Summer offers so many opportunities to get outside, play and explore! Summer-themed sensory bins for occupational therapists (OTs) are the perfect way to practice fine motor skills, promote calm and foster creative play. When possible, you can easily set sensory bins up outside or bring some of the summer spirit into your classroom or occupational therapy setting.
Sensory bins remain a favorite activity for OTs, and others in therapy jobs. Even if you’re already using sensory bins to inspire progress with those you work with, here are some new ideas to change things up a bit and bring some seasonal fun to your sessions!
Ocean Sensory Table
- Plastic water table
- Water or blue water beads
- Small figures like animals, divers, fish, and treasures
- Vehicles like boats and cars
- Sand (optional)
Use the natural separations of the water table to designate areas for the ocean, jetty, and beach. Have your students count shells, make up a “diving for treasure” story, or pretend to go fishing. There’s plenty to do and talk about.
Shaving Cream Car Wash
For most kids, washing the car is more fun than other chores because it offers the chance to play with suds and get a little wet! Here’s a way to recreate the experience on a smaller scale. If you can, devote two bins to this activity along with:
- Shaving cream
- Small toy cars
- Sponges or toothbrushes to scrub (optional)
Fill one bin with water and the other with shaving cream. Provide a bunch of small toy cars, trucks, and even boats that can be “soaped” up with the shaving cream and then washed in the water. Kids will naturally work on fine motor skills if you provide sponges or toothbrushes to grip and scrub with. And for those children who are more sensitive to different textures, the foam is a nice introduction to something new.
- Large bin or container
- Colorful plastic plates bowls and cups
- Small drink pitcher
- Picnic napkins
- Green and yellow-colored rice
- Small magnifying glasses
- Salad tongs
- Plastic ants
- Picnic letters and food pictures
- Fake food condiment bottles, small plastic utensils, etc.
Put yellow rice into the “lemonade pitcher” and then serve in cups. Have children arrange dishes and napkins for picnic guests, and dish out some of the printable foods. If you do decide to use the printable letters and food, laminating them will make them more durable. If you’re doing this in a classroom setting, have kids invite friends to share to make it more social.
Creepy Crawly Bugs with Dyed Pasta
Explore the world of creepy crawlers without having to handle real bugs! This eye-popping Insect OT Sensory Bin delivers a truly unique (and fun) experience for students working on fine motor skills in occupational therapy. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Cooked spaghetti
- Green food dye
- Bin or container
- Small plastic insects (TOOBS Mini Figures are great!)
- Magnifying glasses
- Fine motor tools (scoops, tweezers, spoons, etc.)
You’ll need to prep ahead for this one, but it’s worth it. Cook spaghetti until it’s soft enough to eat. Drain and rinse with cool water. Add the green food dye and stir until pasta is fully coated. Then place it in a spot where it can dry out for about 10 to 15 minutes. This time allotment will help ensure the dye does not transfer to little hands, but different brands may vary a bit on time. Once finished, pour the pasta into a bin along with the bugs. Add the tools, and have at it. Encourage kids to feel the squishy, stringy spaghetti, count legs, inspect the details of the insects, name the bugs, and much more! There’s so much to see, feel and talk about here.
Garden Sensory Bin
- Flowers and plants (artificial or cut)
- Plastic bin
- Beads (optional)
Encourage children to scoop and poke holes into the dirt to plant their flowers and plants. You can even add beads and pretend they’re seeds. Working with shovels and scoops makes for great fine motor and hand/eye coordination practice. Don’t forget to talk about the colors and names of what you’re planting. And if you use real flowers, it’s also a great opportunity to discuss different smells as well.
Cloud Dough Sand Castles
- 8 cups of flour
- 1 cup of cooking or baby oil
- Small cups for scooping and molding (measuring cups and spoons work well)
- Sticks/Flags/toothpicks or other decorations
- Animals/people figures, toy trucks (optional)
- Large bin or container
To make the dough, simply add the oil to the flour and mix until it’s soft and moldable. Then, create a sensory that offers up plenty of inspiration for great open-ended play. Squish the sand between fingers. Mold some sandcastles. Mark them with little flags, or create your own with toothpicks and tissue paper. Make a beach scene with some small figures, or designate a worksite with small trucks. You can easily let the children’s interests guide this activity!
Do you have a favorite seasonal sensory bin you use in your occupational therapy job? Tell us what has worked for you and the children you serve by commenting below. If you can, share a picture, too! And let us know if you try one of our sensory bins!
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