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Winter Sensory Bins & Small World Play: 411 & Materials Lists - Safari Ltd®

Winter Sensory Bins & Small World Play: 411 & Materials Lists


Winter is often a great time for slow and quiet indoor play activities that spark the imagination and provide some often much needed stimulation.

Seasonal sensory bins combined with small world play are a magical way to immerse and engage children in a theme or to extend a literacy experience.

Sensory bins are often created using shallow tubs, large trays, or other containers that are easy to reach into. Clear containers seem to work best, as they allow children to better see the contents. After choosing a container, various types of fillers are added as a base for play. Finally, themed props/figurines are placed in or around the bin for the children to creatively explore.

Sensory bins allow for open-ended play, which brings with it a low-stress and successful learning experience for children of all ability levels. A typical sensory bin play experience promotes creativity, critical thinking, fine motor skills, visual discrimination, categorizing/sorting, measurement, oral language development, and many other skills.

What is Small World Play? 


Small World Play is when a child uses their imagination, props, and small toys and figurines to create fantastic imaginary worlds and scenes for play and storytelling. This can be an added bonus to a sensory bin experience! The storytelling aspect of Small World Play fosters emotional and social growth in addition to the benefits of sensory bin exploration.

Sensory Bins

Sensory bins are largely for free explorations and experimentation. The hands-on experience gives them a great deal of stimulating sensory input and an outlet for creative play and storytelling. Kids use sensory bins for pouring, scooping, measuring, burying/excavating, building, creating/retelling stories, etc.

In addition to free play, sensory bins can also be used for more specific learning activities. You can add letters and/or words to create literacy building activities (seasonal vocabulary cards can be used to match with items), numbers for math activities, many different props for sorting/graphing/counting, checklist for I spy to build visual discrimination, “recipe” cards for reading/sequencing/following directions, etc.

There are so many options for sensory bin fillers of various textures, density, states of matter, edibility, etc. Each filler type lends itself to a unique and stimulating sensory experience. When trying new fillers, gauge how your child reacts to each type, and base future sensory bin fillers on your child’s engagement and enjoyment. Some children can have surprisingly strong reactions to certain sensory activities. While one child might be delighted by certain textures (rough, slimy, sticky, etc.), others may find the same texture to be uncomfortable. 


Note, some sensory bin fillers can be messy, but the relatively quick tidying up time is worth it! There are so many positive benefits that outweigh the mess. Also, tidying up is a learning experience in and of itself. You can purchase small dust pans and brooms, tubs for water/soap and cleaning cloths, and spray bottles to help your child learn the art of cleaning up a mess.

Don't know where to begin? It is so fun to come up with sensory bin fillers and small world play prop ideas for each season. Peruse the lists below to get started on creating wonderful winter sensory bins.

*Snow Sensory Bin Materials*

  • Actual snow
  • Cotton balls
  • White or light blue pom poms
  • Biodegradable packing peanuts
  • White felt or cloth (Cut into strips or pieces)
  • White Playdoh
  • Shredded white paper
  • Shredded toilet paper or paper towels
  • Snow powder
  • Styrofoam balls of various sizes
  • White or clear Water Beads
  • White feathers
  • White sand
  • White or clear beads
  • Small white aquarium rocks
  • Shaving cream
  • Soap suds
  • Clear or white gelatin
  • White rice (cooked or dry)
  • White beans or lentils
  • Dried potato flakes
  • Shredded coconut
  • Dry oatmeal
  • Epsom salt
  • Flour
  • Baking soda
  • Cornstarch
  • Powdered sugar
  • White Icing
  • Whipped cream
  • Marshmallows
  • DIY two ingredient fake snow
  • Cloud Dough
  • Oobleck (omit the food coloring to make “snow Oobleck”)
  • Slime(omit the food coloring to make “snow slime”)
  • * Ice*
  • Actual ice (crushed, chunks, or cubes)
  • Styrofoam 
  • Clear or Blue glass/plastic Gems (often used as “vase fillers”)
  • Clear or Blue Marbles
  • Sugar Cubes
  • Acrylic ice cubes
  • Acrylic crushed ice chunks

*Fan Favorite Winter Sensory Bin Animals*

*Bonus Sensory Bin Materials*

    • Real evergreen tree branches or herbs collected (especially those with a pleasant scent like Rosemary)
      • Cranberries or other dried berries-
        • Cinnamon sticks
          • Pine cones
            • Rocks
              • Sticks
                • Popsicle sticks
                  • Toothpicks (add gumdrops or mini marshmallows to make structures)
                    • Small cardboard boxes or toilet paper rolls
                      • Igloo (depending on desired size and availability, you can make one from a clean and empty milk jug/fruit cup or build one using blocks/ice/sugar cubes)
                        • Peg dolls
                          • Toy sleds
                            • Small gift boxes (i.e. for jewelry)
                              • Small wooden houses (you can find these at craft stores or bird houses also work well)
                                • Building blocks
                                  • 27 pcs BiOBUDDi Hiking Building Blocks Set which features a snowy backdrop, a husky to build, and other snowy themed items 


                                  How will your kids play and learn with sensory bins and small world play invitations?




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