In nice weather, Mercedes spends at least an hour or two a day playing outside in her sandbox. Now that the weather is colder, more often than not we don't go outside, or if we do it's only for a few minutes at a time. I decided she needed an indoor sanbox substitute, so I have created three large sensory bins for her so far. I used shallow plastic storage bins from Walmart.
To make our rainbow rice sensory bin: We used 6 bags of rice (5 cups in each bag). For each bag of rice: We dumped a bag of rice into a gallon zip lock bag. We poured 2 cups of water with food coloring into the bag and shook it around until all the rice was colored. We drained the colored water and spread the rice out onto tinfoil to dry. It took about 2 hours to dry. We made 4 different colors.
We keep a few glass bottles in the rice bin. Mercedes loves to fill them up and dump them out. Some people (cough, cough, my mom) don't think that glass is safe for a toddler, but under close supervision it has proven to be a great way to teach Mercedes how to handle glass with gentle, careful hands. It is beautiful watching such a tiny person handle glass so gracefully.
We used 4 bags of flour and 2 bottles of baby oil to make our cloud dough sensory bin (click HERE for exact recipe). I put "cooking supplies" in this bin because Mercedes likes to pretend like she's making cupcakes and milkshakes with the smell-good flour.
We also made a corn sensory bin with half a bag of duck food corn from the feed store. I put cups and spoons in this one for Mercedes to pour.
Emerald is also having a great time with the sensory bins. The first couple times I had to hold my hand near her mouth the whole time so when she tried to put the materials in her mouth I could catch her hand and tell her "not safe". She caught on pretty quick and now she doesn't even try to put the stuff in her mouth. I still sit really close to her so I can catch her hand if I need to but I'm pretty proud of the way she handles the sensory materials like a big girl.