I knew when I traded in my almost 5-year elementary teaching profession to be a full-time stay at home mom, I wanted to incorporate various activities into our weekly routine so that my then baby would have a lot of opportunities to learn, explore, and grow. I started introducing sensory bins and activities to her when she was 6 months old and since then, I have found myself enjoying putting together new things for her to explore and utilize various fine and gross motor skills as well.
Below I have listed 8 activities that are perfect for your babies and toddlers because they are easy to do and low cost. They are also perfect for your older child(ren) who need a little something extra to focus on when the new baby arrives! With the younger ones, be mindful of what you use that may go into their mouth! Also, some of these activities can be messy which I have indicated with each activity. I recommend doing the extra messy ones outside where cleanup can be a breeze or pick up a really cheap plastic/vinyl tablecloth that can be thrown away with the mess. A lot of the items you may want for a sensory bin can all mostly be found lying around your house, but the Dollar Store is also a great place to pick up items for cheap!
These are all tested, and kiddo approved by my toddler!
For most of the activities you will need some sort of bin that is the perfect height for little hands.
Sensory Soup /Sink Play
Any time we have water involved; it is sure to be a fun time! Fill up your bin, or sink, with some water and add objects that go along with a theme. You can do a citrus theme with lemons and oranges, a color theme by adding a few drops of color to the water and adding objects with the same color, a nature soup with various objects from nature (twigs, grass, flowers, etc.). Give them some kitchen tools like a soup ladle, bowls, and spoons to add to the fun and creativity.
Mess level 2/3
Themed Sensory Bins
These will be similar to what you do above except eliminates the water. The medium you use to fill your bin can be anything— dried beans, popcorn kernels, sand, dirt, rice, flour, water beads. You will want to consider the age of your child and how they do with putting things in their mouth. After you pick your medium, choose your theme. For example, I like to do farm animals with the popcorn kernels, or I have made an edible dirt and added plastic bugs, magnifying glass, etc.
Mess level 1/3 – 3/3 depending on which medium you choose.
These are always a hit at every age and are perfect for babies/toddlers who are still putting everything in their mouth. Pick a noodle of your choice (I prefer spaghetti) and cook them. Once cooked, rinse them under cold water and separate them into small baggies depending on the number of food colors you have. Add a drop of vegetable oil to each bag. Then add a few drops of food coloring (start small you can always add more) and zip the baggie tight. Mix the baggies good until the noodles are completely covered in color. After they are dyed, rinse the noodles under cold water again and add them to your bin. You can leave them as they are for your kiddo to explore, or you can add objects for a theme. I once dyed my noodles in Halloween colors and added plastic spiders, ghosts, and cauldrons. Mess level 1/3
Ice Excavation Play
The variations for this are endless! I once added water to a plastic latex glove and then added all sorts of sparkly objects (glitter, sequins, sparkle poms) then you will tie it up tight and put in the freezer until frozen solid. Once it’s frozen, cut off the plastic glove and put the frozen hand in your sensory bin. Give your kiddo tools and a little dish of water to help melt the hand (pipettes, spray bottles, turkey baster, etc). Instead of the frozen hand, you can also freeze water and objects in a glass pyrex bowl. To help pop the ice block out, run the bowl under some warm water until it releases the block. You can go with any theme for these as well or just add random crafting objects!
Mess level 1/3
Magic Colors Experiment
My toddler loves doing baking soda and vinegar activities because there is a sense of “magic” that goes with it! For this you can pour a few drops of food coloring to each individual slot in a muffin pan. Cover the drops with enough baking soda- make sure they can’t see the colored drops. Give your child different tools (pipette, spray bottle, etc) and a bowl of vinegar and watch their eyes light up with excitement as they see the magic fizzing colors.
Mess level 2/3
For this you will want to fill up your sensory bin with water and add some drops of liquid dish soap. You can also add food color to make it more exciting. Take your handheld mixer, turn up, and mix the soap and water until you get a foam. I like to do an ocean theme with our foam bins but feel free to go with whatever theme your kiddo would enjoy!
Mess level 2/3
Decide on what type of theme you want to go with. I’ve done an ocean theme and also a Halloween theme with this. The color of jello you do will depend on your theme— for ocean you would want blue. Follow the directions on the package to make your jello and put it in a shallow Pyrex dish. Add your objects to the jello before putting it in the fridge. Once the jello has set, your kiddo can dig out the objects— and get a tasty snack!
Mess level 1/3
Kids love dirt! This is always such a fun bin idea. You will need a small bin to fill up with dirt and then in your bigger bin you can add water for their “bath”. Take some plastic animals and mix them in with the dirt to get them real dirty. Add a little soap to the water bin, give your kiddo some scrubbing tools (toothbrush, potato scrubber) and let them give them animals a bath! You can also use toy cars, plastic baby dolls, whatever!
Mess level 2/3
If your kiddo isn’t interested in the bin, don’t worry. The idea is to let them explore it on their own. You can leave it out and see if they will go to it later. Sometimes the mess gets a little out of hand, but I always try to take a deep breath and remember they’re only little once and to let them have fun! It’s always good to set some rules before starting an activity to help reduce the mess!