Holidays are such a fun time to get creative with your classroom activities! It can be so hard to make it to a holiday break, but planning engaging, fun, holiday-themed activities can make the days go by quicker! Sensory bins are a great way to do that! You can target so many skills while motivating your students with preferred and/or new sensory experiences!
- Not quite in the winter holiday season right now? Check out our other blogs on Holiday Sensory Bins!
- Taylor wrote a blog on 3 Halloween Sensory Bins with some great ideas!
- Whitney wrote about Spring Sensory Bin Ideas in one of her blogs!
- Once we’ve made it through the holiday rush, don’t forget about Valentine’s Day!
- Taylor has a blog about Valentine’s Day Sensory Bins too!
As I always say when planning sensory activities for your classroom: You don’t need anything fancy to provide your students with a sensory experience! As an occupational therapist, I am always looking for creative ways to “up-cycle” materials to use in my sessions! All of the items used in my sensory bin suggestions below was either purchased for less than $2, found laying around my house, or recycled! Taylor has some other great suggestions on how to DIY these types of activities in her blog on Sensory Bins on a Budget! Just like she mentions, I also got all of the items for these bins at the Dollar Store [now the $1.25 Store…].
Sensory Bin Pro-Tips
There are tons of fun things you can use as fillers in your sensory bins! But be careful not to use beans [particularly if your students tend to mouth items]. Many types of beans are toxic, and we don’t want to put our students at risk! Taylor goes more in depth about this in her Sensory Bins on a Budget blog. Try some of my suggestions below instead!
Also be careful with allergies. While using edible items can be enticing for safety purposes [if a child puts anything from the bin in their mouth, at least it is edible], make sure you don’t have allergies in your room! For example, I was not always aware of this, but PlayDough contains gluten! The Simply Special Ed Back to School Forms include information about allergies that you could collect at the beginning of the year [get them here for free!].
Over the past few years, I have gotten into the habit of having my students wash their hands before each session, and I’m so thankful that I did! Many of my students don’t know how to thoroughly wash their hands! I have many students with hand washing goals as well, so I use a task analysis and visuals to support their independence in this skill [get them here for free!]. I would suggest the following to ensure cleanliness when using sensory bins:
- Wash/sanitize hands before use
- Wash/sanitize hand after use
- Remove all items that were mouthed until they can be sanitized
- Go over cleanliness rules/expectations with students prior to use
- If you plan to use frequently, select items that can be sanitized
You don’t want to limit the fun your students can have because you are worried about the clean up! Sensory bins can definitely be messy! Make sure you are covering the tables! Consider doing this with press & seal wrap [that even comes in holiday designs!] if you have students who might pull off a table cloth or other covering!
Have the kids help clean up! Like I talked about in my visual recipes blog, the set up and clean up can be HUGE parts of the activity and work on so many important skills. Don’t miss out on this learning opportunity!
Or lastly, do it on the floor! Students build much needed core strength by laying on their bellies. Why not do the sensory bin laying down?! Incorporating movement throughout the day is also great for sensory regulation, so encourage your students to assume different positions! Laying, sitting, standing on their knees, etc. are all great positions to work in while using the sensory bins!
Sensory Bin Fillers
Below are some ideas for ways that you can engage different sensory systems with holiday-themed sensory bins:
Tactile: Snow & Ice
You can always use real snow and ice if you have that kind of weather in your area! There are fake snow recipes and/or pre-made versions you can use. Play snow is actually one of the SSE Sensory Visual Recipes, so sometimes I have my students make the snow that we are going to use in our sensory bins! It is only 2 ingredients, and actually gets cold! Kids find this fake snow so engaging [and it lasts longer!]. Regular ice works well too! Sometimes I have students put on gloves [to work on independently putting them on or to accommodate for sensory defensiveness] during these types of sensory bins!
Auditory: Tissue Paper
We typically think of tactile sensory input when we think of sensory bins, but you can also include auditory input as well! Adding tissue paper or aluminum foil to a sensory bin can add a small about of auditory input to the activity, but you can also add in things like jingle bells for some louder holiday sounds! For kiddos who seek auditory input throughout the day, providing a “loud” sensory break, could be a way to met that sensory need in a more controlled/appropriate way!
Proprioception & Fine Motor: Tongs & Sensory Bags
As I mentioned before, there are tons of ways that sensory bins can be used to target a variety of skills. Fine motor skills and hand strength can be one of those ways! Have students sift through a bin and pick things up with a variety of different tongs! Have them put small items into small openings [like in the picture above].
If you’re looking to engage the smell sense, Alyssa has a great blog on how to make a peppermint sensory bin here that also goes along well with our holiday theme!
Goals & Targeted Skills
After making your sensory bin, see how you can incorporate some specific skills or IEP goals! In addition to the file folders, sorting and fine motor suggestions above, think about how you can incorporate: bilateral hand skills [opening/closing containers], pouring/measuring, pincer grasp [for small items], hand strength [with tongs!], visual perceptual skills [figure ground, visual discrimination], academic skills like counting or letter identification, or speech and language skills like labeling, requesting, following directions, prepositions, etc. The options are endless!
Need more ideas for the holidays? Check out this FREE Hot Chocolate Visual Recipe to pair with these holiday sensory bins! Marshmallows also make a great edible sensory bin filler, and the sensory visual recipes also include a cocoa play dough recipe! The possibilities are endless! Comment below with your ideas for sensory bins! I can’t wait to see what fun you are having in your classroom this holiday season!