As a former preschool teacher, one of the things that was always a hit with the little ones in my classroom was sensory play. We happened to have a large sensory table that we would fill each week with something different, but you don’t need to get super fancy to make your own fun sensory play at home. Here are a few tips to make your own DIY sensory play area at home – it’s a great way for little ones to explore their environment and my daughter loves them!
Sensory Play 101
Sensory bins are a great way for children to explore and learn and it’s great for their development. Here are a few how-tos and supplies that you’ll need to make one yourself.
1. Find a bin
Some people use special sensory tables that can be filled up and adjusted to your child’s height, and while I found these to be great in a classroom setting with multiple children, I think plastic bins work just as well. I bought two of these from the grocery store. I would suggest choosing a bin that is fairly deep to help keep the materials inside.
2. Plan for a mess
The thing about sensory play that is a deterrent for many parents is that it’s messy and I’ll admit – it’s definitely messy. But, sometimes your little one needs to get messy to learn and explore. Just make sure to set up your bins in an area that is easy to clean up and you could also put a vinyl tablecloth underneath to contain things a little bit, which is what I do.
3. Choose your materials
Sensory tubs with tiny tots can be a little tricky, since many of the sensory materials used for older children can be potential choking hazards for younger children. We started out with a bean soup mix we got from the bulk bins. This is definitely a material that requires close supervision if your child is still putting everything into their mouths like mine, but it encourages you to join in with your child, which is more fun anyway. Other materials that are great options include: water, flour, rice, playdough, ooblek (water + cornstarch mixed), rocks, dirt, leaves, flower petals, etc. Get creative, but always supervise your child!
4. Choose your manipulatives
The manipulatives that you use in your sensory bin will be dependent on the material that you fill your bin with, but some great go-tos include: cups, bowls, cooking utensils, funnels, plastic animals, small rakes, etc. A really fun activity for sensory tubs is also “washing babies” – placing plastic baby dolls in the bins with soapy water and letting children give them a bath. They love it!
5. Let your child do their thing
It can be tempting to lead your child in their exploration of the sensory materials, but give them a chance to explore the materials on their own. You can, and should, definitely play alongside them, but try not to correct them as they decide how to use the materials (barring anything unsafe of course). They may prefer to chew on the whisk, rather than actually whisking with it, but this is how children learn through play, so give them the freedom to explore and have fun!