Sensory play is such a huge part of play based learning for preschoolers, but with the current COVID situation there are understandably many concerns about sharing sensory materials in preschools. Granted this solution does not have the same wide-ranging and open-ended benefits such as collaboration and problem solving which whole-class sensory bins have, but I feel passionately that they still have a lot to offer for preschool-aged children. This idea of smaller-sized individual sensory bins is also a great option for preschool at home families.

I decided to put together five different themed mini sensory bins using Learning Resources counters and fine motor tools, a range of affordable loose parts and dishes from the Dollar Tree, as well as a sensory base. The containers used are Teaching Tree Colored Storage Containers from the Dollar Tree (size- 10.875 x 7.875 x 2 inches). For each sensory bin I have included the exact materials as well as some details about how my 3 year old played with the set up.

 

Fruit Garden Bin

 

Materials needed:

  • Fruity Fun Counters
  • ‘Dirt’ cloud dough (mix 2 cups all purpose flour, ¼ cup cocoa powder and ¼ cup vegetable oil and then crumble the mixture together by hand)
  • Primary Science Jumbo Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers
  • 6 compartment paint tray
  • One small dish with pony beads and tiny gems, the other with white pebbles

If you’ve never experienced cloud dough before then it is a really neat sensory base which is soft and crumbly, but can also be formed into shapes when compacted down. The first thing my preschooler did with this bin was to bury all of the fruit counters under the dirt so that they could grow.

This is a really inviting bin for little hands to explore. My daughter also spent time burying the beads, pretending that they were the seeds for the big pieces of fruit. I can also imagine how some kids might like to use the pebbles to create a little fruit garden wall.

 

Under the Sea Bin

 

Materials needed:

  • Under the Sea Ocean Counters
  • Rice dyed blue (simply put 3-4 cups of rice in a zip lock bag, add approx. 4-5 drops of blue food coloring and a little squirt of white vinegar and mix it all together, then pour onto a baking sheet covered in foil to dry for several hours)
  • Primary Science Jumbo Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers
  • 6 compartment paint tray
  • One small dish with seashells, the other with blue glass pebbles

Colored rice is one of the easiest sensory bases to prep and it lasts forever! My preschooler loved making the ocean counters swim through the rice ‘water’. She also challenged herself by using the Jumbo Tweezers to move the counters around. 

Of all the bins this was probably the one she engaged with most. She was so creative with her play, especially when it came to pretending that the stingray and shark were ‘meanies’ who were after the other sea creatures. She emptied the two dishes and used them to keep the other sea creatures safe from the ‘meanies’. So much imagination and creativity!

 

Jungle Fun Bin

 

Materials needed:

  • Wild About Animals Jungle Counters
  • Split peas (one 2lb bag)
  • Primary Science Jumbo Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers
  • 6 compartment paint tray
  • One small dish with rocks, the other with green glass pebbles
  • Small log slice

These little jungle characters are perfect for a mini sensory bin because they still seemed to have so much personality in my daughter’s eyes. She enthusiastically made all of their sounds as they moved around their ‘jungle’. She enjoyed making the hippo the big boss and stood it on the log, ordering all the other animals around.

My preschooler also enjoyed using the Squeezy Tweezers to scoop up the split peas and fill the paint tray compartments with ‘grass’. Each little animal had their own grassy home, although the alligator prefered the relax on the rocks apparently. A fine motor tool like this adds the perfect opportunity to develop hand muscle strength, ready to assist with writing skills when required.

 

Rainbow Family Bin

 

Materials needed:

  • All About Me Family Counters
  • Rainbow rice (I took this filler from a large batch of different colored rice I had made, adding different colors of food coloring to one cup of rice along with a small squirt of white vinegar and then leaving it to dry on foil for a few hours)
  • Primary Science Jumbo Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers
  • 6 compartment paint tray
  • One small dish with pony beads and tiny gems, the other with neon pom poms

These family counters always ignite such incredible levels of imaginative play in my 3 year old. She especially loves giving them voices and making them have little playdates together. She enjoyed walking them through the rice to visit each other and play together.

One of her favorite things to do with this bin was to sort the pom poms into the paint tray. This was a great way to develop fine motor skills as well as lots of counting practice. There was also a running commentary on the colors she was adding to the tray.

 

Dino Land Bin

 

Materials needed:

  • Back in Time Dinosaur Counters
  • Split peas and black eyed beans (1 lb of each)
  • Primary Science Jumbo Tweezers and Squeezy Tweezers
  • 6 compartment paint tray
  • One small dish with rocks, the other with green glass pebbles
  • Small log slice

Dinosaurs are always a fun sensory bin theme because they are such magical creatures to children. My daughter had lots of fun exploring the different types of dinosaurs, and I had even more fun listening to her trying to repeat the names!

The rocks were a perfect fit for the sorting tray. She spent a long time counting them in and then she would take one out and tell me how many she had. She also experimented with balancing the dinosaurs on the rocks which was good for problem solving and patience!

Whether you are looking for sensory play and small world options at home or in the classroom, these mini bins are a great option. I love that they can be closed up and stored easily, whilst still being easily accessible for the kids to enjoy. The counters come in large packs so it isn’t too expensive to make a class set, and all of the loose parts you can find for a dollar at the Dollar Tree. I think that sensory play is such an important part of a preschoolers day. From fine motor skills, to vocabulary development, to counting skills, to role play, the skills which can be developed are endless. Which themed bin would your kids love most?