Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tot School: Our First Sensory Bin!

Inspired by 1+1+1=1's sensory bins, plus the fact that the sensory table was Z's favorite station at preschool, I decided to make a sensory bin at home. Plus hopefully it will help reinforce phonics and letters, which she refuses to participate with or learn from me. But if she knows that everything in the box starts with a 'D,' say, and says the words out loud as she plays with them, eventually we could graduate to sorting out items that don't belong. (Right now, when looking at a group of 4 items, say a dog, a snake, a rock and a dinosaur; and asking her which ones start with a "duh, duh" sound, then saying each name, she'll confirm that they all start with "duh." Until I put an actual "duh" sound at the beginning. "Oh, so it's a Dnake?" Frustrating. Sadly, I'm not a very patient teacher. Plus she usually just rolls her eyes at me and throws random answers without thinking whenever I ask her anything educational. Seriously. This kid refuses to learn directly from me.)

The Dollar Tree has cheap bins, but I wanted something a little sturdier, so I sprung for the $2.50 one at Winco. They had a $5 one with a lid, which I am now kicking myself for not buying, since it would make clean-up and storage so much easier. But it wasn't the thick Rubbermaid-type rubber. Ah well. I found 4-lb bags of pinto beans fairly cheap, so I got 2. Turns out I only needed 1. So make a note. 4 pounds of beans is perfect for these bins!

Fred Meyer has tubes of plastic animals on an endcap in their toy section for $1 each. I got frogs, insects, dinosaurs, farm animals and sea animals. Plus Dollar Tree has baggies of lizards, snakes, bugs and such periodically as well. I also found a basket of seashells at Dollar Tree, and a baggie of Autumn-colored gems. I got travel Scrabble and Rummikub games cheap at garage sales to scavenge for number and letter tiles. I also had a set of foam magnet lowercase letters, and small plastic cheapie uppercase. Plus various Melissa and Doug (and cheapie generics) shaped wooden magnets with pictures (MandD has a nice set of letter ones too, uppers and lowers!) And cookie cutters and molds from her Play-Doh sets. Somewhere we have tweezers, and I found a fun child-size spaghetti scoop in a Sneaky Chef Lotsa Pasta recipe/cooking set that is perfect for scooping and sifting with these beans.

She chose a "D" and dinosaur theme to start with, which was fairly easy, since I knew I only had the one packet of plastic dinos, so I only had to sift through her magnets to find some D's. She saw the baggie of Autumn-colored gems, and wanted to play with those too, so I decided to just let her, even though they didn't go with the theme, since this was our first attempt at a "lesson" using her toys. Then it occurred to me that they could be diamonds! (Yeah, yeah. I know. Wrong color. Sue me.) I also tossed in some silicone mini muffin liners from World Market ($3/12) to sort things into.
So she Dug for Dinosaurs, Diamonds and big and little D letters (she was confused, since the "little D's" were actually larger than the "big D's." I'll have to start calling them uppercase and lowercase) and put them into silcone Dishes. [I was actually a little pleased with myself for that one. Another "D."]

While she played, I scavenged in her Play-Doh tools bin and plastic animals sets for dolphin, duck and dog animals, cutters and molds, to reinforce the letter D tomorrow. Naturally, she had to add in all the new friends, so now I'll have to sort them all out again. Bleh. They all gathered around the dishes of "food" (beans and 'diamonds') on a tray I got out to keep the beans off the floor.

Now, all the homeschool blogs I read, with their sensory bins, have other lesson plans. Tracing letters, cutting exercises, sorting activities, maybe even a book to go along with the theme. Well. I'm not that organized. I'm just getting started, so this is all you get... for now. I did just get Danny and the Dinosaur at the thrift store, so we read that (a few times!)
Danny and the Dinosaur 50th Anniversary Box Set (I Can Read Book 1)
Bin: $2.50, Beans: $3.50-$4.50 (I forget,) Dinosaurs: $1, Gems: $1, Magnet letters, silicone dishes and scoop already had: free (should be easy to scavenge similar items from around the house, if you want to try this. One of those spoons for spaghetti with wooden pegs sticking out (like a hairbrush, almost) might be fun too, for the beans to carom around between the pegs.) Total: $9 (used higher estimate on the beans.) and the bin and beans can be re-used with other themes as well. So just $2 for bin-specific items. And the gems weren't even originally FOR this. But I can use them for color themes (orange, red and yellow,) G for gem, J for jewel, and Autumn theme. Even a Princess theme.
Remember: a packet of farm animals can be good for A: Animals, F: Farm, or split up for other themes, like C: cow, D: duck, H: horse, etc! Ducks can go with birds for a B: Bird theme, they can be used to sort mammals from birds from amphibians later on too! And eventually you can toss in things that don't belong, so they can use reasoning and thinking skills to decide why a duck shouldn't be in the F-themed or Ocean-themed boxes. (Or justify why it SHOULD! "Ducks have F-feathers!")

I highly recommend the free printables and lesson ideas from 1+1+1=1 (be sure to check out the Tot Books and Tot Packs!) and Totally Tots. Really leaves almost no work for me to come up with lessons and activities, if only I would actually get around to doing them! There's even a dinosaur theme Tot Book, Tot Pack and links to dinosaur-themed lesson posts! It's like I don't even need to show up! (On the Totally Tots site, just enter 'dinosaur' into the search box for some more fun lesson and craft ideas!)

I plan on linking this up to Sunday's Tot School linky
Tot School
and JDaniel4's Mom's Read. Explore. Learn linky on Friday

Shibley Smiles


  1. What a great bin! R's first sensory bin was a bin of beans. He might have been two, and I just gave him this big bin of beans. He loved it. It was his favorite activity, and as a two year old, he would sit and play in it for literally hours. I let him bring whatever into it. It changed constantly. Like you, now that he's older I've been trying to incorporate a theme. I love the phonics idea! Great job!

  2. Thanks! I was getting so frustrated at preschool (it's a co-op, so I was there the whole time) because she'd never make crafts (unless they were the lame ones I wouldn't have bothered keeping anyway, darnit,) and just spent most of her time at the sensory table. The other times were at the play-doh table. With very brief, very rare stop-offs if the pretend play area had a nice theme that day. But there's no sense fighting fate, and I'd rather have her scatter... I mean play with beans for an hour while I shower and [check my Farmville] get ready to go, than watch TV shows. I found some cheap fabric leaves at Oriental Trading Company for Fall, and can't wait to find more stuff to use instead of beans (the bulk dried corn was really small, so I'll keep looking.) Rice is more than I'm willing to clean up, but somewhere I have a lifetime supply of glass drop beads (like for fish tanks) which would be fun.

  3. Thanks for linking to Read.Explore.Learn. This counts are an entry in the June Edition of Read.Explore.Learn. Reading Challenge.

    I love this book and the activity bin you made.

  4. Sensory bins are a lot of fun. We currently have a garden bin.

    Just popping in from tot school.

  5. We just did our first bin this week too. We did red white and blue rice. The girls (and their big brothers) love it!

  6. Just so you know I was very slow to jump on the sensory bin wagon and I began with buckets of just beans and spoons. I have only been creative with my bins for about the last year or so and I got revved up when I saw how much my kids enjoyed them. It inspired me to be even more creative with them!!! But I was a total slacker in the beginning. ;-)

    I think your bin rocks!

  7. What a great idea! My daughter starts kindergarten this fall and I'm trying to work with her over the summer on her words and, oh boy! Talk about frustrating! She doesn't want to learn anything from me either. She'll be sounding out the word "but" and then just start guessing at it. Snake? Not quite!

    My 3 year old would LOVE the sensory bin!


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