Indoor fun: Keep em' busy with sensory bins

We love our children. We really, really do. But when the temperature stays dangerously low for so many days in a row, forcing your family — including your little, busy, tiny humans — to stay indoors, it can all get a bit, well, frightening.

Let's be honest, there are only so many coloring books, jars of Play-Doh and hours of "Moana" to fill a weekend completely spent inside when you have toddlers. (You'll find out how far you'll go if you have to hear "How Far I'll Go," one. more. time.)

To offer a little bit of hope, we turned to Brittany Phair, early education director at The Busy Bee Learning Center in Lee, for some ideas. At the center, Phair and her staff keep about 35 busy bodies, ranging in ages from 15 months to 5 years old, happy and engaged indoors when the weather dips below 25 degrees. (The state, according to Phair, does not allow the children to go outside in anything below that.)

"You can't be afraid to get a little messy," Phair said.

A favorite indoor activity in all three of the center's classrooms are sensory tables, or tables filled with different materials to get children to engage all of their senses by using and playing with the materials given them.

"We have sensory tables, but parents at home can easily use the plastic containers you can buy at Walmart," Phair said.

At The Busy Bee Learning Center, they fill their tables and bins with things like ice cubes, cotton balls for pretend snow or water beads that they buy online on Amazon (you soak the beads overnight and they expand into colorful beads of water.)

"They like to fill up plastic cups, measuring cups ... it's a little sensory box that is really cool. Our kids will play with them for hours, measuring them, scooping them," she said.

If you're feeling adventurous, fill a bin with shaving cream or whipped cream, add in a few drops of paint or food coloring for extra fun. Or for good old-fashioned fun, make an indoor water table or sand box.

But don't be discouraged if your indoor activities don't inspire hours of playing. At this age, said Phair, something can occupy them for 10 minutes or more and sometimes they just aren't interested.

And if your little one needs to move around, Phair suggests a YouTube channel called "Cosmic Kids" that takes kids on 10-minute "yoga adventures."

"Our kids love them," she said.

For other ideas, Phair and her team turn to Pinterest, picking a theme and then running with it.

"We focus a lot on gross-motor skills," she said. " Even just little games they can play inside, last week we cut out a penguin out of cardboard and let them feed it paper fish."

Things to fill your sensory table with:

Ice cubes

Snow, colored with food coloring

Rocks, gravel or fish rocks

Cotton balls

Colored pom-poms

Dry oatmeal

Dry beans

Cornmeal or corn kernels

Uncooked rice

Water with bubbles

Cooked spaghetti


Add-ins for fun:

Measuring cups

Empty sprinkle cheese containers with lids

Toy cars, trucks, bugs or animals to dig up

Plastic containers of all shapes, sizes

Ladles, spoons

Plastic spatula

Cupcake liners


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