If you teach preschool, pre-k or kindergarten I'm sure that you've looked at a lesson you've been asked to teach and wondered how you were going to catch their attention and make the story come to life. You've prepared your Bible story (hopefully with some motions, repeated words and pictures to engage kids), you've cut out all the parts of a fun craft, and you've learned the songs that you want to sing, but what else can you add to this lesson?
The answer might be a sensory bin.
For a lesson that makes full use of sensory bin, you may want to check out "4 Soils" a preschool/ pre-k lesson on the parable of the sower.
What is a sensory bin and how do I use one in my Sunday School Class?
Sensory bins are staples in many preschool/ pre-k classrooms and homes with toddlers and preschoolers. They are often tools that are used for learning and are great options for entertaining young hands and minds. But what is a sensory bin?
A sensory bin most simply is a container filled with items that grab children's attention using different senses; sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Sensory bins help to welcome young children in to experience the story instead of simply hearing it read. They take a 2D picture of the story and make it come alive for young kids.
These bins and the items you've placed inside them allow the explorer in your kiddos to take over. They get to see, feel, smell, hear (and if at home with just your kids, taste) the elements of the story. Their senses will be stimulated and the story will come to life for them, helping them to remember the story longer.
How do I choose and set up a sensory bin?
The first thing you need for a sensory bin is a bin or container. Bins can be flat plastic storage boxes (like under the bed storage), deeper plastic tubs, flat boxes that you pick up at a grocery store, or even a kid's wading pool. The main thing is that a few kids should be able to sit around it and it can safely hold your sensory items. You will also likely want to put a plastic table cloth or a shower curtain liner on the floor under the bin for easy clean up so that you're less stressed about the mess that the kids are making. A key thing to remember here is that little minds and hands learn through mess, and letting them explore the items without fear will increase both their enjoyment and learning.
Next, think about an aspect of your particular Bible story that you want kids to remember and start thinking about what kids could play with to focus on that idea. Start with a base item. Sensory bins usually start with one base item; sand, kinetic sand, water, beans, rice, paper shreds, etc. Fill the bin with your chosen base item and then add other items for kids to manipulate - toy animals, pictures, spoons, etc. It is these extra items that help to make the story come to life.
To help you as you start to incorporate sensory bins in your classroom, here are a few examples that are kid, teacher and curriculum writer approved; meaning I've used all of these with my pre-k class and with my own son at home.
10 Examples of Bible Sensory Bins:
Creation - 2 bins - (a) water and sea animals, and (b) kinetic sand and toy animals to make footprints.
The Fall - a fruit picking bin - cut out the shape of a tree top and attach to a paper towel roll. Tape the tree to the tray and fill tray with red and green pom poms (representing fruit). Kids use tweezers to "pick" the fruit and place in small baskets.
Noah - 2 bins - (a) water - things that sink or float and (b) rainbow theme with scraps of paper, cut up multicolored plastic straws or rainbow colored sand or rice and toy animals/ people. For this option write the word promise on a picture of a rainbow and post it near the bin.
Tower of Babel - kinetic sand, small sand castle toys and a few rocks - encourage kids to build a tall tower.
Plagues - hide small items representing the various plagues (red cloth, toy flog, small doll, toy cow, toy grasshopper, etc) in kinetic sand and review the story while they play.
40 Years in the Desert - sand, small sand toys, toy camels, a small tent (paper folded) that they can move around [optional - cereal pieces to represent manna - make sure kids don't eat it).
Ruth - a grain bin (use popcorn and rice due to gluten allergies) with small baskets kids can gather the grain in.
Jesus' Birth - 2 bins - (a) follow the star - black beans (representing night) and small plastic/ paper stars (glow in the dark ones are fun if you have a dark corner of your room). Give kids tweezers to pick up the stars and put into a small jar, or (b) fill the manger - place a small box in the bin to represent the manger and have kids fill the manger with yellow paper shred (hay) and small strips of cloth (swaddling cloth).
Parable of the Sower - 4 bins - (a) white sand on top of a page you've drawn footprints for kids to brush the sand to the sides with paint brushes and find the path, (b) pom poms and large tweezers for kids to pretend to be birds eating the seeds, (c) small rocks and beans (representing seeds) for kids to sort the rocks and seeds, (d) kinetic sand, gardening tools, greenery to be the good soil.
Judas Betrays Jesus - add coins (real or fake) to a bin with black beans (representing night) and have kids sort out the coins and count them. [optional - provide a small muffin tin for coin sorting].
This list of Bible based sensory bins could go on and on (and who knows, some day it may), so watch this space for more sensory bin based lesson ideas.