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Sensory Bins

May 21, 2019 by Angela Hansen

Sensory bins are plastic bins that are filled with various items. Typically, they include dried beans, dried rice, packing peanuts, sand, or water beads. Ideally if you can find a plastic bin with a lid on it, it will make clean up, storage, and transportation of the sensory bin that much easier.

Sensory bins provide sensory input to a child’s hand and upper extremities. In addition, items can be added to the sensory bins to work on specific goals.

For example,

  • To work on Sensory Play with a sensory bin hide items inside the bin (puzzle pieces, small toys, small figurines, Lego pieces, etc.) Next have your child close their eyes and feel around in the sensory bin until they find the hidden items. While doing this, children are receiving lots of sensory input to their hands and upper extremities while having to be aware of what they are touching and notice differences in the items in texture, shape, size, etc.
  • Fine motor skills are another area that can be addressed while playing in a sensory bin. To work on fine motor skills with a sensory bin, try the following:
    • Practice using a pincer grasp (thumb and index finger) to pick up items in the sensory bin as opposed to use a scooping fist grasp. By picking up different items with a pincer grasp, children are able to develop their fine motor coordination. Picking up item like dried beans, dried rice, and packing peanuts with a pincer grasp provide a good challenge. For an extra challenge, try picking up water beads with a pincer grasp as water beads are slippery and smooth and tend to easily slip out of our hands as we try to pick them up.
    • Practice scooping items up with a spoon. Practice using a spoon to scoop up the contents of the sensory bin and then practice spoon control by either slowly turning the spoon over to pour out the contents back into the sensory bin or by transferring the contents of the spoon to another container. Working on these skills with a spoon in a fun play setting will help the child when they are feeding themselves with a spoon.
  • Add an extra challenge to puzzles by hiding puzzle pieces inside the sensory bin. Now your child will get to practice the visual motor skills of putting together a puzzle, in addition to locating the pieces hidden inside the sensory bin.
  • To work on visual tracking and visual scanning hide some items in the sensory bin but leave part of them exposed and practice playing “I spy with my little eye.” This will help your child with their visual tracking and scanning as they need to visually scan the entire contents of the sensory bin to try and find the desired item.

The possibilities are truly endless with sensory bins. Give them a try and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your therapist.

Mike Jankowski, MS, OTR/L

Occupational Therapy Director


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