Although many retailers started celebrating Halloween back in August, Halloween is finally really almost here. Halloween and Fall-themed sensory bins are an easy, non-threatening way to bring the colors and sights of the season into your school-based therapy classroom.
This is Fun!
Sensory bins were recently introduced in my special education classroom, and have produced a great response. Everyone wants to participate…so break time is a quiet, calming oasis for our students. I decided with the writing of this article that I would make a couple of Halloween bins myself, since I had never created one on my own before. I discovered that making sensory bins is as much fun (and equally as calming!) for the person creating it, as it is for the person who uses it. My 16-year-old daughter helped me shop for the supplies, and each of us made a bin. By the time we were finished, we wished we had purchased more bins and fillers so we could keep going. So even though I work in a special education classroom with elementary students, students all the way through high school may be calmed by using or creating sensory bins.
Finding the Right Supplies…and Creating My Bins
Dollar Stores, clearance bins in craft stores − and even thrift shops − can yield an abundance of supplies for sensory bins. For my Fall/Halloween bin I used brown decorative shredded paper for the base. Fillers included pom-poms in bright autumn colors, silk autumn leaves, “spooky” plastic trees, tiny bat and skill rings, and a few larger colorful Frankenstein monsters. The Frankenstein monsters rattle when shaken… while this was unexpected, I can envision it being a big hit in a school-based therapy classroom.
The purely Halloween bin contains black decorative shredded paper, googly ping pong ball eyeballs (these are a bit smaller than regulation ping pong balls), various multi-colored creatures, plastic skeletons and tiny plastic glow-in-the-dark bones.
One trip to the Dollar Store was all it took to find all the materials, (including the bins!) we needed. However, since retailers do celebrate holidays well ahead of time, I discovered that it is advisable to shop for holiday or seasonal bins when the retailers first put things out. Halloween was already diminished and pushed aside by Christmas items, and there were a few things I would have liked to have that were long gone.
Scent-centric Sensory Bins
As soon as Fall hits, out comes the “everything possible pumpkin spice” in stores, bakeries and coffee shops. So why not bring that nice scent into the classroom in a sensory bin? There are many recipes for pumpkin spice play dough out there and so far, all of the students I’ve worked with have loved the smell. Use it as the filler for a bin, and hide small Halloween objects in it for students to find. Alternately, use Halloween cookie cutters in the play dough. Just plain old playing with scented play dough is always fun and encourages hand strength and fine motor skills just as well.
One bin we created in my classroom uses ground coffee as a filler. Coffee is the perfect substitute for dirt, and makes a great base for a Halloween graveyard bin as well. Tiny spooky fences, grave stones, ghosts, skeletons, and zombies are easy to find this time of year. Don’t forget to include a tiny witch or two!
“Back to Nature” Sensory Bins
Simple, natural materials make great bin fillers too. Dried corn has long filled a sensory table at a pumpkin patch I visit annually, and there is always a swarm of children scooping and pouring the corn. For a sensory bin, small hay bales purchased at craft stores can be pulled apart to use as filler. Combine the hay with small, multi-colored gourds for an especially fun bin, with a cornucopia of textures and colors. Carefully selected corn stalk leaves and acorns make nice items too… just watch for sharp edges on the leaves and pointy acorns!
For all children – but especially those you encounter through your therapy job as an SLP, OT, or other type of school-based therapist…incorporating sensory bins into seasons and holidays can provide an excellent tool for making colors, shapes and textures easily accessible and understandable.
About the writer: Jennifer Elston
Jennifer works in a Special Education Classroom in Central PA. In her spare time, she is thrilled to be sharing her deepest thoughts, best hacks and favorite curated ideas with Therapy Source’s audience of blog readers.
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