Kimberley Kirby of @sensoreadplay is back today with more fabulous ideas for sensory bins for toddlers! In case you missed Kimberley’s first article on Dollar Store Sensory Bins or her follow-up on Spring Sensory Bins for Toddlers, Kimberley is quite the expert on DIY sensory bins. On her Instagram account @sensoreadplay, she shares new sensory play and reading pairings daily, and she will be sharing some of her favorite ideas here on Fab Everyday in the months ahead. In today’s article, Kimberley is sharing back to school sensory bin ideas, including lots of educational sensory bin toddler activities to support what they’re learning in the classroom, how to dye rice for sensory play, and how to color pasta for a sensory table base. This article is full of great DIY sensory table ideas, so be sure to bookmark it to come back to later.
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Back-to-school sensory bin ideas for toddlers
By Kimberley Kirby
SAFETY WARNING: Some of these ideas include small items that may be a choking hazard. These should only be used with adult supervision.
18 months after getting introduced to Busy Toddler sensory bins when my son was suddenly at home full time and then expanding into so many other DIY sensory table ideas, my son is headed back to school in September. Technically, it’s “early preschool” (also known as daycare!) but I’ve been doing some back to school sensory bins with him to get him ready!
My goal for the back to school sensory bins has been to not only continue teaching him through play (which is why we love sensory bins for toddlers in the first place!), but also to introduce the concept of “going to school” since he was just a baby last time he was in daycare.
Here are some of my favorite back to school sensory bin ideas! These sensory bins can be easily adapted to the appropriate age and skill level of your child(ren)! Whether your kids are headed back to school or you’re looking for DIY sensory table ideas for home, I hope these provide inspiration for you!
Alphabet Back to School Sensory Bin
Sometimes bin setups make for great sensory games! We love doing matching games in our bins and this matching game is great for back to school. Ask your child to match uppercase letters from one bin with lowercase letters from the other. These letters are magnets to add another element of fun when sticking them to the Magnetic Flisat Insert from Button and Bug Shop on Etsy (use code SENSOREAD10 for 10% off your entire purchase). The alphabet magnets we used are from Target, but here are similar ones on Amazon. The sensory base for this bin is dyed alphabet pasta. Instructions for dyeing pasta are at the end of this post.
Spelling Back to School Sensory Bin
If your child is a bit further along in their learning, adapt the Alphabet Back to School Sensory Bin and make a spelling sensory game! Put a variety of small objects (we love using objects from Safari Ltd. TOOBs, which you can get for 15% off using code SENSOREADPLAY) in one small bin and magnetic letters in another. The sensory base for this bin is black beans.
Letters Back to School Sensory Bins
Another way to celebrate going back to school is focusing bins on an individual letter, like this “B” sensory bin for toddlers. Choose to do the full alphabet one at a time, or perhaps spell your child’s name one bin at a time! This bin is fun because you can do it with objects from around the house, and any variety of letter blocks, magnets, or toys you already have. If you want a full set of resin letters, I highly recommend Mama & OG; her letters are the best quality I have found and she has great customer service (use code FABEVERYDAY by 9/6/21 for 10% off)! For these back to school sensory bins, use any sensory base you want. In this “B” bin, I used blue-dyed rice (instructions for how to dye rice for sensory play are at the end of this post.) and black beans to match the “B” theme!
Counting Back to School Sensory Bin
A great way to use sensory bins for toddlers is for counting activities. In this bin, I combined mini pencil erasers (you could use any small objects; I used these to fit the back to school sensory bin theme!) with dyed alphabet pasta (instructions for how to color pasta are at the end of this post). In the other bin, I set out 10 colored wooden bowls from Chickadee’s Wooden Toys on Etsy and added clothespins with numbers on them to mark each bowl with a specific number for counting!
Themed Back to School Sensory Bin
This one is similar to the others with dyed alphabet pasta (instructions for how to color pasta yourself are at the end of this post), but it is a more typical toddler sensory bin that would be fun for younger ages. This bin contains a number of fun objects to explore, such as pencil and crayon erasers (from Target’s seasonal section) and a school bus toy (this was from the On The Road Safari Ltd. TOOB which is currently unavailable, but here’s a similar bus on Amazon).
Little Blue Truck Back to School Sensory Bin
Our absolutely favorite way to do toddler sensory bins is by pairing books with sensory activities. I’ll be sharing back to school sensory activities paired with books on my Instagram account, but here was our favorite! Little Blue Truck is absolutely one of our top book choices, and this back to school book is no different. Whenever we do a Little Blue Truck bin, we use a corn sensory base and this time I used the Little People school bus along with our blue truck toy and the Farm Babies TOOB from Safari Ltd.
And now, for the most addicting part of making sensory bins for toddlers:
How to Dye Pasta or Rice for Sensory Play
Trust me, once you start dyeing your own pasta, rice, or other sensory bases, you won’t be able to stop. It is just so satisfying (and surprisingly easy)! The secret ingredient for how to dye rice for sensory play (or pasta), in my opinion, is Color Right Food Dye from Wilton. I will forever swear by it because it makes the deepest, most beautiful colors with only a drop or two!
If you’re wondering how to color pasta or how to color rice, all you need to do is choose a pasta or rice that you would like to dye and put it in a plastic bag or container (I recommend using a container because you can reuse it over and over!). Add a few drops of food coloring (more drops will make darker colors) and a few squirts of hand sanitizer (no particular measurement needed; add more if the color isn’t fully covering the pasta) or a few tablespoons of white vinegar to make it taste safe.
Alternatively, you can also dye pasta with acrylic paint instead of food coloring but it will not be taste safe for younger children who are still mouthing.
Once all of the ingredients are in the container or bag, mix it up until all the pasta or rice is covered. Dump it out onto a piece of parchment paper to dry (it takes less time to dry with hand sanitizer than vinegar, but either way should be dry within an hour or two!).
About the Author
Kimberley Kirby works in the information security industry full time and embraces creative outlets on the side. She owns and operates an Etsy shop, Gray Duck Greetings, when we are not living through a pandemic. Kimberley is ‘Mama’ to a 2-year-old boy who has been home full time since the start of the pandemic and she has therefore become well-versed in crafts and activities to occupy toddlers. At the beginning of 2021, she started the Instagram account @sensoreadplay where she shares new sensory play and reading pairings daily. Kimberley lives outside of Boston, MA with her husband, son, and dog.
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