My almost three year old son has two obsessions: dinosaurs and diggers. He takes them everywhere. I love the noises and imaginative play in action and I adore the little conversations I secretly overhear him having with his toys. I’m all about exploring interests so I recently got him the classic The Little Yellow Digger by Betty and Alan Gilderdale. It’s needless to say he loves it, as I knew he would. But my boy is a little man for whom actions speak louder than words and I decided one day to surprise him with a Little Yellow Digger sensory bin.
Here’s how it went:
Setting up the Little Yellow Digger Sensory Bin
I must start by confessing that I haven’t been a huge fan of putting together sensory bins for my kids so far. I love and more than support the idea but in reality my children always seem to want to tip the thing over. And I’m done tidying up more mess than I care to handle in one day. (I know I’m not alone here, raise your hands!)
So my first big concern was what to use as bin filler. I had a good look through my collection of sensory play ideas and play recipes (carefully selected for the day I would start my own sensory play adventures!) and settled on sand foam. I thought it would be pretty easy to make, not so easily tipped over and the perfect pretend play mud for the diggers to get stuck.
Making the foam is easy: combine shaving foam and sand, mix and you’re done. Since I never follow recipes I had to learn the hard way that you only need a little bit of sand for a whole lot of foam to create a good consistency for play. Also, if you mix it too long or leave the bin out for too long, the foam will go flat, and you’ll be left with wet sand. Which in itself is not a bad thing really, but the foam is so much more interesting to play with.
Once the bin was ready I simply added all the props. We used little diggers in all kinds of colours (luckily we had a yellow one!), Playmobil people, a dog, a bike, some buckets, a spade and some rope to let the diggers pull each other out. When creating small worlds or story baskets, I like to get the details as close to the reality as I can. That’s me, I can be a bit OCD that way. I highly doubt the children always take notice but it gives me joy to hunt for and add those little extras. Don’t feel like you have to go that extra mile though, less can be more for children after all.
And that is all there is to it. Sensory bins can be quite genius in their simplicity!
Playing with your Little Yellow Digger Sensory Bin
I introduced my son to his Little Yellow Digger sensory bin by offering him to read the story. Instead of getting comfortable on the couch, we went outside instead and sat down next to the sensory bin. He took a minute to take it all in and make the connection. His eyes lit up and he carefully put his fingers in as if a bit unsure. This surprised me since he usually just gets straight into things. After a while I asked him if he was ready for me to read him the story. And as I started, he kept moving back and forth between the bin and book to show me his diggers, point out the dog and children, used the rope and kept yelling “STUCK” at the right times in the story.
After I finished reading the book he kept playing for a while, lining the truck up, getting them all out, putting them all in, squishing the foam, smelling it (it strongly smells of shaving cream!), hiding people, burying them (!) and of course trying to tip the whole thing over at some stage.
I loved how he made the connection between the bin and the book. My son doesn’t talk much so I’m not always sure of what’s going on inside but he obviously understood and took the opportunity to play out his version of the story. Or what I think he would like to see happen in the story. Let’s just say there was a lot more drama going on in the bin than could ever fit in a children’s book!
And that’s the beauty of sensory bins: they’re open ended, inviting, small scaled and therefore perfectly suited for toddlers and their wild imagination. They offer different sensory experiences, encourage creativity and often stimulate learning of some kind (fine motor skills, cause and effect, exploring certain themes, …). The possibilities for using this medium are endless really, so feel free to experiment your hearts out.
Building on The Little Yellow Digger Sensory Bin
And the fun doesn’t stop here. You can keep building on simple activities like these and explore story lines (or whatever theme you are focussing on) in so many different ways.
One of those ways is setting up small worlds. We briefly touched on the benefits of sensory bins and most of that goes for small world play too. This bite sized comprehensive article offers more information about what small world play is, how it’s beneficial to child development and how you can easily get started at home. If you haven’t already, it’s a must read for all parents, caregivers and educators.
And there’s so much more to discover. Have a look at these creative storytelling ideas, sensory play ideas and small world inspiration to find something you can do today that your little ones will enjoy.
We’ve set up a few sensory focussed activities in the past ourselves that I think you might like as well:
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Sensory Small World
- Invitation to Build a Mini Dinosaur World with Recycled Materials
- Goodnight Gorilla Story Basket
- Old MacDonald had a Farm Small World
- Invitation to Create a Play Dough Fairy World
It’s my hope and wish that you’ll leave this page filled with fun ideas to try out yourself!
What sensory bins have you put together before and have been favourites with kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments, or feel free to send me an email to keep the conversation going!
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