A few years ago, I was introduced to the term “sensory” when one of my children was putting everything on, in, and near her mouth — constantly. She would ferociously chew on straws, lick countertops, and relentlessly bite her fingernails. Frustrated by my constant plea for her to stop her actions (which yielded no results), I began doing some research. It turns out, there’s a name for what my child was doing: sensory seeking.
All kids have sensory needs. Some do not like certain tastes or textures or noises, while others may “sensory seek” — which may involve doing things like crashing into walls on purpose and eating as many crunchy foods as possible. Some kids freak out if their clothing is too tight or has tags in it. Other kids prefer to be as clothing-less as possible. According to Dr. Lucy Jane Miller, author of Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for your Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, SPD is a neurological issue, and has nothing to do with a child behaving themselves (obeying parents and teachers), or a parent not being firm enough. Thankfully, if a child does have sensory needs of a more mild nature, or the child is diagnosed with SPD, there are many practical ways to help the child.
No matter where your child falls on the sensory-needs spectrum, a sensory rice bin is a practical, inexpensive, and fun way for kids to explore, play, and enjoy a sensory experience. Here’s how to create a bin for your children:
1. Purchase or find an empty bin.
This should be a container that is shallow, but large, and has a tight-fitting lid. I use a clear, 34 quart bin. Make sure that you have a cool, dry place to store any bin you choose to utilize.
2. Choose your bin’s theme.
We currently have four sensory rice bins in rotation at our home: the hodge-podge bin, the ocean bin, a winter bin, and a rainbow bin. How do you choose a theme? Think about what your children are interested in while also considering what you have on-hand. The goal is not to spend a lot of money on the bin while putting some of the items you already have in your home to practical use.
For example, our hodge-podge bin was a great starter for us. We took all the scattered party favor toys (mini Slinky, small play figures, etc.) and unused small kitchen utensils (like an ice cream scooper, measuring spoons, etc.) and put them in our first bin. Bin options include seasons, holidays, and interests (like dinosaurs, for example).
3. Purchase rice, Kool-aid packets, and rubbing alcohol, and dye the rice.
This is the longest part of the bin-creating process, as it’s very important that the rice is fully dry before you begin building your bin. Remember to dye the rice to match the theme of your bin. For our ocean-themed bin, I created dark green, dark blue, and dark purple rice. Note: The flavor of Kool-aid isn’t always indicative of the color, so you need to experiment a bit. How much rice you add to a bin is up to you, but I prefer my bins to be about 1/3 full of rice. This leaves room for everything you plan to add to the bin, as well as making sure the bin isn’t so full that rice doesn’t stay in the bin during play time. The rubbing alcohol smell does dissipate, and you’re left with yummy-smelling rice!
4. After the rice is fully dry, add it to the bin.
Determine if you need more or less rice before moving forward. You can then add other things to give the bin more texture and color: pom poms, seashells, small rocks, buttons, beads, small fabric flowers, ribbon, etc. For sparkle, I add fake jewels that come in bags at the craft store. Remember, you probably have many items in your home you can add in. The rice and other items you add will serve as your bin’s base.
5: Add digging, scooping, filling, building, and combing tools to your rice bin.
Remember that these need to be small and gripable for little hands. Great options include jelly jars, measuring spoons, toilet paper holders, medicine cups (that come with liquid children’s medications), cookie cutters, and small sand toys (such as castle molds).
6. Add small toys to your rice bin.
For our ocean-themed rice bin, I added clear rocks (from the craft store) and seashells (from our last vacation) as part of the rice-base, and for toys I added a selection of sea figures I purchased for about $8 from Target’s toy department. I was also able to find large, fake pearls. Remember, you likely have a lot of small toys in your home that will work well. Send your kids on a hunt!
Now I’m sure you’re wondering about the mess. Yes, rice does escape the bin. But you have a few options when it comes to clean-up. You can place an old, large sheet under the bin. When the kids are done playing, move the bin off the sheet, fold the sheet, and pour the spilled rice back into the bin. You can also only allow rice bin playtime outside on the driveway or on a porch. If these aren’t options for you, rice can be swept or vacuumed up easily from a solid-surface floor.
Always supervise your children as they play with the rice bin. Small objects are choking hazards, especially for young children and children who are oral sensory seekers. Bins are perfect for rainy days, very cold or hot temperature days, playdates, and even sick days. In addition to having a bin at home for your children, you can also create bins as birthday or holiday gifts or for your child’s classroom, and smaller bins make fantastic party favors.
Above all else, have fun getting creative and enjoying the benefits of a fun sensory experience — I promise your kids (and you) will love it.More On