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Published on March 17, 2020

illustration of child playing in tub

Boredom Breakers: Sensory Box

One of my favorite activities to do with kids is the sensory box. You can usually tell that kids are learning something by the amount of time they spend with an activity, and this one will keep their attention for a long time.

My sensory box is a plastic box about 12” by 30” and 6” deep. I use it on the floor so kids have room to move around when they play. Put a plastic table cloth under it to make clean-up easier.

The classic sensory activity is water. Most kids love the bathtub — they splash, pour, dump and experiment with the water in all kinds of ways. You can use water in the sensory box, but CONSTANT supervision is required. Infants and toddlers can drown in as little as 2 inches of water.

An alternate idea that is safer and not as messy is dry oatmeal. Most older infants and young toddlers can try this activity because the chance of choking is small. You’ll still have to see how your child reacts. If he or she is putting handfuls of oatmeal in the mouth, you may have to wait a few months. So supervise carefully until you are sure your child can play safely.

Provide a variety of scoops, cups, spoons and funnels. Raid the kitchen drawers or visit a discount store for these items. You can also add toy cars, animals or people to your sensory box. Toddlers learn about mass, volume and gravity when they fill and dump the oatmeal. They learn about object permanence when they hide their toys and then retrieve them.

When kids are done playing, simply put the lid on the box and save for another day. If multiple children are playing, such as a child care or playgroup, sanitize hands before and after play. When your oatmeal gets too dirty or powdery, put it outside for the birds.

As your child gets older, try different materials in the sensory box:

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Birdseed
  • Dry corn or beans
  • Artificial grass
  • Shredded paper
  • Cotton balls
  • Salt
  • Water beads

Use your imagination! Just be sure the materials in the sensory box are safe and non toxic, and that they are appropriate for your child’s age.

A sensory box provides open-ended play experiences that let children test their ideas, learn about physics and develop critical-thinking skills. These are things that are hard to learn from TV or a device!

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