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Sensory Bins

In Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson's book, The Whole Brain Child, they simplify the human brain into two basic parts: the upstairs brain and the downstairs brain. The downstairs brain is the primitive part of our brains. It is the part of our brain that controls the senses, and it is the part of our brain that controls our fight or flight instincts. Often, it is the irrational part of our brain that gets activated when we are hungry, angry, tired, or lonely. And it is the part of our brain that develops first, before the logical part of our brain develops.

You see this part of the brain activated in your children a lot. Almost any time they seem irrational, they haven't gotten enough sleep, or they are crying for no reason, it is because they are working from this part of their brains. It is also often the part of the brain that is activated when children get anxious, worried, or stressed out.

The problem for parents often comes because the way that we respond to these impulses from our children is with our rational upstairs brain: by explaining that there is nothing to be afraid of, by telling them to calm down, etc. But when they are in their lower brains, upper brain talk doesn't help.

One thing that does help is to engage the lower brain by stimulating the things the lower brain does. One of those is operate the senses, particularly touch. When we touch things, it stimulates the nerves below our skin, which sends messages to our lower brain, and can help to calm those fight or flight instincts.

Sensory bins can also be helpful for children who struggle with sensory processing, including kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These bins give kids the opportunity to experience a variety of sensations, and build up a tolerance for different textures.

Sensory Bins

To create these sensory bins, I bought several black and white, open-top bins from The Dollar Tree. I tried to experiment with different textures and weights, including colorful pompoms (but you could also use cotton balls):

wet and slippery H2Obeez:

heavy, smooth, hard marbles and marble rocks:

With these, you will notice that I also added some tiny animals. These can also be a way to hide beads and trinkets for kids to find in the bins.

dry rice:

and dried peas:

You can also use LEGO, dry cereal, rocks, water, or anything else that stimulates the senses. You can put your items in whatever spaces you have: boxes, old Tupperware, bowls, pots, pans. Change them up as needed.

In general, with activities like this, I don't ask kids a lot of questions, but you may ask them which ones they like best, or try to get them to talk about what each feels like. Just don't be too disappointed if they don't have great answers. Remember, they are working from their downstairs brain, not their upstairs brain.

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