Winter is full of opportunities to engage your child’s senses. From the smell of cinnamon and hot chocolate to the sounds of jingle bells to the feeling of cold snow on their fingers, there are so many ways to take in the season. Take full advantage of all it has to offer with these easy and fun, winter sensory bin ideas for your little one.
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WHAT IS A SENSORY BIN?
A sensory bin is generally considered to be a container or “bin” of some sort filled with materials intentionally selected to stimulate a child’s senses. Sensory bins almost always engage a child’s tactile system (sense of touch), but often engage their auditory (hearing), visual (sight), olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) systems as well.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF USING SENSORY BINS?
In addition to meeting a developing child’s sensory needs, the following are some benefits of using sensory bins:
- Fine motor skills are improved as children grasp and manipulate small objects, scoop, pour, mix etc.
- Creative and critical thinking skills are enhanced as children receive this open invitation to explore, create and use their imaginations with the materials in front of them.
- Language skills develop as children describe their play experiences.
- Beginning science and math concepts are observed as children measure, experiment and see laws like cause and effect before their eyes.
- Focus, attention and independent play skills blossom as children are immersed in all the fun that sensory bins provide.
Winter Sensory Bin Ideas
1. Build a Snowman
Grab a few recyclable bottles, cotton balls and scraps of felt or fabric and let your child set to building a “snowman” or two with this bin (pictured above). For additional fine motor practice, set out a pair of kid friendly tongs and ask your child to fill up the bottles without touching the cotton balls with their hands!
2. Snow Dough
This 2-ingredient dough from The Natural Nurturer could not be any easier to prepare. Just combine 5 cups of baking soda with 1 cup of all natural conditioner – and voila – winter dough has arrived. Looking to add an all natural scent as well? Try a few drops of kid friendly essential oils! Set it out in a bin or tray with cookie cutters, kid-safe cutting tools etc.
3. Pom Pom Ice Cubes
This idea, inspired by The Paige Diaries, makes for some cold and colorful sensory fun. To make the ice cubes, simply stick a pom pom in each section of an ice cube tray. Then fill with water and let freeze as normal. Once ready, set them out with spoons, tongs and other utensils for your child to engage. Don’t have pom poms on hand? Try freezing legos, small toys, buttons, letters, etc.
4. Gift Wrap
Do you have leftover bows, ribbon and scraps of wrapping paper? If so, you have a sensory bin just waiting to be made! Toss in any and all of your odds and ends and combine them with other festive items like bells, pinecones, etc. Set out a pair of training or kid friendly scissors for you child to trim items as they wish. You could even encourage them to find tiny “gifts” to wrap.
5. All Natural Christmas
I feel like I can seriously just smell this bin from Paper and Glue right through the screen. To make this one, start with a base of dry red and white beans and split peas. Then, toss in items like pinecones, evergreen foilage, holly leaves, cranberries, etc. Feel free to kick it up a notch and take your little one outside to hunt for some of their own items to add in as well!
6. Cinnamon Rice
Speaking of smelling through the screen, is there anything that smells more like wintertime than cinnamon? This bin from Little Bins Little Hands incorporates the tried and true sensory bin filler of rice with the scents of the season. To make it: Put brown rice in a bag and add about 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 tablespoon of vanilla and a 1/2 tablespoon of water. Seal the bag and knead with your fingers. Spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry. Once ready, add it to a bin and toss in items like measuring cups, funnels and other utensils.
One of the ways we know winter has arrived in our home is that our nativity set makes it way under our tree. While a child-friendly nativity can encourage play on it’s own accord, it can also easily be turned into a sensory bin experience. I placed ours inside of a large bin with paper shreds from our office. My child enjoyed burying and finding the characters and placing the “hay” in the stable and manger for baby Jesus. No shredded paper? Use recyclable paper gift bag stuffing or even the real deal for your hay.
8. New Years
Save that paper from your Nativity bin and reuse it for New Years! Have any beads, party hats or kazoos from previous years? Toss those in the mix. Make you own DIY recycled confetti to add with scrap paper, envelopes from all of those holiday cards, etc. using this tutorial from Feast and West. Top it off by tossing in some numbers your child can put together representing the new year!
9. Hot Chocolate Cloud Dough
If you’ve never made cloud dough, you are in for a treat. It is simple to make with ingredients most people have on hand at home. And kids love it! For this hot chocolate cloud dough I used roughly 3 cups buckwheat flour (you can use regular, if not gluten-free), 3/4 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup cocoa powder. Massage all the ingredients together with your hands until the mixture holds together when squished. Add cotton balls (or real marshmallows), cinnamon sticks, mugs, ladles, etc. along with your dough to a bin.
If you live in an area where this is readily available, then take advantage of it! Playing in the snow can be an incredible sensory experience for kids. Get outside and make a snowman, snow angels or bring out your summer sand buckets and shovels and fill them up to make snow castles. Too cold to spend much time outdoors? Fill a bin with snow and bring the fun inside!
Looking for more sensory play ideas? Check out these posts:
15 Hands-On Letter Formation Activities
All Natural DIY Dirt Play Dough