Building a World in a Box…

This post was inspired by the Pink and Green Mama.
I was reading her blog and stumbled on her halloween sensory bin. Suddenly I was filled with ideas and couldn’t wait to get building little worlds in a box for my own little ones to discover.
My kids and I spent the weekend hunting and gathering, scavenging, and searching for things we could put in our little bins. The following photos and ideas are the culmination of many minds…my own 6 kids, myself, and a remarkable woman who calls herself the Pink and Green Mama.
First of all…you need to know one very important rule about building a sensory bin…
(Unless, of course, you try and fill a bin with organic red quinoa that works out to be $33 for a bag HALF the size of a loaf of bread!!)
The first bin we decided to build was the “Farm in a Box”
We chose split peas for the substrate and then filled it in with all kinds of plastic farm animals. And what farm is complete without tractors? A trip to Peavey Mart had us all stocked up in al colours and styles. We even found a little plough attachment. We added a little stable, some fences, wheel barrows, buckets, hay bales, plastic veggies, and animal brushes.
Little piggies eating from the trough…
Little baby chicks peck away at the grass…
Don’t worry if all your pieces are not to scale. This is not a science of exactness, it is a science of discovery and imagination!
Feel free to add whatever YOU might think
would be fun in your “farm in a box”
Our next little world we built was a “Dinosaur Dig in a Box”
The substrate is barley, a few split peas, and a bag of mixed beans. Note that each bin took approximately four 900g bags of substrate. Oh, and my 10yr old son added broken pieces of dried wholewheat spaghetti so he could make “nests” for the dinosaur eggs.
Most of them were purchased at WalMart for less than $2 a bag.
The fossil heads were purchased in a tube at Michaels Craft Superstore. And you can find plastic dinosaur skeletons and figurines just about anywhere now… dollar stores, Chapters, toy stores, etc. We added a couple mini garden rakes for “digging up bones.”
We added a few “live” dinosaurs to further extend the play possibilities of this bin. The boys especially love the “carnage” this box lends itself to! Hehehehehe! The beans become the eggs and then the egg stealers steal the eggs, and then the cranky mumma comes along…and well…this is NOT a quiet world in a box! That’s for sure!
Our next bin is “Outer Space in a Box”
This one was very simple and quick. We used four bags of black beans, 2 bags of glow in the dark stars from the dollar store, a couple bags of sparkly pompoms for “meteors”, a tube of plastic planets from ToysR’Us, and a yellow bouncy ball for the sun. Then we added a tube of astronauts and satellites, rockets, moon buggies, and space shuttles.
This is a great bin for learning your planets! And the best part is, the stars glow in the dark, so it’s even fun with the lights off!
Now this box is my favourite box! It’s an “Under Water Kingdom in a Box”
The substrate is 3 bags of aquarium gravel. Then we added a bag of plastic jewels, which we found in the fish section of the pet store. We also added 2 bags of store bought seashells…99cents/bag at Pet Smart. I also had some real oyster shells that I had collected on the beach in the spring so I put them in the box. My 6yr old daughter immediately fashioned an oyster shell chair for her mermaid.
You can fill your under water kingdom with all sorts of plastic ocean creatures. We also put little 99cent aquarium plants in ours to make more places for little sea animals to hide.
A lobster jewel thief…
…and his octopus accomplice!
The underwater kingdom has so many possibilities, and hours of imaginative play awaits!
Our final box was built entirely by my ten year old son.
It is “Construction Site in a Box”
He chose dried chick peas, green lentils, wheat, and a bag of mixed beans for the substrate. He added a bag of shiny brown rocks from the aquarium section of the pet store, and 2 bags of wooden blocks from the craft section of the dollar store.
We bought an $8 set of mini CAT machines at ToysR’Us and the hauling and scraping, filling and dumping began!
My 5 year old son plays with this one for hours…right from the time he wakes up in the morning!
The following Monday, I added our little “worlds in a box” to my dayhome space. The kids played with one after the other, after the other.
They were a hit! The only trouble the kids had with the bins, was…
Please let your imaginations fly when you build your worlds. The sky really is the limit! We are already collecting items for our “Winter in a Box”…the kids can’t wait for this one! And if you build your own boxes that are different than the ones posted here, would you please come on back and tell me about them? I’d sure love to hear your ideas!!
Thanks for stopping by!!

31 thoughts on “Building a World in a Box…

  1. Once again you are the incredible mom with AWSOME ideas. The kids are soooo LUCKY that come to your Day Home. Unfortunatly you make the other Day Homes look less appealing. Now if we could clone you!

  2. Hi Arlee, I am a good friend of Mary Burgess. She and I worked together many many years ago at Hobbit Hole. I have been in the field of ece for over 35 + years, recently retiring from the preschool that I ran for the past 23 years. I am granny to little Ainsley ( 1 yr) and Tessa ( 3 mos). I started looking after Ainsley when I daughter returned to teaching in September.I knew that I wanted Ainsley to have some playmates, so over the summer my husband and I created 'Stomping in the Mud play group' in our side yard. Weds for under 3 year olds and Thurs for 3 – 5 year olds. It runs from 9:30 – 11:30Mary passed along your blog site this evening. I LOVE it ! What an awesome environment you have created for your children and your day home. I will be following you from now on. My blog site is I can't believe all the ece blogs that are out there. What a great support of each other in the field.Take care, I look forward to your next posting. Dianne

  3. These are such a fantastic and adorable idea! I have to ask, though – how do you convince the kids to leave the stuff in the box?! Maybe mine are just too young (two and three-and-a-half-ish) …

    • We have a designated area for the bins…I am always supervising and if I see items leaving the area, then I step in. I do however, allow them to take items in and out within their workspace. I have one who likes to take all the items out (except the substrate) and then place each item in one at a time so it is “just so”! Oh, and I keep a broom close by!

  4. Hi
    I have been waiting to make these boxes, as I start a Kindy job here in Perth western Australia. I went to a big hardware store and bought from the garden section, little path stones, in various colours. Blue, wheat coloured and green! I purchased a 20 litre/20q container and filled the base with the stones! I love it! Now I am off to get the farm items!
    Thank you for sharing
    I have your button on my small, just starting out blog!!

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  8. Hi, I love your boxes. I run a playgroup in Perth, Western Australia, and have just started using sensory tubs. today, we had a Christmas one with rice coloured green, silver glitter, Christmas sequin shapes, lengths of gold beads, silver baubles and containers to put them in and out. It was a great success and I will definitely be doing more. Thanks. Alison

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  11. Hi Arlee-
    You may have answered this already but what size bins do you use? I am going to start making these for the kids soon. 🙂

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  13. I made a ‘pond’ with pebbles, rocks, foliage and lots of toy amphibians and reptiles. I also filled the box up with a little water. Beside the box I put books for various ages about pond life. The children loved playing and learning at the same time :). I am a childminder and I am always coming back to your website for inspiration! I tried your mini construction site and dinosaur small world, which the children loved and am planning on doing the under water kingdom small world next.

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  17. I initially found (and loved) your blog because of the bento boxes when I was packing lunches for my daughters. But now 3 years later, I’m a preschool teacher, and I also love your blog for these awesome sensory bins. Thank you for such a wonderful website!

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