You may have noticed that the sensory bin is frequently the most popular station at LEAP. Luckily it's also a pretty easy activity to put together, as long as you have a place where it's ok to get a little messy. The basic setup requires some kind of bin, a natural substrate, and various tools to manipulate the substrate. The bin could be something large like the one we have at LEAP or it can be something smaller like a bucket or a large bowl. Substrates can obviously vary a whole lot, but the most important considerations for us are that it is something safe and some kind of natural material. But from there you can go as simple or creative as you want, and the kids will probably love it either way! Let's take a look back at some of the substrates we used during this LEAP series and how you can use them at home.
The colored rice was a big hit last week! Dry rice is such a great substrate because it's small enough to be raked and scooped and poured, but it feels different than something more familiar like sand. It's also pretty cheap and available, and can last almost forever if stored in a sealed container. It is also a versatile material that can be easily colored and scented to change it up. Dying rice simply requires you to mix the rice with food dye and vinegar, shake it up, and then let the rice sit out for a day or so to let the vinegar dry off. To make scented rice, you can use extracts or even kool aid packets (for color and scent together) to make anything from seasonal to calming scents. The proportions for all this do not need to be exact, and the amounts will vary depending on how much rice you are dying, so there are plenty of basic recipes out there you can check out, but we've found some great recipes on the Growing a Jeweled Rose blog.
Water is a simple, but important material. Playing and experimenting with water helps kids to begin to understand how liquids work, plus it's always fun and popular. There is also so much you can do with adding other items to water. For our first LEAP class, we had some big plant stems, gems and rocks in the water bin, so it was more of a river habitat for the kids to hide and discover things within the plants. The next time we used water, as pictured above, we used things like sponges, strainers and shells. This allowed them experiment with how all these materials hold, absorb, or release water. So it's important to think about what tools and objects will be interesting with whatever substrate you are providing.
Dirt is another classic nature play substrate. There are so many different tools and objects you can put in with dirt to create different habitats or encourage different play. We often like to include rocks, sticks, and pieces of wood to go along with a forest theme. Including plastic animals can also be fun to make the connection with habitats and types of animals that might burrow and hide in dirt. You can also create a space to plant flowers, real or fake. And the shovels, hoes and rakes are especially fun when you can really dig in the dirt. We generally buy organic dirt for sensory bins so that there are no added chemicals or fertilizers. If you have an outdoor space that you can devote to just digging and playing in the dirt, that's even better!
Plenty of other materials make for great sensory bin substrates, and it's all up to your own creativity and ideas from the internet. We recently used pumpkin guts, and that just took digging out the pumpkin innards and scooping out the inside flesh of the pumpkin, but it was a different and cool texture compared to other things we had used.
We've also used various types of seeds and things in the past, like corn kernels, beans, flax seed and bird seed. Dry pasta is another fun item with different textures and shapes, and it can also be dyed. One of my favorite materials is a things called cloud dough, and it is a mixture of flour and baby oil that makes for a soft material that can also be shaped and molded.
As you can see, there are so many ways to create your own sensory bin at home, and much of it can be done with materials found around the house and some good tools and objects to play with and manipulate. Last, but not least, I want to mention sand as another classic sensory bin substrate that is always a hit with the kids. I mean, sensory bins are just elaborating on the concept of a sandbox anyway, right?