It can be challenging to homeschool older children when you have a toddler in the house. So let’s talk about a truly useful preschooling tool: the sensory bin.
But first, I want to talk to you about filling your little person’s cup. In my house, Little Miss is in my hair because she needs my time and attention. It makes sense. She’s little. She gets the short end of the stick sometimes because it’s easy for me to think that teaching math to the big kids is more important, or cleaning the house is more important.
But these little ones are only this little once. And tomorrow, they’ll be a tiny bit bigger.
I don’t want to miss a second of this little time, because I know it will be gone too soon. For me, having an official Tot School makes it easy to make sure I get a little hands-on time with Little Miss each day.
If I fill her cup first, if she has my time and attention and we have a little fun, she’s more ready to have quiet time, and buddy time, and is more worn out at nap time. I do Tot School activities with her because it is more likely to get done if it is a part of my plan (I’m a Type A, LOL).
Tot School doesn’t need to be complicated. And a sensory bin will make it so much easier to do some fun hands-on activities.
Planning your Tot School Week
In our house, Tot School doesn’t take much time. Little ones have a short attention span anyway, right?
I have a simple planner where I brainstorm activities for the week. On the planner, I have five categories:
- Language and Literacy
- Math and Numbers
- Music and Movement
- Sensory Activities
- Art and Crafts
Five Activities, Five Days.
To plan my week, first I choose a theme, like science, and then I plug in the rest of the activities using a few ideas from Pinterest, and a little brainstorming with my friends.
For example, if we were doing an apple theme, this is what the preschool activities might look like:
- Language and Literacy: The Letter A
- Math and Numbers: Count apple slices together for a snack
- Music and Movement: Sing the ABCs
- Sensory Play: Apple Sensory Bin
- Craft: Stamp with Apples
- Book: Apple Life Cycle
- Activity: Go Apple Picking on the Farm or Take a Nature Walk
What is a Sensory Bin?
I’m glad you asked! In a nutshell, you take a sensory material, like rice, dirt, water beads, or moon dough, and then you add a few manipulative-type items to it.
For an apple bin, I could put potting soil in the bin, with plastic apples, a toy worm, a shovel, a silk flower, and twigs and leaves from an apple tree. From that bin, we can play with the items and learn about the life cycle of an apple tree.
Embracing Destiny has a wonderful tutorial on how to make a sensory bin; you can check it out for more information.
A Tot School Planner & Sensory Bin Freebie
I created a printable Tot School Planner for you to use this school year.
I print mine out and laminate it, so I can write with a whiteboard marker and then wipe off our activities each week. That way, I don’t need to re-print the paper every week.
Included is a master list of theme ideas, a list of sensory material ideas so you never run out of sensory bin inspiration, and a weekly planner sheet.
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Why Are Sensory Bins Important?
In using sensory bins with your child, you are letting them engage in tactile experiences. It might seem like just play, but the best part of this play is that your toddler is learning at the same time! They’re engaging with several of the senses at one time, rather than just learning with their visual sense.
A sensory bin will also teach your child practical life skills such as scooping, pouring, filling, and measuring. And if you are right alongside your toddler during Tot School, you can describe the objects, ask questions, and help your little one learn language skills.
Here are items you can put in several themed sensory bins. (These are affiliate links, which means if you purchase any of the items, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps to keep our site running and us posting content regularly. Thank you for your support!)
Fall Themed Sensory Bin
You can always add things to your sensory bin that you pick up on walks, such as acorns, small pine cones, or even a branch or fall leaves. Your little one will be thrilled to see things in the bin that were collected in “real life.”
Summer Themed Sensory Bin
If you have rice or salt at home, you can dye those things blue and green for a summer-style sensory bin. And if you live near the beach or visit the ocean, gather some stones or shells to add.
Winter Themed Sensory Bin
It’s a little bit more difficult to find items in nature for a winter-themed sensory bin. But with a little imagination, you’ll probably have some things around the house. For instance, you could use cotton balls and pretend they’re snowballs for a winter-themed sensory bin. Here are a few other things you could add:
How to Make Sensory Bins
Here are some great sensory bin ideas from across the web (and also from some awesome bloggers you should check out!)
- Little Bins for Little Hands has Sensory Bin ideas for all kinds of things: seasons, oceans, dinosaurs, ice cream, you name it. I LOVE the wonderful bins they make, and they are the first blog to introduce me to sensory bins. I can not recommend them enough!
- Chestnut Grove Academy does Weekly Workboxes that are a lot like the format I use with Little Miss. Her posts are not to be missed! She uses a lot of varied activities and keeps school really interesting for her little one.
- Munchkin and Bean has many sensory play posts that look like SO much fun! She has lots of ideas and free recipes.
- Life with Moore Babies also has beautifully photographed sensory bin posts. She makes it so clear and easy to see what she is doing, so you can try it at home!