While the Montessori approach prioritizes immersing children in the natural world, allowing them to feel the textures and observe the shapes around them, setting up a sensory table, while a somewhat artificial experience of materials offers plenty of benefits to children. Cause and effect, object permanence, fine motor skills, plus tactile exploration are all contained in the experience of using their hands and tools to manipulate the materials we offer them.
And for parents? Sensory bins invite our toddlers into periods of independent play.
Here are some sensory bin materials recommended by Monti Kids families.
Containers For Sensory Bins
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Setting up an activity, whether the focus is on scooping, pouring, or simply investigating, is made easier with a designated container or surface.
Depending on the materials you are offering, you might use:
- a large plastic container
- an empty drawer
- a baking tray
- a casserole dish
- the bathtub
- a cardboard box you receive in the mail
One Monti Kids subscriber shared this photo and suggestion with us.
Materials for Sensory Bins
Tactile experiences for your child can come in many forms. The everyday tasks of food preparation, gardening, and laundry all offer discovery opportunities as our little ones pick up new items and begin organizing information in their brains, such as the weight of a shirt compared to the weight of a glass of water.
If filling a bin with dry beans or rice feels intimidating, remember that a tote bag full of socks can be just as interesting as some of the exquisite set-ups you may see on Pinterest or Instagram.
For children who have a tendency to explore with their mouths, be sure to watch carefully and stay nearby to monitor.
Ready to try something new? Here are some sensory materials suggested by the Monti Kids learning team and current subscribers:
- Dry rice, beans, pasta or oats. Purchase a bulk amount such as this 10 lb bag of macaroni.
- Cotton balls or cotton pads. One Monti Kids mom says her child enjoys taking them apart.
- Water. It's free!
- Pom poms. These are easy to clean up and don't require much space.
- Natural materials such as leaves, flowers, and fragrant items like dried lavender. Dirt and sand are great for outdoor play, too!
- Fun ideas from the toy industry. These items are marketed especially for sensory bin-style play: gel beads, kinetic sand, sculpting dough
Accessories for Sensory Bins
So how do we play with all this stuff? Bare hands and fingers are excellent tools for the youngest toddlers, and as their motor skills mature, offering tools allows them to further refine the work they can do with their wrists and arms, laying the foundation for writing.
Tools that work well in sensory bins include:
- Scoops, such as those designed for bulk pantry ingredients
- Funnels of various sizes, for water play
- Tongs or kid-friendly "tweezers" for transferring cotton balls or pompoms from one container to another
- Sponges can be cut into smaller pieces for water play or used for an older child to self-correct spills during pouring activity.
- Ladles or wooden spoons for stirring
- Strainers with handles can scoop floating items, such as plastic blocks or cut-up sponges out of water
- Bowls of all sizes can be used inside a bin to contain or sort materials.
Tables for indoor and outdoor sensory activities
It's easy enough to simply place a bin on the floor, ground, or on a table for your child to use. However, if you have space for a dedicated sensory table, there are a few options.
- Specialty sensory table with removable bins. The IKEA "FLISAT" table is popular for this purpose. Follow the hashtag #flisatfun for inspiration to play using the FLISAT table!
- Outdoor table designed for sand or water.
- Repurposed chest of drawers
- DIY table made of a wood frame or PVC pipes into which a metal or plastic bin can be set.
Sensory bins can be a helpful addition to your at-home toolkit. Follow Monti Kids on Instagram for daily inspiration. We share engaging, child-powered activities from parents all over the world.
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