Sensory bins as building blocks for bilingual learning

Sensory bins are containers that generate fun and engaging activities. Use sensory bins in a variety of ways to show themes of learning, vocabulary introduction, or encourage tactile experiences.

More importantly, sensory bins create alternative ways to practice motor skills for preschoolers. Preschoolers interact with many aspects of their surroundings.

That is, they use all their senses to feel, hear, touch, smell, and even to taste. Although many senses in your bodies trigger a reaction, we often are unaware of the effect in the learning experience. So, how do sensory bins help children, especially bilingual, develop language skills to be successful in both languages?

Sensory bins storage to contain the themes of learning

Containers of visual elements are ideal for organizing themes, especially for holidays, back to school, and special events. Sensory factors activate prior knowledge in children. In doing so, children are apt to make correlations between what they feel, touch, smell, and see.

Whether you have simple items of rocks, paper clips, sand, rice, bean, or other curious element, children will inevitably investigate. They want to know how they work. Aside from understanding the mechanism of natural items, organize them in separate bins.

Plastic shoe boxes are ideal containers for storing sensory items. Besides being a durable material, plastic is waterproof making it suitable for water activities. Cardboard boxes are other types of sensory bins. While cardboard is flexible, it may last only for a season.

Sturdy cardboard boxes might be practical for items such as glitter or play dough materials. Metal sensory bins hold long-term storage items. Although a useful material, metal containers last for long periods of time, especially if you transition from one classroom to another. Also, metal sensory bins can store items such as prisms, magnifying glasses, or kaleidoscopes. 

sensory bins

Language learning using sensory bins

One of the fundamental ways to use sensory bins for language learning is teaching letter recognition. You might be familiar with the cookie sheet and magnetic letter game. Take that same activity a step further.

Activity 1: Identifying food items

Use sensory bins of typical food items the following way:

  • Select 10 or more components of dry food items such as rice, beans, noodles, candy, pretzels, or other elements
  • Place a mixture of these items in a sensory bin
  • Give each child a matching card of each food item

Each preschooler needs to match the food item with the image on the card. Next, the child needs to identify the beginning letter of each food item. In this case, you can use the sensory bin for food to show the pattern of a letter with each image.

Related: Spanish food item printable

Activity 2: Recognizing transportation items

Place small transportation items in sensory bins and use them the following way:

  • Select 5 or more plastic transportation items such as cars, trains, airplanes, boats, or other elements
  • Place them in a sensory bin and set it on a table
  • Give each child a matching card for each transportation item

Related: Spanish transportation item printable card

You can make this activity a group collaboration. Place the bin in the middle of a table and have each child take a turn in finding a transportation item. Once the child sees the item, he or she shares the name with the group. Then, each child can identify the letter on his or her respective card.

Activity 3: Pointing out color objects in nature

Assemble a sensory bin with different color sidewalk chalks and make an outdoor activity:

  • Select a color chalk set of 5 or more
  • Place them inside a sensory container
  • Take it outside in a playground area
  • Give each child a color chalk
  • Write on the ground a letter for a typical item you often see in nature and the color of it. For instance, we associate green with leaves, grass, or trees.
  • Tell each preschooler to try to write the letter of the color on the ground

In each activity, preschoolers begin to develop different parts of language recognition. From letter identification to increase vocabulary, sensory bins boost those areas in language.

Related: Spanish color worksheet 

Sensory bins correlate language development

Sensory bins store more than useful items. They are part of the language development for early learners. More importantly, preschoolers begin to recognize letters and patterns in words when they associate with everyday objects. Practicing these language skills every day in engaging ways ensures the success of bilingual learners.

Children start to understand the correlation between what they encounter in nature and read. Compiled with other language activities, preschoolers develop ways to express themselves using what they know. Including bilingual learners, preschoolers align letter identification with words. As a result, they begin to build their vocabulary.

In fact, the more you start to encourage these activities, the more active preschoolers become in reading. Amazingly, the reading journey of young learners initiates a world of curiosity.

Comment below with your experience with sensory bins. Is there anything you could improve or do differently? Know a fellow educator that would these resources, share them. Thank you.

Barbara Mascareno

Barbara is an educational writer, teacher, and instructional designer. She loves to write K-12 education content, teaching strategies, bilingual education approaches, and foreign language.

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