. After choosing a container, various types of fillers are added as a base for play. Finally, themed props/figurines are placed in or around the bin for the children to creatively explore.
Sensory bins allow for open-ended play, which brings with it a low-stress and successful learning experience for children of all ability levels. A typical sensory bin play experience promotes creativity, critical thinking, fine motor skills, visual discrimination, categorizing/sorting, measurement, oral language development, and many other skills.
Small World Play is when a child uses their imagination, props, and small toys and figurines to create fantastic imaginary worlds and scenes for play and storytelling. This can be an added bonus to a sensory bin experience! The storytelling aspect of Small World Play fosters emotional and social growth in addition to the benefits of sensory bin exploration.
There are so many options for sensory bin fillers of various textures, density, states of matter, edibility, etc. Each filler type lends itself to a unique and stimulating sensory experience. When trying new fillers, gauge how your child reacts to each type, and base future sensory bin fillers on your child’s engagement and enjoyment.
Children can have surprisingly strong reactions to certain sensory activities. Some children are delighted by certain textures (rough, slimy, sticky, etc.), while others may find the same texture to be uncomfortable.
It is so fun to come up with sensory bin fillers and small world play prop ideas for each season. Peruse the lists below to get started on creating wonderful winter sensory bins:
Sensory bins are largely for free explorations and experimentation. The hands-on experience gives them a great deal of stimulating sensory input and an outlet for creative play and storytelling. Kids use sensory bins for pouring, scooping, measuring, burying/excavating, building, creating/retelling stories, etc.
In addition to free play, sensory bins can also be used for more specific learning activities. You can add letters and/or words to create literacy building activities (seasonal vocabulary cards can be used to match with items), numbers for math activities, many different props for sorting/graphing/counting, checklist for I spy to build visual discrimination, “recipe” cards for reading/sequencing/following directions, etc.
Some sensory bin fillers can be messy. The relatively quick tidying up time is worth it! There are so many positive benefits that outweigh the mess. Also, tidying up is a learning experience in and of itself. You can purchase small dust pans and brooms, tubs for water/soap and cleaning cloths, and spray bottles to help your child learn the art of cleaning up a mess.