Oh Pinterest! How do I love thee?! I held out so long before signing up and now I’m a mild addict. Late night pinteresting has made nursing infants at 2 am a lot more bearable. I’ve found great recipes, tracked down favourite books, and gotten tons of resources and ideas for homeschooling. Yet one of the things I’ve seen a lot of on the homeschool boards strikes me as a little odd. Sensory Bins. I’m not against them, they look like a lot of fun. I could see myself using some of them to spice up a dull week, especially in the dog days of summer or a cold winter’s day (if we had those here). I also see that engaging all the senses can help very much with learning. What seems strange is that a lot of them seem like a great deal of effort and indeed expense to create a sensory experience that could be done for free outside. Some even look like a lot of work to create messiness when messiness, in my experience, happens quite naturally when kids are free to come up with their own activity.
This raises two of my biggest concerns about modern motherhood: we make our job harder than it needs to be, and we restrict our children too much. Perhaps restrict isn’t exactly the word I am looking for. Maybe direct? Control? Anyway we give them freedom within the confines of what seems convenient or safe. This necessarily limits their ability to explore and create things we fuddy duddy adults could never dream of. Such freedom may result in some tears and some huge messes, and of course can’t be so complete as to be truly dangerous, but I think the chance to be independent, inventive and truly original is worth the price of some bruised shins or a lengthy cleanup afterward.
A further concern of mine, about modern life in general, is that we are becoming too divorced from our natural world. More and more we put up barriers between ourselves and, at risk of sounding new agey, the earth. It bothers me that aside from not having natural food, natural exercise, and natural fun we’ve reached a point where we can’t even have natural mess. Our senses are the tools with which we connect to the world and pull it into ourselves. These senses can’t be confined to a tub carefully filled for an hour but should be engaged and reaching out in all directions all day. This isn’t to blame the pinterest projects, really I think they’re striving to recapture something that can be very hard to do just given where one lives and how our lives are structured, but that’s where the “making our jobs harder” point comes in. Instead of, or at least in addition to, going to the craft store and spending a fortune on fiddly stuff, you just need to reclaim what’s already out there waiting. Learning can happen without a theme. My mother fondly remembers learning numbers with Gus on a neighbourhood walk. “TWO! FWEE!” he would call, and point with his chubby fingers at the numerals painted on the curb. Furthermore, learning doesn’t only involve math facts and phonetic rules. The whole world is one big giant sensory bin; a sensory bin that can teach you about those things, but even more so, can teach you joy, wonder, and simply to embrace life. Here follows a list of things I would put in my sensory bin.
Flushed cheeks, tired eyes, and warmth across the bridge of the nose after a day in the summer sun or the winter snow.
The squish of mud between toes, the grit of dirt under nails, and the shiver of a cool breeze on damp skin after making mudpies with a hose. Caked mud drying and cracking on your forearms.
Hair stiffened by salt and sand dried by the wind after playing in the ocean. The burn and slip of the dry beach and the relief of the cool packed sand where it meets the surf bubbling around your feet.
The sting of a grazed knee, the stiffness of the scab as it heals.
The trickle of sweat.
The itch of long grass against ankles. The sweet smell of it in the dry months.
The unbelievable lightness of a baby chick, the unique softness of feathers.
Sticky watermelon juice dripping to the elbows.
The pull of a fish on a line. The slime, scale, smell, and prickle as you pull out the hook.
The warmth of a kitten’s fur against a cheek, the sharpness of its claws.
Wet dog smell and the sound of one panting, his weight against your side, as he rests after a game of fetch.
The roughness of bark against legs as they scrabble to climb a fallen tree. The thump of your heart, the wobble, as, teetering above empty space, you walk the trunk as a balance beam over the creek.
The firm yet cushioned spring of a forest floor. The smell of pine needles.
Heavy eyelids, relieved limbs and the coziness of bed, blankets and pillows after a full day.
What would be in your sensory bin?