Although it can be really messy, sensory tables or bins are great for preschoolers and toddlers, and fun for older kids too! Infants and young children learn by using all of their senses. You put something in front of a baby and what will the baby do? They will put it in their mouth, see how it tastes, how it feels in their mouth and hands, smell it, shake it and see if it makes noise!
This is why most preschools and day cares will employ some sort of sensory table/bin/box or other forms of sensory play. Sensory play can be found in sandboxes, pools and water buckets, walking barefoot in the grass, picking up snow with bare hands, crafts with ribbons, sand paper, pom poms, scented markers, cotton balls scented with essential oils or baking extracts, dry rice, bird seeds, pebbles or aquarium rocks, cooking, and when babies are involved - mouthing everything they can find! Obviously keep your child's age in mind when you plan what you will use so your little one doesn't eat something or choke. For little ones who still put everything in their mouth you can use edible things like finger painting with pudding, or playing with jello. There are tons of other things to use as well, google Sensory Play or Sensory Table Ideas.
Sure I spent a lot of my time scooping beans back into the play area and bin, but the extra clean up is well worth the learning experience they had!
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