Sensory Bins: The Ultimate Guide

I love Sensory Bins. There is so much goodness involved! Toddlers and preschoolers learn so much as they explore and play in sensory bins. In this ultimate sensory bin guide I will talk about all the things you need to know about sensory play.

What is a Sensory Bin?

A sensory bin is a container filled with materials to engage and stimulate the senses. It can stimulate all or some of the senses. Sensory play is open-ended and there is no right or wrong way to explore the material in the bin. Sensory bins are open-ended which means children have nothing to complete or finish. This encourages them to explore freely and provides meaningful opportunities for learning.

sensory play

What are the Benefits of Sensory Play?

Sensory play is very beneficial for kids. It allows them to learn, to explore, to be creative and to be imaginative while playing. When kids are able to engage their senses they learn better as they retain more. Here are some of the benefits of sensory play:

  • Encourages kids to be creative and explore
  • Encourages imaginative play
  • Develops fine motor skills
  • Builds oral communication skills
  • Develops critical thinking skills
  • Teaches kids about sharing
  • Can help kids to calm down
  • Oh, and for the parents at home, it will give you a little break 😉

What Can be Used as a Sensory Bin?

There are different types of containers or vessels you can use for sensory play. What you chose will depend on the number of kids who will be playing with it.

  • Small sensory bins can be used for 1 to 2 kids. For small sensory play containers you could use a shoe box, a small baking dish, a bottle, or even a bag.
  • Larger sensory bins can accommodate 2 or more kids. You could use an under the bed storage container, a large roasting pan or a shallow storage bin.

When choosing the bins make sure that it is shallow so your kids can easily reach over the side and engage with the materials comfortably.

ultimate sensory bin guide

What Can You Put Inside Sensory Bins?

Before I list some of the different fillers you can use I want to mention that you should pick sensory bin fillers that are safe for your child. If your little one likes to put things in his mouth, avoid fillers that can be a choking hazard. Also, sensory bins should be a supervised activity.

There are SO. MANY. FILLERS. There are tons of different materials you can use in your sensory bins for kids to play with. Here is a list of a variety of materials you can use as a base for your sensory bins:

  • water beads
  • rice (color it with food coloring, or paint)
  • oats
  • corn kernels
  • pasta (painted)
  • beans
  • pompoms
  • water
  • shaving cream
  • soil
  • sand
  • corks
  • bird seeds
  • pebbles
  • buttons
  • beads
  • sprinkles
  • cotton balls
  • acorns
  • shredded paper
  • blocks
  • lentils
  • coffee grounds
  • cereal (ground or whole)

Sensory Play Tools

So you have your sensory bin filler, now we need some fun sensory tools! Adding tools to sensory bins will increase your kid’s engagement and exploration. There are a plethora of tools to chose from, and they do not need to be expensive. You can find many from the dollar store or from around the house!

Here is a list of tools you can include in your sensory bins:

Sensory Tools for Fine Motor Skills

  • tongs
  • tweezers
  • droppers
  • turkey baster

Sensory Tools From the Kitchen

  • small bowls
  • scoops
  • measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • silicone muffin cups
  • funnels
  • spoons
  • ice cube tray
  • muffin tray
  • sponges
  • tongs
  • turkey baster
  • coffee scoops
  • cups

Extra Sensory Bin Tools from Around the House

  • magnifying glass
  • empty play dough container
  • bath toys
  • mini erasers

Loose Parts

Loose parts are fun add-ins that your kids may enjoy playing with. Here are some ideas for loose parts you can include:

  • toy cars and trucks
  • little dolls or toy people
  • bottle caps
  • toy animals
  • magnetic letters and numbers

Themes for Sensory Bins

This part is totally optional. You do not need a theme when you throw together a sensory activity but it adds a little extra fun. Including a theme is also helpful when it is related to something a child is learning about. For example, if you take your kids to the pumpkin patch in the fall, you can make a pumpkin themed sensory bin like this one by Vanessa Levin over at Pre-K Pages.

Below is a short list of fun ideas for themes you can try with your child. See what aligns with her interests and let her pick a theme!

  • outer space
  • construction
  • dinosaur
  • zoo
  • underwater
  • holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.)
  • bugs
  • farm
  • safari

The Clean Up

OK, so you are probably thinking that sensory bins are just too messy for you. Sensory bins can be a little on the messy side but the benefits of sensory play and the fun your kiddos will totally be worth it! Also, before letting your child dive right into a sensory bin, talk about expectations. Let her know what she can and cannot do. Tell your child not to eat the filler or throw and toss anything around.

I like to lay out a plastic tablecloth under the bin to make clean up easy. Once the kids are finished with the sensory bin, I move the bin over, fold the corners of the tablecloth, lift it and pour the filler back into the bin. When we play with a water sensory bin I will lay a towel underneath. Another tip is to avoid using sensory bins on carpet, especially when using rice as a filler. If you do though, a quick passing of the vacuum will make clean up a cinch.

Another idea is to include clean up as part of the play! Get a small handheld broom and scooper from the dollar store and encourage your kids to help clean up!

Here are Some Fun Sensory Bins to Try

Sensory bins are such a great activity for kids to play with. I hope you feel inspired to give them a try with your kiddos! Sensory bins do not need to be complicated for your kids to enjoy them and have meaningful learning experiences. Do not overthink it! Watch them explore and engage with the materials and see the smiles on their faces 🙂

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