Sensory Play · Tot Play

Warm Sensory Play for a Cold Day

Or: That time the heater broke during a cold snap.

That’s right. The heater in our rental house stopped working yesterday as the temperature outside was quickly dropping for a particularly cold night. Bad timing. The repair guy came over in the evening, but couldn’t get into the crawl space under the house to check out the heater because I didn’t have the key. #facepalm Long story short, we had no central heat, just space heaters, until late the following morning. The space heaters were great for our bedrooms overnight, but this morning the downstairs was really chilly.

While we waited for the heater to be fixed, and the space heaters did their best to warm up downstairs, inspiration struck with an idea for what to do with the boys on this strange cold morning: a warm sensory bin! I mean, on hot days you can set them up with a cold sensory bin of ice and water, so why not a warm one?

warm sensory play

I had already been planning some tot school activities themed around the 5 senses and a warm sensory bin would fit right in! So I hurriedly brainstormed things I could use to make a warm sensory bin. I ruled out using water because I thought it would get cold too quickly and then it would make the boys extra cold, which was exactly the opposite of what I wanted. I ran upstairs and grabbed my electric heating pad and my rice bag heating pad – one of those things filled with rice that you microwave to heat up and then use for sore muscles, just like the electric heating pad. The rice bag gave me the idea to use rice for the sensory bin.

But before I put it all together, I wanted to do my little 5 senses mini-lesson (here’s my inner elementary school teacher coming out). I drew some little symbols and put them up on the fridge, then I briefly talked about each one with Calvin & Henry. How we use our eyes to see… how we can see colors, shapes, light, and dark… How we use our ears to hear… how sometimes Calvin hears strange sounds and then we use the sound as a clue to figure out what’s going on… How we use our hands to feel, but we have skin all over our bodies that lets us feel textures and temperature… How our tongues taste things… and that time I let the boys try my salt & vinegar chips and they were sour and the boys made faces… And how we use our noses to smell… and how mama’s picture of a nose doesn’t look like a nose to a certain 3-year-old art critic around here.


Then I told them we were going to do some sensory play about feeling things with our skin and hands, and I got to work putting the activity together.

First I plugged in my electric heating pad and microwaved the rice bag for a minute. Then I went into the kitchen, put some uncooked rice into a bowl and microwaved it for about 30 seconds. Voila! Just like a regular rice sensory bin, except warm!! I felt like it needed something else in the rice. Something for them to pick out, or just to add some texture. The kids were getting all antsy to see what I was up to and they were nipping at my heels, so I quickly grabbed a jar of almonds from the counter and added a handful to the rice. I was thinking of how some of those warming bags are filled with cherry pits instead of rice, and I was wondering if almonds were kind of similar to cherry pits…? No? A little…? Well, whatever, I used almonds. I microwaved it all for another 30 seconds and then transferred it to a metal bowl. All set.


I let them check out the two kinds of heating pads and then I invited them to check out the warm rice. Not sure how much they cared about the fact that it was warm, but they sure seemed pleased to dig into the rice and almonds and enjoy the texture. Henry did try to eat it, but quickly decided that it was not good for eating. Thank goodness.


Sensory bins always start out so innocently. The boys are being so sweet, gently digging their hands in… and a minute later it looks like this:



Here is my main tip for doing sensory bins with babies and toddlers: Get comfortable with the mess.

That might mean covering up your entire room with Dexter-style disposable plastic sheeting. It might mean only doing “sensory play”outside or in the bathtub. Or it might just mean making peace with the fact that you’ve got some extra sweeping/mopping/vacuuming in your near future. Whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable with the mess, do it. Don’t stress yourself or the kids out over it. Just tell yourself it’s good for their little brains and nervous systems, and find a way to make it work for all of you. And, for what it’s worth, if you’re the one freaking out about the icky textures and icky mess, it might be good for your brain and nervous system too! Not that I’m speaking from experience… #takesonetoknowone

I try to think of the extra clean up time as an opportunity for life skill and motor skill practice for Calvin. Even if this means it takes for. ev. er. to finish.


I cannot tell you how many times he filled up his little dustpan, only to spill it seconds later while he was trying to stand up to bring it to the garbage. Over and over and over. Poor little guy! But he stuck with it, and I gritted my teeth and let him try and try again, even though it was painful to watch! (To be clear, I swept up most of the rice. I didn’t make Calvin clean it all up! Henry, thankfully, stayed out of our clean-up efforts.)

Not bad for our first venture into sensory bins here in our new house! I’m glad that the cold morning gave me this idea to kick off our 5 senses theme. But I’m definitely more glad that the heater is working again!!



3 thoughts on “Warm Sensory Play for a Cold Day

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s