Inside: This easy sensory bin is a marvelous tool for keeping little kids engaged and happy when you need a few minutes to yourself. The best part is that you can easily adapt to what you have handy, so the play never gets old.
Sensory bins are one of our favorite forms of entertainment during the long Chicago winters. The idea was born when my oldest was about one. At that time, the only way to take a shower was to find something interesting for him to do on the bathroom floor in front of a shower cabin so I could keep an eye on him. It had to be something riveting enough that he wouldn’t wander off and get into trouble.
One day as I was standing in a kitchen scratching my head and thinking, “I just want to take a shower,” my eyes fell on a bag of potato flakes. I bought it a while back for a Shepherd’s Pie recipe, but since I love everything made from scratch, I never used it.
So I poured the flakes into a bowl and took it with us into the bathroom.
My son was extremely happy to run his hands through potato flakes and threw it around just a bit more energetically than was strictly necessary from my point of view. Most importantly, it seemed to be working, so I got in the shower.
Just as I began relaxing into the hot water and congratulating myself, my son got bored with the entertainment.
I could see him pondering the next move through the glass door. In a stroke of genius, I filled a small pixie cup with water and suggested he add it to the potato flakes.
It turned out that dried potatoes mixed with water were a whole new game!
Sometime later, his eyes fell on a car on the bathroom floor and it became part of the game too.
To cut a long story short, it was the longest shower I took that year.
Later I discovered that the play is even more exciting with the addition of “a frozen pond” and some little animals that can “play the snow.”
This activity is easy to set up and lasts long enough for you to take a shower or check e-mails, and that’s what all moms want, right?
The Arctic Play for Kids
What you need
A bag of potato flakes (like instant mashed potatoes)
Set of Arctic animals (we used Safari Ltd kit because we are madly in love with all their kits. Did you know that now they sell their themed pieces in bulk?)
A chunk of ice
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What to do
- The day before the big play, fill a small bowl with water and stick it in a freezer.
Our water happens to be blue because we were experimenting with sprinkles. Did you know that blue sprinkles added to a cup of water turn the water bright blue? Imagine what it does to the lining of the stomach. Potent stuff indeed! My kids haven’t been allowed to eat anything with commercial sprinkles since 2015, but I buy them for experiments. (And by the way, the fact that my nail polish happened to be blue is pure coincidence!)
- Place your chunk of ice on a tray or large plate and add potato flakes.
- Add sprinkles generously
- Add the set of characters. Safari Ltd kits are my little obsession, and we use them ALL THE TIME. In this set, there are Arctic animals, an Eskimo hunter, and an igloo.
- You’re all done. Go get a cup of tea, and let the kids play!
If you’re interested, here are some other amazing Arctic Resources:
Arctic Facts for Kids / Science Kids
20 Arctic Animals Crafts for Kids / I Heart Crafty Things
Free Awesome Arctic Animals packet / Preschool Powol Packets
Arctic Animals maze pack / Year-Round Homeschooling and
Winter Reading and Spelling Activity Bundle / All About Learning Press
Do you have any favorite activities for the long hours of winter?
This post was first published in December 2015. Updated: January 2020