Sensory exploration is essential for young children, as they learn through their senses. I explain why in this article.This activity also teaches your child reading (visual perception) and math (matching and pairing). At our CEFA Early Learning schools, we use it with our one and two year old children and they love it. It is a really simple activity that you can make more or less complex depending on the level of your child. Try it and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

Best Ages for This Activity

One to three

How to Make It

What you will need

  • A sensory bin. Use anything you might already have at home. I like the ones with lids because they are easy to store and put away when you need (under the bed is the perfect place). We use these bins for so many different sensory activities in the classrooms. If you do not have something to use around the house, you can purchase one here.
  • 2 kilos of rice (enough to cover the bottom of the sensory bin, and to hide objects in). you can save the rice and use it for many other sensory bins we will explore in the future. It lasts at least a year.
  • Eight or more pairs of identical objects. You can find these around the house. They can be, for example, two acorns, two identical pieces of lego or duplo, two macaroni noodles, two crayons (same colour), two pompoms, two marbles, two identical buttons, two feathers from a duster (they look exactly the same), two identical spoons, etc.. Make the items unique and interesting, for the delight of your child. This will provide an added sensory learning element.

Let’s get Started

  • Prepare by adding the rice and the objects to your sensory bin and placing the bin on the floor or a low table that makes it easy for your child to access.
  • I also like to provide white bowls or plates (from my kitchen) so that children can put the objects they find in them. It is a more visual way for them to separate the pairs (the math concept they are trying to learn) than by just simply setting it on the floor or table next to the other objects they find. This is optional, but it helps.
  • Invite your child to play an “I spy” game. You can demonstrate by running your hands through the rice inside the sensory bin and looking at the objects that are hidden in there. Find one and say, for instance, “I spy a small white button” – be descriptive. You could say just button, but the words small and white are all attributes (they let you know more about the object) and attributes are very important for your child to learn, as they are the foundation for sorting, comparing, matching, and many, many more math skills your child is trying to master. The richer your vocabulary, the better. Having said that, if your child is having difficulty, keep it simple for this game and focus on the object (“I spy one button”).
  • Pick up the button and place it in one of the white bowls (make sure the bowls are white or at least a plain colour, no patterns to distract from the object inside them.) then say “I wonder if we can find one more button… do you see one?” to engage your child to search for another button in the sensory bin.
  • Once you find the matching button, you can say “we found another button! Yay! – do you want to put this button with its friend?” put it in the bowl with the other button you found earlier: “one button, two buttons! They match! Now we have a pair of buttons! Let’s see what else we can find hidden in the rice…”.
  • Repeat the entire process but this time, your child can be the one to say “I spy” then find an object, place it in the bowl, etc. If your baby is very young, try to slow it down instead of taking over.
  • Important note: If your baby does not want to find pairs but instead, wants to just look at the objects in the bin and play with them, bury them in the rice, discovering them again, that is also perfect! It means they are learning about the objects using their senses and enjoying their sensory bin. You can leave the sensory bin with the objects inside for them to explore for a few days, then try playing the “I spy” game again, once they’ve had a chance to play with it. You can also explore each object with them as they pick them up from the bin, which will further their vocabulary, sensory learning and mathematical knowledge about attributes. For example, you can say “how does the feather feel when you touch it?” or “look how small this little pompom is” etc.
  • Stay close and supervise as some of the objects can be a choking hazard.

Learning Opportunities

With this activity, children learn S.T.E.M., particularly math. They also enrich their sensory learning, language and vocabulary, math language and visual perception – all important for literacy and reading and math. Playing with the rice and the objects in the bin also will give them a chance for free play, creativity, dramatic play, calm and focus.

Encourage your child to describe how each object feels to the touch, how heavy or light they are compared to one another, and just chat in general, for added vocabulary and sensory awareness

CEFA tip: Supervise at all times!

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