Published: February 27, 2023
40 plus easy sensory bin ideas that are perfect for home or school. And, get tips to encourage play and benefits of sensory bins.
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Lots of sensory bin/box ideas are floating around in the blogosphere and pop up on Pinterest from time to time.
As an occupational therapist, this is one play idea that I use very often, as most OT’s do, and I am kind of obsessed with them because of how many areas they can help a child develop.
So, I’ve put together a list of over 40 sensory bin ideas to inspire you and encourage your kid to get messy!
If you’re looking for more messy play outside of a sensory bin, head over to the Epic List of Messy Play Ideas!
What is a Sensory Bin?
It really is as simple as it sounds. A sensory bin is a box or bin, usually a Sterilite container that you fill with some kind of texture like dry rice.
The fillings of a sensory bin vary by texture, size, shape, and the play involved, but the goal is to expose your child to a range of sensory input for play.
Once you have the bin filled with any of the ideas listed below, throw a few toys in and let your kid dive in.
Sensory Bins are Awesome for Their Development
Sensory bins are great for kids because they provide loads of tactile stimulation and encourage imaginative play.
They’re also particularly helpful for children that are tactile defensive (sensitive to touching, wearing, eating different textures).
Because these bins usually catch the curiosity of a child, they will often push themselves out of their comfort level to explore in a way that they may not do on their own.
If you suspect that your child may have a limited diet because they don’t like certain textures of food, playing in sensory bins also helps desensitize them to various textures and may help them feel more comfortable with the textures they eat (read more about this in sensory processing and picky eating).
It sounds crazy that playing in a sensory bin with your hands can help picky eating, but it’s true! Also, sensory bins may be a great activity to include in a sensory diet, especially if your child has difficulty wearing clothing, as well as other sensory needs.
Beyond the obvious and huge sensory benefits, sensory bins help kids with body awareness, emotional regulation, cognitive development, and motor skills!
So basically, sensory bins are great for just about every kid! I am sure some of you are cringing at the thought of a bin of dry rice on your living room floor- it can be messy- but your kids are only kids once, so I say go for it!
Important Rules for Sensory Bin Play
Before you get started with any sensory bin, there are a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind….
- Choking hazards: if your child is still putting everything into their mouth, be mindful of what you are putting into the bin. Many of the ideas listed below can work well for babies and toddlers. But, you can find a list of baby only bins here.
- Some textures have a shelf life, you may need to recycle or replenish some textures.
- NEVER, force your kid’s hand into a texture. If they don’t like it or are having a hard time touching it, respect that and don’t force it. Instead, encourage imitation from you and continue exposing them until they are more comfortable. Maybe they need to use a shovel before they can put their hand in and then maybe it is just a finger. You get the idea.
- Have towels ready for wet textures. Kids will wipe their hands off on you or the sofa, if you don’t. Also, if your child is tactile defensive, you want to have a towel on hand in case they start to freak out. By the way, letting them know the towel is there in case they need it will help them feel more comfortable touching the texture
40+ Easy Sensory Bin Ideas
If you want to make the leap into sensory play, but need some inspiration on what to put in a sensory bin, we’ve got you covered.
The goal here is to expose your kid to as many different textures and options as possible, so look through the list and pick a few to try! You can mix and match, and include your kids in deciding what to try next.
These are usually “easier” for kids to play in, especially kids that don’t like to get messy. They are a great starting point. Assume all items are uncooked/raw.
- Split Peas
- Corn Meal
- Coffee Grinds
- Cotton Balls
- Easter Grass
- Jelly Beans
- Popcorn Kernels
- Corn Husks
Sensory Bin Ideas: Wet Textures
- Shaving Cream
- Soap Foam
- Pumpkin Guts
- Cooked Pasta
- Cooked Oatmeal
- Cooked Beans/Chick Peas
- Whipped Cream
- Cornstarch and Water mixed together (aka Oobleck,get the recipe here)
How to Encourage Play in a Sensory Bin:
- First and foremost, let your child explore the bin without any input from you, which will allow their creativity to shine. You could set this up when you need a few minutes to wash up dishes or make a phone call. Of course, you can also sit with them, asking open ended questions.
- Have cups, scoops, bowls, shovels, serving spoons, dump trucks, and/or ladles in the bin for scooping and dumping. Scooping, dumping, and filling is a great play skill for toddlers, preschoolers can begin to learn some math concepts, and older kids can actually practice measuring and fractions.
- Draw or write letters with fingers in the different textures by making a smooth surface out of the texture on the bottom of the bin. Actually feeling the texture will reinforce shapes and the way letters are formed in the brain.
- Get creative with themes or learning concepts. Add artificial or real flowers to coffee (because it looks like dirt) so they can plant them. Or, use diggers and dump trucks to haul away the packing peanuts.
- Play hide and seek with various toys, seeing if your child can find them. Also, try giving directions to teach concepts like left/right, top/bottom, and shallow/deep. You could say something like, “The alligator is hiding on the left side.” Or, ” The rock is in the middle, but it is very deep.”
- Search with closed eyes. Lay some different objects shallow in the texture so that your kid can’t see. Have them search with just their hands and try to figure out what the object is without looking at it. This will help improve their tactile discrimination which will help them master fine-motor skills like handwriting!
- Get those feet in there! Bury feet and have them explore too, it is such a wonderful sensory experience! If your child is tactile defensive, feet are usually more sensitive than hands, so take it slow if you need to.
- Throw magnetic letters into the bin and have your kid hunt for them to spell their name or spelling words.
I come up with new sensory bin ideas all the time, the list is really endless. I will continue to add ideas, so make sure you pin this so you can check back.
And, if you have any sensory bin ideas, share them in the comments!
Learn How to Use Other Sensory Activities to Help Your Kid…
Sensory bins are an awesome sensory activity, but there are dozens more that can powerfully help your child whether they seek out or tend to avoid sensory play.
With the right sensory activities kids can improve attention, follow directions better, calm down, learn, fall asleep and more… Because when a child has sensory processing “issues” it affects every area of their life.
To learn more, get a seat in our free workshop: 3 Expert Secrets to Calm and Focus Your Child with Specialized Sensory Activities
Click here to get a free seat!
More Sensory Ideas
100+ Sensory Diet Activities
Oral Sensory Diet Activities
How to Choose the Right Sensory Toy for Your Child
10 Sensory Red Flags That You Might Be Missing
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 19 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.
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Danion December 30, 2022 at 4:10 pm
Hey can you please remove water beads and pictures from this article? Water beads are incredibly deadly and dangerous for babies
Your Kids Table - Desireeon April 5, 2023 at 9:43 pm
We have updated the post and all was removed!
annaon January 4, 2022 at 7:32 am
can you make a post about small quit classroom fidgets I’m embarrassed about needing one
Your Kids Table - Desireeon January 4, 2022 at 11:02 am
Thanks so much for reaching out! We actually do have a post for that! You can learn all about fidgets and which ones are more likely approved by the teacher here! Let us know if you have any other questions!
annaon January 5, 2022 at 8:52 pm
thank you for responding I’m going o ask my mom for a pull and stretch stress ball for my birthday
Mariam salamehon July 15, 2021 at 4:37 pm
After reading your information it describes my 2yr olds behaviour exactly.
My daughter is a twin who was born at 36weeks weighing just under2 kilos. There isn’t anything you happened to mention that didn’t discribe her eating habits, but all off this started after she turned 2. Everytime I take her to the doctors they tell me she is fine due to her weight fitting in the charts. I am really concerned and seek desperate advice and strategies to help.
Your Kids Table Team Memberon July 19, 2021 at 2:39 pm
We know it can be so stressful when our kiddos don’t eat like we know they should. You aren’t alone in your struggles, so many other parents are dealing with this too. Our free picky eating workshop is a great place to start for ideas and strategies to start using right away. You can save your seat HERE.
Stacy Ho @ Rearchedforyou.comon October 19, 2020 at 6:07 pm
Hi! This list is definitely a huge list. There are a lot of things that I would not have thought of as a sensory filler if I had not come across your website (eg: corn husks).
I was wondering about the coffee grounds filler- I can imagine it to smell great, but would you use decaf coffee grounds to prevent the child from ingesting caffeine?
Your Kids Table Teamon October 20, 2020 at 7:21 am
Yes, you can utilize decaf. However if there are concerns for child ingesting at a young age, you can utilize other options!
Yasangi Siriwardanaon August 7, 2020 at 2:59 am
I’m so glad that I came across your content. I have a two-year toddler who is very energetic and he simply cannot stay still for 5 seconds. I tried a rice + toy + spoon + cups in a plastic box as sensory bin for him and initially he stayed pretty occupied for about 30 minutes at one go and then played more with his brother for hours. I will try more and more indoor activities as its the safest within the environment I live in. Thanks again for sharing your ideas.
Your Kids Table Teamon August 7, 2020 at 5:57 am
You are so welcome!!! So glad that you found us and found some great ideas for him! You may also like this Article full of great calming activities that also help regulate!
Daisy Torreson April 19, 2018 at 12:52 am
Hi…i just started working with my picky eater and possibly sensory disorder 3 year old daughter…my daughter only eats rice, chicken nuggets, cheerios, and pasta, sometimes cheeseburger, cheese eggs..she looks disgusted when even touching wet fruit, mash potatoes, and even carrots…she also cant stand having dirty hands (with foods, paint, etc she doesnt cry but she holds her hands up in disgust until i coean them, sometimes she will say mommy clean hands, clean hands). So im wondering first of all could my daughter have a-sensory problem?, and if so would she require an OT?
Alishaon April 19, 2018 at 7:19 pm
These are red flags for sensory difficulties, especially with food. Sensory bins can be extremely powerful when they are used regularly in helping with these sensory sensitivities. It’s hard to say if she definitely needs therapy, but depending on what your insurance covers, it could be well worth having an evaluation.
Alishaon April 19, 2018 at 7:21 pm
Also, as another option, I teach an in depth picky eating course online that covers sensory issues with food. You can learn about it and my 3 best tips for picky eating in my free workshop.
Salam kon December 17, 2019 at 9:15 pm
Alisha, I have used sensory bins in my class. I never use food! With all the starving people in this world, Food Banks, etc. we should not be teaching our kids that food is a toy, then to be discarded. I use birdseed, beads, wooden beads, etc… they last forever.
Your Kids Table Teamon December 19, 2019 at 12:29 pm
We do understand that this is not comfortable for everyone to utilize food, so we do encourage everyone to do what they are comfortable with. A lot of our audience has picky eaters and this can be a really great tool for getting them engaged with foods. But as always, do what you are comfortable with! Thanks for sharing.
Kavithaon July 15, 2021 at 10:38 pm
Hi daisy , my 2.5 years old son was exactly similar to your daughter. How did improve your daughter eating habit, I’m stressed a lot by seeing son not eating anything new. He eats exactly what your daughter ate, please advice me I don’t what to do and how to improve him.
Your Kids Table Team Memberon July 19, 2021 at 2:41 pm
We know it can be really challenging to have a kiddo who is a picky eater. A great place to start is our free picky eating workshop. It gives you great ideas to start using right away! You can save your seat HERE. Let us know if you have any questions!
Arikaon April 9, 2018 at 1:11 pm
Is there a printable list of sensory bin idea,I would love to have this handy
Alishaon April 10, 2018 at 1:20 pm
I’m sorry, I don’t have a printable made yet, but that’s a great idea!
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About Sensory Bins
As an occupational therapist with over 19 years of experience in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children, I have extensive knowledge and expertise in the use of sensory bins for child development. I have worked with numerous children and families, and I am deeply familiar with the benefits and practical applications of sensory bins in promoting sensory exploration, play, and development.
Sensory Bin Concepts Explained
Sensory Bins: A sensory bin is a container filled with various textures and materials that provide tactile stimulation and encourage imaginative play for children. The goal is to expose children to a range of sensory inputs for play and development.
Benefits of Sensory Bins: Sensory bins are valuable for children's development as they provide tactile stimulation, encourage imaginative play, and are particularly helpful for children with tactile defensiveness. They can also help desensitize children to various textures, potentially aiding in addressing picky eating habits. Additionally, sensory bins contribute to children's body awareness, emotional regulation, cognitive development, and motor skills.
Sensory Bin Fillings: Sensory bins can be filled with a wide variety of materials, including dry textures such as rice, beans, salt, and craft feathers, as well as wet textures like ice, water, and soap foam. These materials offer diverse sensory experiences for children and can be tailored to their individual needs and preferences.
Encouraging Play in Sensory Bins: To promote engagement and learning in sensory bins, caregivers can provide tools for scooping and dumping, incorporate themes or learning concepts, and encourage exploration with hands and feet. Additionally, activities like drawing letters in the textures and playing hide and seek with toys can enhance sensory experiences and skill development.
Important Rules for Sensory Bin Play: Caregivers should be mindful of choking hazards, monitor the shelf life of textures, and respect children's comfort levels with different textures. Having towels ready for wet textures and avoiding forcing children's interaction with textures are essential considerations for safe and enjoyable sensory play.
Sensory bins are versatile and beneficial tools for promoting children's sensory exploration, play, and development. By providing diverse tactile experiences and opportunities for imaginative play, sensory bins contribute to children's overall growth and well-being. If you have any specific questions or need further guidance on sensory bins, feel free to ask!