Thursday, August 8, 2013

Organize and Host a Sensory Bin Swap

Luke, Jack and friends playing with beach-theme sensory bin contents on a tray.  Note the girls sorting gems and rocks while the boys engage in dramatic play.  What great materials that bag had  rocks, gem stones, shells, sand, plastic figurines variety to engage children of many ages!
Today, our family hosted our first ever Sensory Bin Contents Swap – an idea that I came up with more than a year ago, but one that I have just gotten around to making a reality.

Why it took me so long to organize and host a Sensory Bin Contents Swap, I have no idea.  But, I am glad I finally did it.  It was easy and enjoyable.  Plus, now we have even more sensory bin fun to look forward to in the coming year.

Would you like to model a similar exchange after our tried-and-true experience?  Please feel free to tweak what I did to meet your own needs.

First, decide how many folks you want to involve and who to invite.

Making four bags to give away and one actual sensory bin box to play with ourselves was quite manageable!

For me, the magic number was five and the group was a local group for families with young homeschoolers. 

I chose five because I recalled the hours and hours it took me to cut materials for the traditional activity bag exchange I participated, which had 10 other folks in with ten other families and decided making more than five sensory bin bags to exchange might become tedious and time-consuming.

I chose a group of local homeschoolers because:

(a)   As much as I LOVED the long-distance original activity bag exchanges I did with a long-distance blog-friend, I also enjoyed the in-person tea time exchange the kids and I experienced with the aforementioned traditional activity bag exchange.

(b)    Sensory bin materials can get heavy, so shipping costs might make the exchange cost prohibitive.

(c)    The particular group I chose is full of enthusiastic moms who I enjoy dialoguing with in person and online.

Second, send out an invitation.

My invitation follows:

Hello, all!

I am in the midst of thinking about the coming year’s homeschool activities, including repurposing some of the areas in our home to better integrate our learning efforts. In doing so, I am hoping to knock off a project I have LONG been meaning to – re-designating a sensory bin space.
With that in mind, I have decided it would be fun to do a Sensory Bin Contents exchange and wanted to invite other folks to participate. The details of the exchange are below. Let me know by next Sunday if you are interested in participating.
Thanks! I look forward to a fun exchange.
WHAT: Fall Sensory Bin Contents Swap
WHEN: Now (for the planning) through a TBD later date for the actual swap (Date TBD once we know who will be actually participating.)
WHERE: Depending on the locations of those that will participate, we can choose a centrally located park to do the exchange at. Or, I can host the exchange at my home. If you want to participate, but cannot make it for the actual Swap Day and Time, you’d be welcome to drop your bags-to-be-swapped off ahead of time and, then, to pick up the bags they were swapped for on a later date.
WHO: The first four people who respond by next Sunday will participate along with us. Should more than four other people respond, I may organize a second exchange, since I think making the exchange larger than five people may make it cost/time budget prohibitive for some.

1. Decide on a sensory bin theme.
Themes are open, and I am happy to offer you specific ideas if you need some. Seasonal ideas (fall flowers, foliage, apples, squirrels, pumpkins, seeds, scarecrows, acorns, etc.) and general ones (specific colors, numbers, letters, body parts, etc.) are all appropriate.
You can find some inspiring (albeit many elaborate) ideas for sensory bins at the following links:
-   Examiner
-   1+1+1=1
Breathe easy as you browse the above links, though: Your idea need not be as intricate as some of the ones you’ll be wowed by. I know mine never are!
2. Gather enough supplies to include three or more different types of textured materials and/or props that match your theme in five identical (or nearly identical) bags.
Be creative. Think about supplies that you already have on hand, can recycle or can up-cycle. If you wish, you may purchase items, but please do not spend more than $5 per bag, tops. (The more frugal, the better! I am a big believer in budget-friendly kiddo fun and learning.)
Ideas for materials can be found at this webpage.
3. Divide yours supplies into five bags.
These can be recycled shopping bags or 1-2 gallon Ziploc bags. (The latter is preferred.)
For ease of transfer and storage, you may wish to put some of the items in each bag into smaller bags.
For example, if I were making a BUGS bin, I might decide to use dirt, shredded green paper grass and some plastic bugs, plus a magnifying glass and/or bug net and/or bug house and/or funnel and/or scoops, if I were feeling really ambitious and had extras laying around. To ensure that the bags would stay “neat” during transfer and storage, I would put the dirt into a smaller Ziploc, the grass into another one and the bugs into yet another one. Then, I would pop all these into a larger one.
4. Attach a label to each large bag that indicates your theme, and, if appropriate, a suggested time for use.
Please indicate if the theme relates to a specific observance or holiday, particularly more obscure ones like those listed here.
5. Bring four of the five identical bags you created to the Swap.
You will exchange these for four different bags, leaving you with an entire month’s worth of sensory bin fun, plus the bag you made for yourself.
6. Enjoy the Swap.
Bring your kiddoes along with your bags. The kids can play together while we chat and swap. If we swap at my house, depending on the weather, I will put out a communal “messy” sensory bin for the kids to enjoy while they are here – most likely something water-based as I expect it will still be warm, so feel free to have your children wear or bring swimsuits and come prepared with a change of clothes and towel handy.
Third, once folks respond with interest, decide on a date and time for the exchange and clarify any details.

With different textured materials, props, recycled materials and an open-ended theme these exchange bag contents from another mom were right on target!  She figured autumn, falling foliage and decay.  Thus, sawdust as a base with laminated bugs to crawl though it, fake fall leaves, twigs for trees and homemade toilet-paper tube owls.  Love it!

Our group decided that exchanging bags at my home instead of at a park would work best for everyone.  That way, moms could carry bags back to vehicles and, then, corral kids once the exchange playdate was over without worrying about others.

Details I clarified included that the SIZE of the sensory bins was a plastic shoe box-to-dishwashing tub size and that no one should reveal what they were doing before the exchange day, so we could all enjoy the surprise and creativity of one another’s work. 

Fourth, put Your Sensory Bags together.

Nina and Jack thoroughly enjoyed making the coffee-scented "dirt" for the bags we exchanged.

In my family’s case, putting together bags to exchange was a mom-kiddoes project.  The kids helped prepare and stuff all the contents, which turned into a sensory experience in itself!

Finally, set up some sensory fun, welcome guests, then exchange and enjoy!

Of course, my sensory seeker and a friend ended the day sliding in shaving cream!

We kept things simple.  To entertain all the children, I set out:

-         a sensory sandbox/pool with shaving cream, matchbox cars and foam paint brushes
-         a sensory sandbox/pool with dishwashing detergent bubbles, shells, cloths and a bucket
-         a sprinkler
-         an easel with an art kit and chalk
-         ride-on toys

Another mom made a "China Bin" with cotton balls, post cards, crinkled Chinese magazines, origami cranes and stars and chinese candies (for scent or eating).  Clever and cultural!

For the actual exchange between Moms, I simply put a large blanket on the ground.

Luke, at first, thought everyone at the play date was "too young", but soon enough became engaged by the new bin materials, which got spread on a tray for his playing delight.

Truly, fun was had by all today and I smile thinking about the play and learning that will unfold as all the children explore the goodies each family brought home today.  

We'll definitely be doing another exchange.  How about you?

Have you exchanged sensory bin contents (or actual sensory bins) before?  What other types of exchanges have you enjoyed?


Kylie said...

What a fabulous idea!! Thanks for linking to my blog. I have shared this post with my FB followers

Kristina S. said...

I am sad to say I literally know no one in this area to do this with but I LOVE the idea!!! What an exciting surprise each new bag would be. Thanks for the inspiration!


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