Sensory Processing through Play

You may have heard the term “Sensory Bins” in regards to early childhood education recently. We’ve all seen the rice or water table in the preschool or kindergarten classroom, so how are sensory bins different? Actually, those are sensory bins!  You just didn’t know it :)

IMG_0071When engaging all 5 senses, you are opening all their neural networks pathways.  Sensory bins are designed to do exactly that. Immediately, when you see a sensory bin, you are drawn towards it. Each collection of materials looks different, sounds different, feels different and smells different. And if the kids lick their hands after playing in the bin, or try a little taste of the blue rice? They are experiencing different tastes too!

Between the ages of 0 and 5, children are constantly developing the neural pathways that will make up the primary structure of their brains. The more senses they engage in their activities, the more neural pathways they build. This then allows them greater brain access as they grow older to process other new information. However, if children don’t use certain neural pathways by the time they are 2, the brain automatically starts shutting off those pathways and pruning the brain.

TV, for example, only touches 2 parts of their brain, sight and sound. Sensory bins engage at least 4, and often all 5, if smells have been added to the materials – this can be as easy as a couple drops of vanilla or essential oils in the sensory bin materials. A wonderful smell is a great way to entice children who might otherwise be reluctant to engage in a sensory bin.

Sensory bins can become part of the therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder, children on the spectrum, food texture issues, and other texture issues (don’t like to walk on the grass, sand, etc). Kids process textures differently, for those who struggle to dig right in, to start, you can allow them the option of not using their hands – spoons, scoops, etc can be an extension of their arms. Eventually, they may slowly ease their way towards touching the materials in the bin.  For children with difficulties processing different sensations, this is a safe way for them to experience new sensations at their own pace, and allow them to build new coping mechanisms.

Sensory bins naturally encourage socialization, language skills and thinking skills. When children work together to discover something, or build something, they build these skills without realizing they are doing it. As the leader (you) provides prompting, open ended questions, these skills are built even further.

Early Childhood development requires process art, not product art.  Allowing children to discover their own learning through engaging all their senses is a form of process art. They are learning about the world around them, and allowing their brains to develop new neural pathways through the process of discovery.

What are the different ways in which you can use sensory bins you might ask? I’m so glad you did. Stay tuned for next week’s post!


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  1. Pingback: A million ways with Sensory Bins | Blog

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