Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Habitat Sensory Bins

I can't remember the last time I was this excited about something I did at school. Yesterday for the first time I introduced sensory bins to my first graders. Too some they might look like fluff or a waste of time. No, no, no! My children were engaged, they were learning, they were talking, they were experimenting, they were acting out field trips and things they've learned this year. They were exploring, sharing, cooperating and collaborating. The room was a buzz with activity. Even if you feel you can't take away from your teaching time, I encourage you try them as an indoor recess activity - something we are having way too much of this year.

Speaking of indoor recess. It is snowing and sleeting again in PA. So once again we have a snow/ice day. I guess our dear groundhog was right this year. It sure is looking like six more weeks of winter. We have used all our snow days and makeup days - so beginning today all future days will be added onto the end of the year :( It has made getting up and running after Christmas break hard, but it has also given me time to explore and prepare some new things for my classroom.

Sensory bins are something I've been wanting to try for quite some time. I have read about them on Sandi's blog rubber boots and elf shoes. She has created some really amazing bins. On her sidebar she has a link to the bins she's made for her class. I also have to thank Sandi for answering all my questions and providing me with good suggestions as I was making my first bins.

I wanted my bins to fit in with our classroom studies of animals and their habitats. Last week (when we were lucky enough to have school) we learned all about the groundhog. This week (well we had off Monday for snow, yesterday was a late start, and today we are off again, and its only Wednesday) we will dig deep into our study of Australian habitats and animals. The plan was to begin with one bin - but Mother Nature has given me extra time - so I created two bins.

Introducing the Groundhog Bin and The Australian Bin
Here is some rice I colored blue, with shells and some stuffed animals.
These are all things I found laying around my house, except for the map of Australia I printed and laminated. When two grown daughters leave the house, they leave you with some awesome treasures.
At first the students were very tentative and unsure of what to do, but then they dug right in.
Many of my students have never held a real shell.This little guy discovered it makes noise when you hold it to your ear.
Every child approached the bin in a different way. This guy went right for the map. As he pulled it out, he said, "I've got to see this!"
The guy in the red shirt was fascinated by the sea star. He studied it for a very long time. Then he had questions -"Where are its eyes? How does it eat? What are these lines for?" 
This is the groundhog bin. Some shiny, smooth rocks, fluff, flowers, sun/flashlight, clouds and of course some groundhogs.
Love the cooperation and working together!

Most children experimented with the flashlight. I overheard, "Oh, little groundhog you saw your shadow, back into your burrow you go. Six more weeks of winter."
Interesting experiment happening here.
Some imaginative play, feeding the groundhog. I love the garden of flowers she created.
This was our first day with the bins. Everyone wanted a turn, so I set out 6 stations and put the kids in groups of 2 or 3, they rotated through each station and spent about 10 minutes.
These guys were building the farm show - our last field trip.
Smiles and friendships were the order of the day!
The children were excited about school!
Here are some of my thoughts and observations after our first day of using sensory bins:
* the children practiced what they had learned without being told to, this was especially true when they were in the groundhog bin. Second language learners need to practice academic talk and here it happened naturally.
* excitement is now very high to learn about Australia. The children asked many good questions as they were exploring that bin, things I would have never thought to cover.
* it is important to be present and listen closely as children explore the bins, it is also important to stay quiet. Let them talk and listen to one another.
* upon finishing using the bins allow children to share what they discovered or did in their bin. I know next time the Australia bin is out ALL my children will be placing the big shell on their ear and listening.
* if we give children time and materials after a field trip or learning experience they will talk and act it out, thus making the learning more permanent.
* the bins appealed to all my students, but they were especially good for my movers and shakers. 
I LOVE sensory bins. There will always be at least one in my classroom from now on. As I reflect on them, the possibilities are endless.

Is this something you'd like to try in your room??????????
What kind of bin will you make? 
               animal? holiday? arctic? math? beach? birthday?
Pin It!


  1. They look FABULOUS, Maria. And the kids look so engaged and happy. I have pinned them - and I want to make a groundhog bin next year. Love the flashlight and shadows exploration.

    1. Thank you! The flashlight has proven to be a huge hit. The children have conducted all kinds of experiments.

  2. Your bins look great. Thanks to Sandi's inspiration, I have made a few also. Hubby and I went out shopping last night for goodies for the February bin. My kids are going to be so excited.

    Kinder Princess

    1. Your children are so lucky. I'd love to see a picture of your bin.

  3. Oh, yes! I'm sold. The habitat bins will be on my "to-do" list. Great ideas! This extension of learning happened to me last year after we studied magnets and went to the fifth-grade science fair about plants and magnets. I set all my magnet "stuff" on the floor to show the kids, but they ending up needing no further instruction as they conducted their own "experiments" (just like the fifth graders had described) and taught each other (playing teacher) all about magnets! So cool!
    Kat from

    1. You are so right - it is amazing what children will do when given the opportunity. One of the best things I've seen, well heard, when using the bins is the high quality conversations the children are having with each other.

  4. I love your bins, Maria. They're on my to-do list, too.

  5. Maria, I'm so happy to meet you! Thanks for commenting on my blog and leaving your link!

    With 25+ students, I've hesitated to put together sensory bins. But you--and Sandi-- have convinced me. :-)

  6. I have never heard of sensory bins, but they seem like a wonderful idea. I think they would be incredibly valuable to our ELL students. We take for granted how many students have not been exposed to these things. It is so much better for them to explore for themselves!

    Eclectic Educating

  7. Thank you for visiting. You are so very right the sensory bins are awesome for ELL students. Over half my class has English as their second language. Just listening to the children explore I realized how much I take for granted. One little boy had no idea what a funnel was, none had ever listened to a shell before. Oh - and the colored rice was most amazing to them. They asked again and again about it. After listening to their spontaneous talk I could plan some quality instruction that met them where they are. I hope you give one a try.

  8. Wonderful post! I need to make some sensory bins for my classroom. I don't teach ELL students, but many of my students have poor language skills due to home environment. These will be great for them!

  9. I have a student next year who has selective mutism. I think these will help her! She loves to touch and smell things. I'm having a series of "Play Dates" this summer with my students for next year. I'm going to give a bin a try that is bird themed! Thanks so much for your post!!

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