One of the more recent trends in sensory play is the creation of sensory bins, sensory bottles and sensory bags. Perhaps you’ve wondered what the point of sensory bins or sensory bottles or sensory bags is. Are they simply another toy? Why do children seem so enthralled with these seemingly simple sensory activities? I hope to be able to answer these questions for you.
Sensory play is important for all children at many of their developmental stages. It is even more critical for children who have sensory processing disorder (SPD). Sensory play is any activity that stimulates the sense.
So why sensory bins, sensory bottles and sensory bags?
Sensory bins, bags and bottles are easy and inexpensive to make. They don’t require a lot of room. This give children the opportunity to further their sensory exploration without the need to go to an indoor play place or children’s museum. They are an incredibly simple way to incorporate sensory play in your own home or vehicle or classroom.
Sensory bins, sensory bottles and sensory bags allow children to explore, discover, imagine, create, and learn while engaging their senses.
If you’ve ever made a sensory bin for your child before, you may have noticed that it captured their attention more than you expected it would. Often, kids who will only play with a toy for a few seconds or minutes will spend ten or fifteen minutes playing in a sensory bin while their mom or dad stands there, mouth agape, wondering how in the world their active child is staying focused on one activity for so long. This is because of the sensory component of the play. Your child is not able to tell you when their sensory needs are not being met, but when they encounter an activity that fills that void for them, they know immediately that it is something they need to be doing.
Sensory bottles are often referred to as calm down bottles. When a sensory bottle has items such as glitter in it that move slowly, children (and adults) are often mesmerized by watching their slow descent and this calms their breathing and helps them regulate themselves and their emotions.
I also have created weighted sensory bottles for much the same reason. They can provide a calm down effect due to the sensory input they provide.
Sensory bags are often referred to as squish bags and they also meet sensory needs in a simple way. I make freezer meals and often when I’m assembling them, my daughter will press on the bags of soups and casseroles and comment how much she loves the feeling of them. When it comes time for me to put them in the freezer, she expresses that she is sad to not be able to play with them anymore, so I whip up a simple sensory bag for her to play with.
What are the benefits of sensory bins, bottles and bags?
- Language Skills – Children are able to expand their vocabulary and language skills as they describe their play experience.
- Fine Motor Skills – Fine motor skills are improved by manipulating small objects, dumping and scooping.
- Social Skills – Social skills are worked on by learning about sharing, playing and communicating with others while engaged in their sensory play.
- Science and Math Skills – Children are also using skills useful for science and math in measuring, guesstimating and learning about cause and effect while manipulating sensory materials.
- Meeting sensory needs
What are other uses for sensory bottles, bags and bins?
Two of our children have used sand trays in their therapy. Sand trays are especially appropriate to help children work through past traumas. I believe that my children were more comfortable doing their sand tray work because they were so used to sensory bin play.
Those who work with patients with dementia and Alzheimers are finding it helpful to use sensory bags, bottles and bins. Providing appropriate sensory stimulation for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia has been shown in recent studies to decrease agitation and restlessness and to improve sleep.
Obviously, for adults, you don’t want to create a sensory bag that is too juvenile, but you can create the same effect using something like this gel bag maze. Some patients do enjoy themed or fun sensory bags. Simple sensory bins with rice and rocks or salt can be very effective and sensory bottles can have a calming effect.
Sensory bottles, bins and bags are particularly effective for children who suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), though they are also a healthy part of learning for all children.
How do I use sensory bags, bottles and bins with my child?
Sensory bins are very simple to create. You likely have supplies in your home today to make a sensory bin that would engage your child. If you are looking for more in-depth information on creating sensory bins including filler ideas, sensory recipes and storage and money saving ideas, you can find those in my ebook on Sensory Bins.
If you’re looking for inspiration to create your own sensory bins, here are over 100 sensory bin ideas for all kinds of themes and holidays.
Help your child explore by asking them questions like “what do you feel?/see?/smell?” or “what does that make you think of?” Encourage them to use their imaginations to come up with stories or characters while they play. This is particularly effective in sensory bins.
Sensory bottles can be created in any empty bottle that has a lid. For younger children, I suggest hot gluing the lid on so that they can’t open it. You can fill the bottle with liquids or solids and a variety of items. If you mix clear glue with warm water (approximately half and half), you can slow down the movement of the items in the bottle, adding to the calm-down effect. Adding heavier items or using a glass bottle (not for younger children obviously) creates a weighted sensory bottle.
For exact instructions and over a dozen ideas to help you create your own, check out all of our sensory bottles.
Sensory bottles and bags can be used for calming or exploration. They can also be good for taking with you in the vehicle or using in waiting rooms.
Sensory bags are also very easy to make. I like using medium freezer bags instead of sandwich bags because I find them more durable. If you are making them for younger children, you will want to secure the bag with duct tape or heavy packing tape. They can be filled with a variety of items. If you’re looking for ideas for making sensory bags, you can check out our best sensory bags.
Creating sensory activities doesn’t have to cost much. I find that the dollar store and my own cupboards are great places to find sensory filler items. I’ve used expired coconut as “snow”, coloured expired rice, used all shapes and sizes of dry beans and lentils and chickpeas, popcorn kernels, oats. Gels, body wash and hand sanitizers work well in sensory bottle and bags so I am always on the lookout them to go on clearance.
I hope this information has given you a better understanding of the purpose of sensory bottles, bins and bags and given you the knowledge and confidence needed to be able to make your own.