Thursday, October 13, 2011

* Sensory Boxes 101 Tips and Inspiration: How To Make A Sensory Box, Theme Ideas, and Frequently Asked Quesitons

Today's post is called Sensory Box 101
because we could all use a little help sometimes and because Play Matters!

We LOVE sensory boxes here. 
When I made my first one with Oatmeal for "E" 7 years ago in 2004, 
I didn't blog, I only used my computer to write papers and send email. 
I did not know to call my first "sensory box" a sensory box. 

Baby "E" playing with her first oatmeal sensory box (2004)

I just wanted something fun for "E to play with that was something she couldn't choke on
and something she could safely put in her mouth, hence the dry oatmeal. 
It was a great way to entertain her indoors in nasty weather and if she ate some, 
it was just some extra fiber. I did not introduce her to the sand table outdoors until this 
box had been mastered and I knew the "tasting" stage was over. 

She loved it. 
So did her friends.
 It was the go-to activity for play dates. 
A mini indoor sand box made out of a plastic under bed-style storage box,
 two canisters of dry oatmeal, some small cups, and some Little People figures and animals. 
I was onto something. 
We made them as gifts for friends and family - they were a huge hit! 

Do you use sensory boxes (or tables) at home or in your classroom?
Are you afraid of them? Don't be. 
They are great for hand eye coordination, fine motor development, and 
serves as a great sensory processing integration experience. 
Both of my girls (and all of their friends) have a great time digging into them!
When they're done, they get a Montessori-style lesson in cleaning up with
small dust pans and brooms. Don't be afraid of a little clean up at home or in your classroom.
It is a great learning tool and a gentle way to teach children how to play nicely together.

I got a great email from one of my blog readers this week and
she inspired me to write this post, thank you Angell. 

I figured if she has questions like this, some of you might be wondering the same thing.

Here is some of her email to me:

"I see all these bins but being someone who has never made one,
I don't have all those items to throw in there. It could actually become expensive.
I'm also not crafty, so I don't have craft supplies hanging around. Do you reuse your fillings (beans, rice, etc.)?
How do you keep the cost down? 
What is your thinking process like?
Do you have sensory bins in the back of your mind? While you are shopping do you think,
 "Wow this would be a good item for a bin in the future?
What are some things you would use as a bin?"

I'll do my best to answer these questions, so here we go.

Do you reuse your fillings?
Absolutely! I store my "main ingredients" in gallon zip lock bags, 
inside a cardboard copy paper box on a shelf in our garage.

I also re-use my boxes. I keep 2-3 sensory boxes going at a time,
then I cycle out the ingredients and store the extra parts in gallon-size ziplock bags. 

Right now I have the following stored on my shelves
(in gallon ziplock bags inside a plastic box): 

  • Dried Green Split Peas (that are seasoned with cinnamon and allspice for Fall)
  • White Rice (winter snow & wedding box)
  • Silk (faux) Dollar Tree Fall Leaves
  • Shredded Paper Easter Grass (green and yellow)
  • Oatmeal (dry, uncooked)
  • Black Fish Tank Gravel (dry black beans are awesome too!)
  • Blue Fish Tank Gravel (you could also just dye rice blue)
  • Small Pebbles/Gravel in Earthtones
  • Rainbow Rice (homemade) 
  • Coffee Grounds (Dry)
  • Dry Black Eyed Peas
  • Rainbow Pom-Poms
  • Faux Flowers and Faux Green Leaves (cut off Dollar Tree Vines)
  • Moon Sand (make your own with play sand and cornstarch - google it)

You can also use:

  • Cotton Balls
  • Birdseed (then feed it to your birds when you're done)
  • Dry Pasta
  • Un-popped Popcorn
  • Dry Beans
  • Shredded Paper
  • Faux Snow (warning: it's really messy)
  • Some moms even use real potting soil outdoors (I'm not that brave!)
  • Sand

*NOTE*: I also keep a box of goodies for sensory boxes like:

  • scoops
  • spoons
  • cups
  • funnels
  • ice trays 
  • egg cartons
  • tweezers
  • small mirrors,
  • tongs
  • etc.

How do you keep the cost down?
Great question, my husband asks me the same one all the time! ; )
I don't just go out to the store and buy everything to make a sensory box. 
Most of it evolves from stuff we already have here at the house, even if it's from the recycling bin. 

I do occasionally have to buy the bulk dry ingredients but they get re-used.
(for example, I had to buy the dry rice, peas and beans at first but now I re-use them all the time)

I re-use/recycle the dry ingredients
Take the green split peas for example, I've used them for: 
two "Fall" boxes, a "Spring Garden" box,  a "St. Patrick's Day" box, and the "Apple Box". 

I make a lot of the "ingredients" 
like my homemade felt toilet paper tube trees for the Apple Box.

Homemade "Fall Trees" by gluing brown felt to TP tubes and gluing fake leaves on top.

For example, we just made an "Ice Cream" sensory box
and I saved tiny gelato cups from Whole Foods and 
tiny Blue Bunny Brand single serving ice cream containers from our recycling. 
I made ice cream balls by wrapping yarn around forks and making pom-poms.
We made tiny popsicles by gluing felt to popsicle sticks and felt "cones"
Then, I gave the girls some deep spoons and our ice cream scoop.

Homemade (inexpensive) felt popsicles. 
Glue a popsicle stick to two piece of felt or card-stock/scrap-booking paper. 

How do color rice or noodles? 

I use the same technique for both. It's quick and easy and you DON'T cook anything.

Where To Find Ingredients For Sensory Boxes

While you are shopping do you think, 
"this would be great for a sensory bin"?
Sometimes depending on the store. 
Especially at "Goodwill,"neighborhood Garage Sales,
 the Target Dollar Binsand Dollar Tree.
And...occasionally at my two favorite craft stores,"Michaels" and "JoAnne's" in their seasonal areas 
(they always have coupons and... JoAnne's gives a teacher discount to teachers and home-schoolers).

Goodwill and Garage Sales are great for:
 ice trays, cookie cutters, scoops, tongs, small containers, 
faux flowers/leaves (you can dismantle a wreath or centerpiece)

Grocery store and big box stores like Walmart have sales and good prices 
on bulk dry goods like pasta, rice, popcorn, beans, oatmeal for "filler." 

Dollar Tree, Target dollar bins, and craft stores are great for seasonal goodies
and trinkets think major holidays and 4 seasons. 

What are some things you would use in a bin?
It really just depends on the "theme" 
Small toys, trinkets, and figurines from the playroom.
Goodies from the kitchen like scoops, measuring spoons or cups, and funnels.
Items from recycling like egg cartons, yogurt cups, wine corks, bottle caps, etc.
Bathroom goodies like cotton balls, Q-tips, Toilet Paper Tubes.
Seasonal decorations and do-dads.
Pom-poms, buttons, wooden cut outs from the craft store.
Doll house furniture and accessories.

Sensory Box Themes

What is your thinking process like?
I work off of themes like seasons and holidays, they're the easiest to do. 

Our "Spooky Halloween" Sensory Box

Our "Winter Wonderland"Box (which turned into a rice table)

Our Easter and Bird Themed Spring Box

Our St. Patrick's Day Box

4th of July/Patriotic Box

 I also try to make boxes with stuff I think would be fun to play with and touch. 
For example: 

The "Coffee Box"

and the "Oatmeal" box is just fun to play in.

Or...I'll do a theme box based on the girls' current interests 
or tie it to a unit they're doing at school or with me like:

Our "Outer Space" Box

"Zoo Box"

Our "Farm Box"


Our "Cats" Sensory Rainbow Rice Table for "C"s 4th Birthday Party
was a huge hit with all of the guests.

Sometimes the material sparks an idea for a theme:

White Rice for our "Wedding Box"

Pom-poms for our "Ice Cream Box"

Blue Fish Gravel for our "Ocean Box"

Gravel for our "Under Construction" Box

Some ideas are inspired by other wonderful bloggers, 
visit my Pinterest board and check out 
my Sensory Box Love! page for tons of great ideas
 and get your own inspiration from around blog land! 

I hope this helps answer your questions 
and helps to spark some fun new sensory box/table experiences 
so you can CREATE * PLAY * EXPLORE in your own home or classroom!

Pink and Green Mama, 

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