First of all, why would you create a sensory tub for your child ? Sensory play has multiple benefits. Young kids learn about their world through touch, feel, smell and taste and experiencing different textures, smells and colors in a tub is fun and educational for them. Sensory play teaches kids pre-math and pre-science skills through measuring and pouring; it teaches them language through naming objects; it teaches them how to investigate, evaluate and collect objects. Kids love sensory tubs and frequently spend long time exploring them.
Just as children learn through their senses, they are building the neurological pathways associated with each sense. With continuous sensory experiences children become more perceptive. As they get better at using their senses, they also get better at learning through their senses.
Sensory play is not just for toddlers and preschoolers, by the way. Have you ever dug into a sensory tub, while the kids weren’t watching ? I have and I had fun with it, too!
Many moms have asked me how to create a sensory tub.
1. First thing first: come up with a theme. Yes, you can put a pile of cheap popcorn into a plastic box, give your kid two measuring cups and the kid would be happy, but why not add another dimension to this?
The theme can be “cooking,” in which case you’d also add safe utensils and explain to your child how to make popcorn prior to putting it in the tub. The theme can be “farming,” in which case you’d add a toy tractor, a bucket and a few rubber cows and a rubber horse: your child would learn which animals live on a typical farm. The theme can be “white,” in which case you’d also add white pompoms, white plastic cups, a white toy car and some white butterflies. Then you can watch the calming effect this absence of bright colors has on your child.
Themes unify knowledge, making it more logical, more concrete. You can enrich your child’s sensory play even further by later reading up on your theme, either in a story book or in an encyclopedia or both.
2. Find a quiet play area that you are not too afraid of soiling and put something on the floor there to cover it. I like plastic tablecloth from the Dollar store.
3. Find a box. I like large, but short clear boxes the best, but even a cardboard box can work. Put your box on your floor cover.
4. Come up with the base material. Base material is something to dig through. Sand, grain, beans, corn, rocks, even shredded paper or pompoms or water: anything pleasant to touch is good. Think of your theme while choosing the base material: see how I chose colorful tissue paper for my butterfly tub or poppy seeds for my asphalt tub. A friend of mine recently did a farm tub, where she used oats as a base material. I thought her idea was great!
5. Come up with items to use for digging. Shovels, spoons, bowls, cups ( plastic or paper are best.) The whole purpose of the tub is to dig through it, so do offer something to dig with. Generally speaking, use the maximum of 6 items for digging. I like to use 2-3, but when all of my three kids start competing for one spoon, the amount of items has to change.
6. Come up with toys to compliment your theme, to create a story. If your theme is “the ocean,” put some plastic fish in the tub. If your theme is “the garden,” put some fake flowers in there. If you choose sports as a theme, put different balls in your tub. Limit the amount of play items to 10, or they would be too distracting.
7. Leave your child alone! Resist the temptation to tell your kid how to play, to explain what goes with what and how. Just let them play and you’d be amazed at all the creative games they come up with!