“Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we‘re stupid.” – Jules Feiffer
I love the idea of sensory bins, but have been hesitant to dive headlong into this method of play-learning with my toddler. I’ve been searching popular mom-blogs, creating boards on Pinterest, and really trying to get an idea of what the feasibility and value of these bins really is for my family. Unlike some bloggers, we live in Florida where we are blessed to rarely be restricted indoors due to harsh weather conditions. The Coastal Living Son (Upgraded from The Coastal Living Baby [TCLS]) and I frequent the plethora of local (and some not-so-local) parks on a daily or twice daily basis. During these outings, TCLS is able to touch and play with a multitude of textures found in nature. Things like sand, dirt, wood chips, grass, flowers, sticks, leaves, pine cones, etc. So what’s the benefit of a sensory bin?
One way I look at sensory bins is an opportunity to introduce and interact with an educational concept that may not come up organically as often as you would like. I have recently read an outstanding book about the development of language from infancy through kindergarten called, Beyond Baby Talk. Speech-Language Pathologists wrote this book and one of the points they make in the infant/toddler phase is that children at this age learn best when what you are teaching is in the present and is woven into play. Using my example from above, TCLS and I have ample opportunities to discuss and explore the natural world around us, and yes that does include colors… but our main focus is typically on the objects themselves and what they are a part of rather than an immersion into some preschool basics like colors or shapes. I am not sure that I will never use flash cards, I personally found that making my own flash cards in college and graduate school significantly augmented my learning of new material, but at this stage of TCLS’s life, I want to focus on learning methods cloaked in fun.
Enter The Color Blue Sensory Bin. I debated what “educational theme” to use for this project, and decided on the color blue for several reasons. 1) TCLS is currently very interested in coloring with crayons, and 2) TCLS has recently learned how to say “Blue.” I thought this would be a good place to start.
For the sensory bin, I grabbed a few Mega Blocks from our supply, a little cup, some small balls, and several cookie cutters (all items in shades of blue). I also had a letter “B” from our foam alphabet mat that I threw in as well.
For the colored rice, I used two different methods of coloring and I would like to review those options for your benefits. The standard way to color dry (uncooked) pasta or rice for sensory bins involves using liquid food coloring and rubbing alcohol. You can also add in essential oils (like lavender or peppermint) or extracts (like lemon or vanilla) for scents.
For my rice with this method, I took 6 cups of plain white rice, placed them in a gallon-sized plastic bag, added 2T of rubbing alcohol, and (approx.) ¾ of a bottle of blue food coloring. I shook up the sealed bag until the color was evenly distributed and let it sit for an hour to absorb the color. Then I poured the colored rice into the sensory bin tub to dry overnight. This method produced a nice, rich blue color that was exactly what I was looking for for this project. It did take longer than the second method to mix and dry, but as you will see, I think it’s worth it. Note: you can you less or more dye depending on the hue you hope to achieve.
For the second method of coloring the rice, I used a novel idea I found over at the Play, Create, Explore blog. This method uses the new Duncan Hines Frosting Creations packets to color the rice. Basically the DH Frosting packets are used to add color, flavor and scent to basic white frosting. They come in a ton of flavor-color combos and seemed like a really cool idea. Following the Play, Crete, Explore blog’s method, I put 3 cups of dry rice into a large tub, mixed in 1T of rubbing alcohol, added in two packets of the DH Frosting Creations mix (for this project, I used the “cotton candy” scented, blue colored packet option), and stirred it all together with a metal whisk. It was super easy to do and dried much quicker than the liquid food coloring. The color came out a nice aqua color and it really did smell like cotton candy.
I mixed both rice batches together in one bin and added the blue play items listed above.
The next day I decided to give this activity a try. We have carpet in every room except the kitchen, so I set up the sensory bin in there and then brought in TCLS. We both sat on the floor and dug into the bin. He was most interested by the cookie cutters since he hadn’t seen them before. I showed him how to hide them under the rice and he enjoyed finding them, and then trying to block me from hiding them (he’s a big teaser). Then I noticed our hands. They were completely covered in bright aqua blue power! It was kind of like if you rubbed sidewalk chalk all over your hands. Unfortunately, TCLS also touched his face, clothes and lots of other things before I could get him cleaned up. Also, the rice and toys that got (accidentally?) thrown out of the bin got blue powder all over the floor. It was a huge mess! Although I can’t say 100% it was from the DH Frosting packets, I am pretty sure based on the color and consistency of the residue that it was the guilty party.
For families that don’t mind the mess, go ahead and give it a try, but our family will be using the basic, liquid color method from now on!
**Disclaimer: I think most parents/caregivers would know this, but dry/uncooked rice is a choking hazard. Infants/Toddlers/Children should never be left alone or unsupervised with sensory bins that contain choking hazards. Please stay with your little one(s) as they play!