Photo provided by ba1969.
So you’ve found a way to create a sensory table without a huge hit to your budget. Now how do you keep it filled with a variety of materials without dipping into your rainy day fund? There are plenty of fantastic sensory experiences that you can provide with little or no cost, and most of them are reusable!
Capitalize on Catastrophe. If you’re as lucky as I am, you have a few extra hands in your house that tend to increase the number of spills in your kitchen. I’d be lying if I said all the spills were at the hands of my children. Suffice it to say that between the four of us in our home, the floor has seen its fair share of disaster. When these spills happen in our “dry foods department” and on a large scale, I scoop them up and store them with my sensory supplies rather than throwing them out in the trash can. This is how my popcorn kernel supply began, and has also contributed to my colored rice collection. With flour and salt, I often bag them up and save them for making playdough.
Don’t worry if you don’t have small hands to help empty the contents of your pantry. Grocery stores have their fair share of spills and stocking mishaps. Get on good terms with someone at your local grocery store and offer to take any packages of rice, pasta, cornmeal, popcorn, flour, etc, that happen to end up with a small tear or are spliced open while unpacking boxes. These items would otherwise be thrown out, but can find a second purpose in your sensory table.
Think Outside the Box. Consider how excited you are when you receive that long awaited package in the mail. Ever notice that children are just as excited about the packaging that remains in the “empty” box? Save those packing peanuts and poofs and use them in your sensory table. Bury toys and add cups and you’ll be surprised at how long it will captivate your children.
One Man’s Trash. My mom once embarked on a carpentry endeavor and proudly build her own bench with the help of her woodworking brother. As she showed off her final product, she also pointed out a bucketful of sawdust leftover from the undertaking and asked if I could use it for anything. I was almost embarrassed that I hadn’t come up with it myself! We packed some into a box, and it has become a quick favorite with the children at the sensory bin! They dig for plastic bugs and compact it into different sized cups. What would otherwise end up in a garbage bag has provided the children with whom I work with a fun sensory activity with a unique texture and a connection with natural material. Think about ways to use other “garbage” like piles of paper from your paper shredder (add water for a more interesting effect) or leftover stuffing and beads from expired toys and beanbags.
Act Naturally. Consider all of the natural textures around you that you can bring indoors for closer examination. Dig a few shovelfuls of dirt from your garden, complete with worms, and let the children add water, dig holes, and explore with magnifiers. In the winter, fill your bin with snow! Add some cookie cutters to make designs, paint the snow with colored water, or simply dig and play until it melts and then examine the impurities in the resulting water. Fill the bin with leaves and twigs in fall, adding a few plastic animals for dramatic play. If you have sod to spare, cut out a patch of grass with plenty of dirt so the children can explore the grass, root systems, and soil with magnifiers and tweezers. And then there’s water! The ways you can use that in your sensory table should be a post of its own! The list of natural sensory media could go on and on! The next time you’re out on your own nature walk, take note of the fascinating features that could be further explored in your sensory bin!
You don’t have to break the bank buying prepackaged sensory materials from high-priced catalogs. Just open your mind to the variety of textures and sensory experiences that present themselves each day and find a way to let children explore them within the boundaries and budget of your situation.