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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, depending on the child’s needs.
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.
- 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
More Sensory Ideas
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 18 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.