Let's have a ball!
Updated: Aug 13
I love sensory bins and so do my children. If you are unfamiliar with them, the concept behind sensory bins is to engage more than one of the child's senses while he or she is learning. In turn, there will be multiple neural pathways formed for the concept being taught, resulting in a higher attainment of the information.
In our house, we have so many fillers to choose from: oats, corn, rice, pebbles, pasta, water beads, etc. Although, I have yet to try it, I have seen people add scents to the filler to engage smell. We have used sensory bins for so many themes, filling them with numbers, letters, and various objects. My kids have practiced letter and number recognition, matching, counting, and patterns. I even made an archaeological dig of catacombs for my children (which I will post about in the future).
Recently, my brilliant mother-in-law thought to turn our ball pit into a giant sensory bin. Immediately, my brain started shooting off in a hundred different directions. After some consideration, a cup of coffee, and my continual mantra of "you can only do so much at one time", I made my plan.
I labeled twenty-six balls with the capital letters of the alphabet and twenty more with the numerals 1-20. With Thanksgiving looming, my MIL brought us a pack of play food to add to the mix. My daughter had recently received the Little Tikes Fun Drop Zone so all these things were mixed into the toddler pool and the games ensued.
For the younger children, I had them bring me a specific color of ball. In the two year old's case, I identified the color of the ball she brought and had her repeat it. She was pleased to be doing what the older kids were doing. My three year old, could tell me the colors and additionally, could identify many of the numbers and letters he found. They also would match balls with food that had the same color. For example, a strawberry was paired with a red ball. A pickle would match a green ball.
For the five year old, I asked him to match a letter ball with a food that began with the same sound. If he found a "P" he would search for a slice of pizza or potato. An "I" would be paired with an ice-cream cone. A "C" would be matched with a carrot or cupcake. The letter ball could be used to describe the item. A "slice" of pizza could be paired with a "S" ball. As long as my son was practicing his phonics, I was pleased. Actually, he often impressed me with his adjectives. I think he thought he was getting away with something by coming up with words to describe a piece of food rather than matching the food. Often, he used the silliest words he could think up, but if the letter ball matched the descriptive word, I played along.
Later, we switched to pairing the numbers with food. My three and five year old were both able to participate in this. (My two year old, resumed her task of bringing me a ball with a letter or number, and I identified it for her.) If one of the boys found a ball labeled " 6", he would search out six potato chips. A "3" ball would be matched with three french fries.
Our final game we played this week was Thanksgiving themed. I participated with the kids for this one. We drew out letter balls and named something we were grateful for. A "B" ball could prompt a statement of gratitude for brothers. This is a good time to play with alliteration. A "G" ball could be used to say we were Grateful for a Good, Gracious God. This helped to keep my boys playing with phonics when the other games were waning.
Future ideas could be matching capital and lower case letters, matching numbers with tick marks/dots, and even recognizing sight words. Our ball pit/sensory bin is certainly a activity I will return to again and again. In the summer, I will try this activity outside with water added to the mix.
For the balls, I simply labeled them with a sharpie, but stickers or paints could be used for a tidier or more attractive effect. I simply didn't have the time. Often, I have grand ideas but wrestle with the realities of just getting a project done or the lesson taught. I was very grateful that I just plunged in with this idea as it provided lots of learning and laughs.