Since I wrote my book on Sensory Bins, one of the most common questions I get is about the cleanup. Although I do address both how to prevent or cut down on messes and how to clean them up in the book, I have a few additional suggestions and I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.
Image credit: MatHayward / 123RF Stock Photo
One of the easiest ways to clean up of course is to avoid the mess in the first place or to control where the mess happens. Sensory sinks are a great way to contain the mess of a sensory bin in an easy to clean area. Here’s an example of a sensory sink from Teaching Mama.
The bathtub is another great location for a sensory bin. The deck or backyard are other great areas to house your sensory play when the weather allows it. Controlling where the mess happens will help you with clean up later.
Another tip is to place your sensory bin inside a larger, deeper container such as a Rubbermaid storage tub. This way, any spilling over of the materials will go into the tub instead of all over your floor. This works especially well with little ones as they then have to bend way over to access the sensory bin and don’t quite have the leverage to throw its contents all over the floor!
I suggest that you never have sensory bin play on a carpet as carpet are harder to clean. Many sensory bin bases can easily be swept up after play as long as they are dry bases.
Dry sensory bin bases are easy to clean up as long as they don’t get wet. Try to teach your kids to keep water or other liquids away from those sensory bins. My kids are a bit older and are very good about this but when we have little ones come over, which is fairly often, water does get mixed into a dry bin from time to time. Water and dyed purple rice for example was a bit more unpleasant to clean up. It also meant that I couldn’t re-use that purple rice in a subsequent bin as it had to be thrown out. Water and black beans or dry lentils are also some of the mishaps we’ve had around here.
At the dollar store, you can buy shower curtain liners. They often come in clear but you can get them in pretty much every colour under the sun if you want to create a more cheerful look to accompany the play. These are great for placing underneath a sensory bin, particularly a bin with a messy base such as this one from Fun at Home with Kids.
You can use all kinds of things for a drop cloth underneath your sensory bins including old blankets, an actual painter’s canvas drop cloth, or plastic disposable tablecloths (these can also be found at the dollar store). If you are using something such as the shower curtain liner or the plastic tablecloth and things really get out of hand, then you can always bundle up the mess afterwards and throw the whole thing away and only have spent $1.
Of course no matter how well you plan and prepare, sensory bins are probably going to lead to messes. A few months ago, one of the younger kids who was over visiting dumped two of our sensory bins together. One was our desert sensory bin and the other was a construction sensory bin. I had been planning to make other bins using the sand base of the desert bin and sand is not the cheapest base out there, so I decided I was going to have to find a way to salvage it.
I removed all the larger items and then used a colander placed above a large Ziploc bag to sift out the sand from the Kidfetti (also one of the more expensive sensory bin fillers) so that I would be able to re-use both bases. It was a bit of a tedious task but it worked!
The best rule of thumb really is not to create sensory bins that have a potential mess factor that you aren’t willing to live with!
Now if cleaning up sensory bins just isn’t your thing but you still want your kids to be able to enjoy some sensory play, you can always fill a sink full of water and bubbles and have them clean their toy cars or dishes. You can even have them clean some real dishes while they’re at it!
For instructions on how to create a sensory bin, information about why they are so beneficial for children, relevant recipes, printable idea lists and more, get your copy of my ebook Sensory Bins: the What, the How & the Why.
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