Okay, here’s the thing: sensory bins, as a rule, tend to be messy. They just are. They contain small materials that have the potential to get everywhere, including several that may be found carpet weeks later. If they don’t contain small pieces, they likely contain bigger ones that are going to take up more room than you can possibly find in your living room…or, conversely, some messy, squishy substance that will be everywhere in a matter of minutes and take forever to get clean again. It’s so much easier to provide kids with sensory bottles, sensory bags, or other well-contained sensory activities that don’t require a massive cleanup afterwards.
On the other hand, sensory bins—messes and all—have some advantages that you might not have considered….
They can keep kids entertained for a long time.
Every time you pull out a new one, you have the potential to see a great deal of semi-supervised playtime. Obviously, toddlers should be supervised to make sure that they don’t eat something they shouldn’t or paint the walls with a substance that will never come clean again, but they don’t necessarily need constant input from an adult, either. In fact, with a few measuring cups and a couple of spoons in a bin, you could well not need another form of entertainment for an hour or more.
Obviously, this is dependent on your child’s attention span, and some children will be better entertained by an activity than others. However, it’s not just for little ones–even big kids may be fascinated by sensory materials.
They encourage fine motor skills.
Sorting, sifting, and measuring are great skills for a child to have, and practicing those skills in a fun environment is of enormous benefit to them.
They can be made with materials you already have on hand.
Almost every household has a bag of slow-cooking rice or beans sitting around somewhere, often one that has been in the cabinet for so long that it’s no longer what you would consider edible. Add a few lids (cooking spray or hairspray are great for this, even if you pop them off of the ones sitting in the cabinet instead of remembering to save them ahead of time), some measuring cups or spoons out of your kitchen drawers, and watch magic happen!
Your child gets to explore.
Maybe you buried goodies in the rice or beans for your child to hunt through, or maybe they just like squishing their toes (or their entire bodies) into the bin; but whatever they prefer, they’re experiencing something that they might not otherwise be able to. On an even brighter note, this might prevent them from scattering the beans, rice, or shaving cream that you actually intend to use across the house when they’re a little bit older.
You get to explore, too.
Have you ever just wanted to dig into a bag of beans, or squish your fingers in the shaving cream just because you can? Ever fingerpainted with shaving cream or hair gel on your shower wall, knowing that the water would wash away the evidence anyway? If you’re playing with your child, it’s just good, old-fashioned quality time—but you still get to enjoy it, too!