5 Tips to Start Sensory Bins with Babies

If you are reading this post, you probably have an idea of what a sensory bin is; I post a ton of sensory bin ideas on Instagram showing different ways you can use them for learning through play. If you haven’t found me here through the gram, in short; it’s a bin/tub/container filled with materials to engage your child’s senses.  You can see loads of ideas here!

They certainly look very inviting; these beans are just calling out to be mixed up by little hands!  What does seeing this picture make you think?  Maybe you’re the type of person who is eager and ready to go, wondering “when can I start this??”

Or, you might be thinking “there is no way I can do this with my baby”.  I get it;  you’re afraid they will throw it all everywhere, afraid they will just put everything in their mouth, or afraid that for all the work you put into setting it up, they might not be engaged or interested.

Well friend, I’m here to help! Let me walk you through some tips on how you can start sensory bin play with your babies and make it a fun experience for both of you!

Before we get started I just wan to add that it is really important you are ready.  This may sound silly; but hear me out. Before I started my home daycare, I used to set up sensory bins for my other kids up at the table or counter so that my youngest, Henry, couldn’t reach. I just wasn’t ready to deal with all the mess and “teaching” him the rules and expectations of sensory bins. When the doors officially opened to my home daycare, I knew I was going to incorporate sensory bins in our play and I was ready. So my advice is if you don’t want to do it, you’re thinking “this is not for me, I have no desire to this now” then that is totally fine.  You shouldn’t feel pressured to be doing everything you see on Instagram or Pinterest (even though for some reason we sometimes think we should). So wanting to do this type of play, wanting to have fun with it, and knowing that it will probably get a bit messy comes first.  There are loads of benefits to sensory play, but I will admit, learning to embrace the mess can take time.

1. Find a location

The first thing you want to do now that you are eager and ready to go is to figure out a good location for this type play.  Do you have a high chair for your child you can bring up to the table so you can sit near them?  A bin on the floor works well too.  Just keep the type of flooring you have in mind as there will probably be some clean up involved afterwords.  One thing I have done in the past is to use an old towel or bedsheet on the ground to make clean up even easier.  Your child can sit on the ground, the bin can go on the ground; the bedsheet also prevents items such as chickpeas from rolling away on a hard floor.

2. Pick something taste safe

This is going to be important when doing sensory bins for little ones. Babies are still using their mouths to explore and you’re just going to have to be prepared for the fact that some of the items may go in their mouth. It’s all part of the learning process. The best place to start is your pantry! You could do dry items such as chick peas, beans, lentils, split peas, pasta. Or even try cooked spaghetti! Just note that cooked food items won’t last as long when played with; maybe a few days. Dried items on the other hand, you could put in a ziplock bag and store for later use.

3. Only a small amount

Once you have decided what you’re going to use for your sensory base, find a bin or a tray to use. You want something where the side are high enough so that when your child is exploring the items won’t bounce out everywhere. My big advice here is not to start with too much. You should have enough to cover the bottom of your tub and so your child can grab a handful of the sensory item.

4. Keep it simple

Don’t get too carried away with “accessories” at this point. There are soooo many gorgeous sensory bin ideas floating around out there, but your baby doesn’t need all that! A lot of the accessories, or add ins, that I would use to make a sensory bin for my older children wouldn’t be safe for babies. For example, I just love using sticks, rocks, jewels, and all sorts of other goodies to make “small world” set ups for the older kids. All of that just isn’t necessary for the younger ones; they won’t be engaging in small world play at this point, and those other items would be choking hazards.

So try just adding spoons, cups, and bowls to start. You will notice that they can just scoop and fill and dump FOREVER! Also, just running their little hands through the sensory bin will be fun in itself! Which brings me to my last piece of advice…

5. Model the desired behaviour

Sit down and play with your child. Some might be hesitant with a new experience; gently encourage them to help them feel comfortable. Show your little one what is expected. This means keeping the items IN the bin. Keep repeating it to them if they keep trying to take handful and throw the items on the floor (this is totally what Henry does by the way). Also discourage them from putting the items in their mouth; they will slowly get it! Show them how they can use the spoons to fill the cups, how they can transfer the beans from one cup to another, how they can gently whirl their hands around.

Hopefully now you are feeling a bit more confident to try this with your little one. Before you do, let me share my first experience with this type of play with the two babies in my care; ages 12 and 13 months. My child, Henry, is a bit of a wild child. On day 1 of the split pea sensory bin he was definitely intrigued. He explored them using his fingers, put them in his mouth a few times, really enjoyed filling the little bowls, and did such a great job keeping the split peas in the bin.

Well, after that first day all he wanted to do was throw the stuff all over the floor. Which he did if I turned my head for a second! I kept telling him IN the bin. Yet, he kept trying to throw the peas out and to eat them. So I would gave him a little break (by offering another activity to him) before letting him come back to join the rest of us. After doing this over and over quite a few times, he slowly got the hang of it. But, I HAD to have him on my lap and have my hand/arm right where his was to encourage him not to throw.


The other baby in my care was the complete opposite! With baby #2, once I told him a few times not to put the split peas in his mouth, he listened. He was so content sitting on a little stool, running his fingers through the peas, filling up the cups; he could do it for 45 minutes to an hour at a time!

These two children have very different personalities but it is possible to make it work with both of them. So give your child a chance; they may end up needing more guidance and sitting on your lap like Henry did. That is totally ok and normal for this age. Or you might have the most laid back child ever like baby #2!

If you are interested in more information such as what types of items to use for sensory play, subscribe to my email list here and you will receive monthly play prompts, tips and tricks, and will have access to free material to help you get started with sensory play!

Thanks loves and happy playing!

Katie

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