Stuck Inside With The Kiddies? Looking For An Educational Way To Keep Them Entertained? Sensory Box To The Rescue!

Here in NYC, the weather hasn’t been so great these past few days. In fact, as I type this, the East coast is prepping for Hurricane Irene. I have to admit, I haven’t jammed my cupboards with water and batteries but I tell you what, I am definitely stockpiling ideas and activities to keep my two very active boys busy while we hunker down. Regardless of the weather in your neck of the woods, it’s always a good idea to have a few indoor activities at the ready should you find yourself stuck inside.  After all, finger paints and play-doh only go so far. Am I right? At almost 3 years old, my son is typically occupied by any given activity for 10-15 minutes. Tops! Just like a parent can never have enough snacks, the same is true for activities. And now that my older son is just turned three, I am always on the look-out for activities that are educational, inexpensive and fun. A few weeks ago I fell in love with this awesome sensory box idea on Modern Parent Messy Kids. I immediately put one together for my son with stuff I had lying around the house and was wowed at how much fun we both had. Intrigued with the whole sensory play experience, I decided to do some more research on sensory boxes/tables and exactly why sensory play is so important for children.

Why Is Sensory Play Beneficial To My Child?

I know from first hand experience how awesome and educational sensory play can be from watching my son in action with our very own sensory box. Still, I was curious to find out what an educator had to say on the subject so I asked family friend and Pre School Teacher, Nadia Hatagalang for her input on the benefits of sensory play and she gave me these fine bullet points:

  • Manipulating sensory materials (ie; pouring, molding, stacking, sorting, etc…) aids in fine and gross motor skill development and hand-eye coordination. Children learn best through hands-on experience and when they are allowed to use their senses to engage in their environment.
  • Creativity: Since the box is meant to be whatever the child wants it to be, they can play with the objects as they see fit and this allows creativity to flourish.
  • Sharing Skills and Conflict Resolution: When more than one child is at a sensory table working side by side with the materials, they have a great opportunity to cooperate and interact with each other in order to accomplish a task.
  • Self Esteem: Children are encouraged to create and play in a self-directed manor, they build self-confidence when they choose a task and accomplish what they set out to do.
  • Knowledge of Science:sensory boxes can be a great way to encourage a love of science by using materials such as rocks, sand, water, etc…
  • Knowledge of Math: grouping, sorting, measuring and weighing are just some of the mathematical benefits of sensory boxes.

What Is A Sensory Box?

If you’ve ever been inside a preschool classroom and seen a water or sand table, those are sensory sensory tables. A sensory box is a smaller version of those sensory tables. It’s made from a large container filled with some sort of tactile material created with the soul purpose of exploration. Children are encouraged to use their senses to explore, experiment and experience their environment.  It’s easy to make your own sensory box or table at home and the possibilities are endless.

What Age Group Can Benefit From the Sensory Box?

Most of the info I found on sensory boxes was for preschool aged children because that seems to be the age when sensory play is most effective. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make sensory boxes for smaller children. Just be sure to keep the objects larger and monitor the children more closely while they play. I made a mini version for my 6 month old using small pieces of satin fabric, small plastic cups, teething rings and a few foam balls. He’s in the “grab everything and eat it phase” and LOVES playing with his baby sensory box. We play together, looking, touching and yes, tasting each object.  It’s important to use age appropriate materials in your sensory box. In other words, steer clear of dried beans and other small objects if you know your child likes to put things in their mouth and always be sure to supervise your children while they play to ensure that everyone plays safely.

How Do I Make A Sensory Box?

This is the fun part for the parents. Be creative! There’s no wrong way to build a sensory box.  A sensory box can be customized to suit the age and interests of your child. My son is really into trucks so I made our first sensory box out of a large, shallow roasting pan, a couple of bags of dried beans and a few plastic trucks. Simple, yes. But he LOVED it! We even buried some smaller objects in the beans so he could search for each object using a beach shovel, a small rake, and the shovel on his mini digger truck (my sons tool of choice). It was raining in Brooklyn and we were on an archaeological dig in Egypt!

To get the most out of your child’s sensory experience talk with your children as they are playing. Discuss what they are experiencing and relate the experiences to every day life.

What You’ll Need:

-A large container (anything from a large shallow tupperware bin. think” under the bed-type storage to a large roasting pan or cardboard box, cut down so it’s short). Make sure your bin is large enough if it’s meant to be shred by more than one child. A roasting pan was perfect for my one son but on the days his friends stop over, we scale up in size so that the kids can share and play comfortably.

-Tactile materials such as sand, water, snow, dirt, rocks, dried beans, dried rice, dried pasta, ribbons, shells, cotton, small toys (cars, trucks, dolls, etc…), water, etc… Go wild! Use whatever you have around the house. See what your kids are into and go from there. I’ve watched my sons imagination run wild as he manipulates each object in his sensory box. Ask your kids for suggestions and get crackin’.

Some Great Sensory Ideas From Around The Web:

Sensory Table Ideas

DIY Veggie Garden Sensory Box

Dried Bean Sensory Box

Creating a Sensory Table On A Budget

How To Find Sensory Materials On The Cheap

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Rachael Ray