When I worked in early childhood, the sensory table was one of the most popular centers for our students to visit.  Students would frequently be motivated to play there and would stay engaged for an extended period of time.  It was also a great center for therapists to work within.  I was able to work on a variety of skills in a super fun way.  With a little creativity, you can create amazing sensory bins with materials you probably already have or can purchase cheaply. Today let’s take a look at some of the key components of sensory bins and explore some holiday themed ideas! Please be sure to supervise children appropriately when engaging in sensory play to ensure everyone’s safety.  

Pick your base material

Many sensory bins start with a main material that you can build upon.  The very common ones include rice, beans, pasta, sand.  The great thing about these materials is that they come in a variety of colors, or can be transformed into different colors.  Anything red or green instantly makes the sensory bin seem a little more festive!

Add in items

You can get really creative with this part!  Adding items into the sensory bins is so much fun.  When I’m looking for new ideas, I either go shopping in the classroom closet or take a stroll around the dollar store.  Adding in items that students can search for is always a hit. You could make it an ‘I spy’ sort of game. My speech therapist friends love hiding targeted vocabulary words in the sensory table.  Also, consider adding scents!  If you are using rice or playdough, try adding peppermint or cinnamon for a holiday twist!

Tools

The sensory bin is not just great for sensory input, it is an awesome way for students to work on motor skills and bilateral coordination.  Adding in a variety of tools for students to use to explore the materials within the sensory table is an excellent idea.  Think tweezers, cups, scoops, water bottles, cookie cutters.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Some of these super simple (and cheap!) items can encourage some awesome OT skills, such as using two hands together, hand strength, grasp patterns and crossing midline.  

Once you choose your base material, add ins and tools – you are ready to have some fun.  Don’t have a sensory table in your room?  Try using small storage boxes to make mini sensory bins!  That being said, here are a few holiday themed ideas I threw together with items I either had or purchased from the dollar store or cheaply from Amazon.

Christmas Tree Bin

What you need: garland, bells, beads, tree branches

Create a christmas tree in your sensory table by using some of these easy to find materials.  You can even add laminated ornaments with different letters, shapes, colors, vocabulary that the students have to find and identify.  

Winter Wonderland

What you need: fake snow (or something that resembles snow), winter themed erasers, ice cube trays, snowman pieces, tweezers

Turn your sensory bin into a winter wonderland with ‘snow’!  There is fake snow available on Amazon, or you can use anything that resembles it.  I found little white snowballs at the dollar store that work just fine.  Add in winter themed erasers or jewels and some tools/containers to transfer them to.  You can even add in winter theme vocabulary to search and find.  I also hid pieces of a felt snowman for them to find and build! This works well with a mini sensory bin.

Fun with Wrapping Paper

What you need: strips of wrapping paper, tissue paper, ribbon, garland string, variety of scissors

This is such a great way to work on cutting or precutting skills with students who are maybe less interested in working on those during a more traditional tabletop task.  Holiday themed wrapping paper makes everything better. For kids who are just starting out with cutting, give them small strips of paper to rip.  For more advance cutters, try drawing shapes in the paper!  

Christmas Cookies

What you need: playdough, holiday themed cookie cutters, playdough accessories to roll and cut, trays

This one is so easy and so fun!  Just grab your favorite playdough and some holiday themed cookie cutters, and make some ‘cookies’!  You can add more to this activity by making your own playdough, or adding peppermint or cinnamon scents.  Try having students practice moving them over to the cookie tray and counting out the number of cookies they make.  Add decorations with beads, jewels and pom poms for more fine motor work!

What are your favorite holiday themed sensory bin ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

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