Teaching my kids to play with sensory bins has saved my sanity.
What’s inside this post: Tips and tricks for introducing sensory bins to toddlers and teaching them how to appropriately play with them.
The first time I tried a sensory bin with my son was a disaster.
I dumped a giant bag of rice into a plastic container, set it on the floor of my house and gave my then 22 month old this “Well, play with it” kind of look.
It didn’t work. At all.
He played for about 3 minutes and dumped rice everywhere.
This was not the Pinterest-worthy, Mom of the Year toddler activity I was going for.
I wanted him to play nicely for minutes upon minutes. I wanted the mess to stay contained. I wanted to sit back, sip my coffee and get a little break.
Picking rice out of my carpet was not what I had in mind.
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I was missing a key piece to my sensory bin play that day and I’ve since learned the secret to long lasting, (semi)tidy sensory fun:
I’ve learned that you have to “train” toddlers how to do sensory bins.
You also have to train yourself.
Sensory bins can be a beautifully easy toddler activity once your child has learned how to interact with them (and, no offense, you’ve learned how to manage them).
Here’s the truth that no one ever talks about:
You have to teach your toddler how to play with sensory bins. This isn’t something they’re born knowing how to do.
Learning to play with sensory bins is kind of like teaching a toddler to eat. Eating is messy at first, but you teach, you lay out ground rules, you build boundaries and one day, you realize you aren’t scraping spaghetti off the ceiling anymore.
My son started with sensory bins at 22 months old and had them mastered by 24 months old. My daughter started her training at 16 months old and was a sensory bin pro at 20 months old.
My kids aren’t perfect, but they are pretty awesome at playing with sensory bins and keeping them (relatively) clean. It didn’t happen over night or by accident.
My tips for introducing sensory bins to toddlers and teaching them how to play appropriately with them.
Start simple. Make your first sensory bin a simple sensory bin. I’d suggest starting with rice. Rice is edible (wink) and vacuums easily. It’s low commitment if things go south.
Accept that it’s going to go south. Just accept it right now. The first few times and when they are young, they will make a mess. Remember, this is a lot like when you introduced food – it was messy at first. Keyword: was.
My job as Mom is to teach them to limit that mess. Small sloshes of rice is fine; dumping the entire tub of rice on the carpet is not acceptable. I draw the line at intentional pouring (wink).
“I giveth and I taketh away-eth”. Do not be afraid to take away a sensory bin. In fact, I’d encourage you to take the bin away when things get crazy to set some boundaries. Sensory Bin Time Outs are a real thing at my house.
My rules: We do not eat our sensory bins. We do not dump our sensory bins. Both of those rules (aka the only real sensory bin rules) are non-negotiable.
I usually give one warning or reminder. After that, I take the bin away. I always put my bins together inside a giant under the bed storage tub. Keeps things tidy and makes for a quick removal.
I put the bin in “time out” for a few minutes. Then we try again. I repeat the same phrase over and over “We do not eat our sensory bins. We do not dump our sensory bins.”
Rome and sensory bin etiquette are not built in a day. This will take time. But every try and every chance to play with the bins, my kids got better and better. Yours will too. You don’t need to try every day but every now and then is great.
Give the toddlers a large area to play. I always make my sensory bins in a large under the bed storage bin so they have room to work. This helps keep the materials in bounds and off my floor.
Keep the mess under control. See the above rules on sensory bins – my kids know I will take the bin away. They know Mom does not want rice or shredded paper or beans on her floor. They get it. Even at 20 months, they get it.
Don’t start with something messy. Set yourself up for success as you begin the sensory bin adventure. Jell-O is so much fun to play with but maybe not the best until you’ve got your sensory bins skills now.
For messy sensory bins (like Jell-O or Oobleck), I set the bin on a shower curtain liner – kind of like a makeshift toddler tarp. It’s machine washable and works great.
Have a few key supplies. You don’t need a ton of supplies to make sensory bins a hit, but you do need the right supplies. Check out my list of sensory bin basics that I keep in my house.
Always supervise.It goes without saying: sensory bins should always be closely supervised.
Looking for some sensory bin suggestions to get started with?
Try one of these:
- Rice Bin
- Pouring Station
- Scooping Station
- Scoop and Transfer
- Bean Pool
- Pom Pom Pouring Station
- Scooping Rice
Don’t let sensory bins scare you! A little teaching and the right supplies can make sensory bins your go-to toddler activity too.
Will you try a sensory bin with your toddler?