Simplifying Sensory Play

Simple Sensory Play Collection

After years of themed sensory bins, I have gotten to a stage in life where I need to simplify.  We still do the occasional themed bin, but I need to have our sensory materials more easily accessible both for Ladybug and for me!  She still really enjoys sensory materials, and so do my boys.

Earlier this year I reorganized our supplies and we have been using them this way since September.  It has made it so much easier!

I listed out all of the “base” sensory materials we normally use and a few I wanted to add to our collection.  I got out small bins we already had {these are from Target} to store them all in one place. I also got a set of gallon sized zipper bags for the items that wouldn’t fit in my bins.

Sensory Item Storage


I also purchased 5 small bins that rotate through our All By Myself Preschool Boxes.

All By Myself Preschool Boxes - Mini Sensory Bins

I put one of these small pink bins in each of her All By Myself Preschool Boxes, so each day she will have a new sensory material to play with. I chose these bins because they have lock tops but she can open them independently.  The small slim size was also a part of my purchase decision!

I store the baggies and clear bins in my storage room on a shelf. You can see the bag section on the left is overflowing! I would have used all baggies but I had these bins that were empty.  So, I use both.

Sensory Bin Supplies

I also have an area that I keep open to prep the bins each week.  Although, it doesn’t always look like this.  Reality is, the area often gets junked up and I sit on the floor.  But this was my original plan and if clean I do this.  Thankfully it’s clean again since I cleared it to take pictures for you!

Sensory Bin Supplies-4679 Sensory Bin Supplies-4722Sensory Bin Supplies-4725 Sensory Bin Supplies-4730


Here is a visual version of our current sensory items…

Sensory Bin Supplies

Sensory Bin Supplies

Sensory Bin Supplies

Many items listed would NOT be good choices for independent play for most tots.  Ladybug is 4 1/2 and has never been one to put anything in her mouth.  She is always close by me and I feel comfortable with what I have chosen for her.  You’ll have to make that decision based on your own child{ren} and your comfort level with certain items.  I am aware that some of the items I listed are not considered “safe” by some people, the decision of whether or not to use an item is yours.

Helpful Links ~

All By Myself Preschool Boxes


See how she uses these sensory items in our Learning with Ladybug blog posts.  Click on an image to see the post, this is a collection of a majority of my posts from this school year!

Home Preschool January 2014  All By Myself Preschool Boxes Aug 2013  Learning with Ladybug Home Preschool January 2014

All By Myself Preschool Boxes Sept 2013   Learning with Ladybug Nov 2013  Learning with Ladybug Age 4

Home Preschool Nov 2013  All By Myself Preschool Boxes October 2013  Home Preschool Oct. 2013

10 Tot School Ideas for 9-12 months

Tiny Tot School Ideas for Ages 9-12 Months

{disclaimer ~ affiliate links are used}

Tot School is simply playing with your tot!  The name came from my son many years ago, but don’t let the term “school” fool you, it most certainly is not school in the traditional form.  It is simply exposing early learning skills through focused play with your tot, something parents have been doing for many, many years!  I am a firm believer in developmentally appropriate practice and letting kids grow and develop at their pace, not pushing education too soon.  However, it is usually the MOM who needs an actual plan, idea list, or even a program to follow. For those of you who love to gather ideas for playing with your tot, I am sharing several posts in a series, broken down by ages. Many have asked for this, and finally I am taking the time to do it!

See our other posts in this series…

Tot School Ideas for 12-18 Months

All ideas are presented with the understanding that you are playing WITH your baby, these are not all independent activities as some of the items are choking hazards. Please only use ideas that you feel comfortable with and feel you can ensure your tot’s safety.

1. Homemade Shakers

We made shakers out of breast milk bottles, they were slim and perfect for her little hands. I made about 6 different bottles, each with something different inside. We used: googly eyes, beads, mini erasers, plastic hearts, beans, and rice.  You can use anything, just seal the lid tightly! Ladybug used these from about 9 months until she was over 2, they were a long time favorite! See our Tot School post sharing these here.

Tiny Tot School Homemade Shakers 9-12 months


2. Exploring Ping Pong Balls

This was one of my fondest Tiny Tot School memories!  We gave her ping pong balls to explore when she was 11 months old and she was hooked!  We had more fun with a few ping pong balls, see what else we used with the ping pong balls here in our Tot School post!

Tiny Tot School Ping Pong Balls 9-12 months


3. Exploring Bells

Another fond memory from Tiny Tot School was seeing her explore bells! When she was 10 months old I gave her these large bells and she was fascinated. We did many different things with the bells; adding in paper towel tubes, string, baskets, and more to add to the fun.  See all we did here in our Tot School post.

Tiny Tot School Bells 9-12 months


3. Exploring String

Something as simple as string can provide many learning opportunities for a young tot!  We played with string a lot when Ladybug was this age.  She was fascinated by it. See how we played with it in our Tot School post here.

Tiny Tot School  Exploring String 9-12 months


4. In and Out

Such a fascinating concept for babies ~ IN and OUT!  We used many different objects to let her explore this concept and one of her very favorites was using Zoobs {shown below}. We used all sorts of recycled containers and items to transfer.  This idea was featured in this Tot School post.

Tiny Tot School In and Out 9-12 months


5. Metal Bowls

Adding metal bowls to Ladybug’s play was a big deal, mostly due to the loud noise they make.  She is a very sensitive child at age 4 now and I am constantly exposing her to different sensory experiences to help her.  I remember how she reacted to this bowl the first time and it foreshadowed what was to come with my sensitive girl. Some babies LOVE the loud noise metal makes {Krash}, and others are apprehensive {Ladybug}. Early sensory experiences like this are great for either type of baby.  You can see she was putting her shakers in the bowl this day.

Tiny Tot School Metal Bowls 9-12 months


6. Chunky Puzzles

We only had a few chunky puzzles like this but she loved them and used them for a long time.  They were a great introduction to puzzles and were durable to last!  See our Tot School post featuring this photo!

Tiny Tot School Chunky Puzzles 9-12 months


7. Exploring Cups

We all have cups!  She loved our Ikea cups in particular and played with them a lot! Many of the best early learning toys are already in your house!

Tony Tot School Cups 9-12 months


8. Wedgits

Krash actually got Wedgits for his 4th birthday but it was Ladybug who was just 1 who LOVED them.  The little white pieces were the perfect size for her hands and she loved the challenge of getting them to fit in the green pieces.  Although not a typical young tot toy, this is one you can get early and use for a long time! Here’s the Tot School post this photo is from.

Tiny Tot School Wedgits 9-12 months


9. Plastic Eggs

{& Easter grass if you feel brave}

Oh my did she ever have fun with the Easter grass and plastic eggs!  Yes, it made a mess, but her joy and intensity was well worth it!  Such a great sensory experience for young tots, just make sure they don’t eat it!  She wasn’t a mouth-er so it wasn’t a big deal for us.  See the Tot School post for more photos!

Tiny Tot School Easter Grass 9-12 months Tiny Tot School Plastic Eggs 9-12 months


10. Bean Bags

My mom made our bean bags, but any set will do.  She loved these from the first time we gave them to her.  The weight, the beans to squish, and the way she could grip them well made bean bags a good choice. Another item that lasts a long time, we now use them for letter games! Here’s the Tot School post this photo is from.

Tiny Tot School Bean Bags 9-12 months

During this age period, I kept things VERY simple.  I only brought out one “new” thing per week, it wasn’t a great deal of thought or effort to be honest.

I created a simple PDF file featuring all of the images from this post on one page.  Back when we were Tot Schooling, I loved to have lists I could refer back to.

You can download the Tot School ideas for Ages 9-12 months here!

More ideas for this age group from around the web ~

Looking for more ideas, be sure to grab our Where to Begin with Tot School eBook for free here! In the eBook you will find pages with different ages and ideas for that age group!

Tot School Ideas By Ages

~ Coming Soon ~

Tot School Ideas for 24-30 Months

Tot School Ideas for 30-36 Months

Tot School Ideas for 3-4 Years

In the meantime, you can visit our Tot School Ideas by Ages!

Tot School Printables A to Z

Tot School Printables A-Z


The Tot School Printables A to Z Bundle is now available! See details here!

TSP Bundle Horizontal

It has been a few years since we used Tot School Printables when Ladybug was around 2 years old. It was such a fun time, one of my favorite programs.  Tot School Printables Tot School Printables isn’t just a printable program, it encourages you to dive into a particular theme with each unit, and develop vocabulary along the way.  Exposing basic early learning skills happens all while you are just having fun!

If you have a tot around the age of 2 or 3, and are looking for some direction, this might be for you!  My daughter was 23 months old when we began, and she begged for table work.  You can read my post, Following the Lead of the Child, to see how difficult this was for me as an early childhood educator to accept. We had a fabulous time using this program and it really helped me stay on track and have fun activities to expose her to every week!

This is a FREE printable program, you can download the lessons on the Tot School Printables webpages.  Below you can see all of our posts A-Z linked up, and get a feel for how we did things.

Tot School Printables A is for Apple   Tot School Printables B is for Ball

Tot School Printables C is for Cat   Tot School Printables D is for Duck

Tot School Printables E is for Egg   Tot School Printables F is for Foot

Tot School Printables G is for Goat   Tot School Printables H is for Hammer

Tot School Printables I is for Igloo   Tot School Printables J is for Jellyfish

Tot School Printables K is for Key   Tot School Printables L is for Leaf

Tot School Printables M is for Mouse   Tot School Printables N is for Net

Tot School Printables O is for Ostrich   Tot School Printables P is for Pencil

Tot School Printables Q is for Queen   Tot School Printables R is for Rainforest

Tot School Printables S is for Star   Tot School Printables T is for Train

Tot School Printables U is for Umbrella   Tot School Printables V is for Volcano

Tot School Printables W is for Window   Tot School Printables X is for Xylophone

Tot School Printables Y is for Yo Yo   Tot School Printables Z is for Zipper

Download the flashcards all in one set!

Tot School Printables Alphabet Flashcards


I also began a Pinterest board featuring these posts and others from bloggers who also used {or are using} Tot School Printables! If you are a blogger who has blogged about Tot School Printables and would like to pin to this board, just leave a comment or email me with a link to one of your posts and your Pinterest link so I can invite you!

Tot School Printables Pinterest Board

Tot Tray Ideas for Tot School

Tot Trays for Tot School

It was many years ago that “Tot School” was given it’s official name, and now I see the name floating around everywhere {which is great!}!  My oldest son holds the honor of naming this glorious time in a young child’s life, after babyhood but before Pre School. In our home Tot School lasts from about age 1-4. You can see how Tot School was named here!

Tot School early learning through play


Soon after the creation of Tot School, came the concept of Tot Trays.  A simple twist on an old idea with Montessori based roots.  A contained work space for tots, to inspire early learning fun.  A way for mom to stay organized in her thinking and provide opportunities for early development in fun ways.

Tot Trays for Tot School


I no longer have tots {sniff, sniff} but still have the passion for teaching tots at home. I have been working on a secret Pinterest board behind the scenes to get all of our Tot Tray ideas pinned and labeled with ages on one board. I finally finished and opened up the board to be public so you can all scroll through and gather ideas quickly! This board is only for Tot Tray ideas from my own blog. I share other ideas from other blogs on my general Tot School Ideas board.

I love that the concept of Tot School and Tot Trays stretches far and wide today, it’s exciting to see! I am so encouraged to see so many families exploring and learning with their tots at home.  It is such a beautiful time in a child’s life, full of an eagerness to absorb and take in new ideas.  It truly is my favorite, I miss it already in my kids!

Find the Tot Tray Ideas Pinterest Board here!

On a personal note {stemming from an email I received recently}  ~ sometimes reading online about concepts like Tot School, Tot Trays and many others make some moms feelA photo on a blog is a split second in time with NO sound less-than.  At times, reading about how one mom does things in a certain area can make another mom feel unworthy and bad about herself.  Trust me, I know.  I may have the Tot School thing figured out, but there are plenty of blogs I read that can sometimes help me slip into poor-me mode. I remind myself that we all have different gifts and passions. I never want my enthusiasm for early childhood stuff to come across as though I am a better mom.  I assure you, I have plenty of things I am NOT good at, like cooking Moms are All Differentfor example.  I pray my blog, my ideas, and my life encourage and inspire you.  If it ever makes you feel less-than or as if you don’t measure up, please remind yourself that you have your own unique talents and strengths. God has gifted us all differently. I am totally real, just like you; I just blog and have a crazy passion for creating early learning experiences for my kids, and taking pictures of the journey {which I then share with you}. Always remember there is MUCH that you don’t see, a photo on a blog is a split second in time, with no sound. I do my best to be a realistic {much of my realism is shared via Instagram} as possible but as we all know, that will never be achieved through photographs, or even video clips.  You’d have to be a fly on my wall to see that our life is just as crazy as yours, probably crazier.

Colored Wheat Berries for Sensory Play

Colored Wheat Berries

{disclaimer ~ affiliate links used in this post}

It’s been many years since I have colored pasta or rice for sensory play, but the process hasn’t changed!  The materials have though!  I was inspired by this post on dyeing barley for sensory play.  We didn’t have barely but I am obsessed with wheat berries {and order them in bulk from Amazon} so I gave it a try!  The results were awesome!

There are a few methods to dyeing stuff, but I chose to use the method I had used years ago as a teacher. All measurements are totally guesses, I didn’t actually measure anything.

  1. put uncooked wheat berries in Ziploc bag {approx. 1 C}
  2. add about a teaspoon of white vinegar
  3. add a drop of food coloring
  4. seal bag and shake/mix it up
  5. add more coloring if desired.
  6. mix well
  7. put parchment paper on cookie sheets {not necessary, but what I did}
  8. dump damp colored wheat berries onto trays
  9. allow to dry {we left ours overnight}

Here’s a bit of a visual version…

Colored Wheat Berries -9895

Colored Wheat Berries -9855

Colored Wheat Berries -9872

Colored Wheat Berries -9874

You can see I did some macaroni noodles on the same day…

Colored Wheat Berries -9890


She played on the trays the day after they dried, I just forgot to take any pictures!  The next week I surprised her with her new mini sensory bin for her All By Myself Preschool Box time!

Home Preschool -0488

She loved her rainbow wheat berries and played with them for hours!  They will now be put in the sensory item rotation for her boxes each week!

Home Preschool -0493


See more sensory play ideas on my Pinterest board!

Sensory and Messy Play Pinterest Board