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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.
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.
- Split Peas
- Corn Meal
- Coffee Grinds
- Cotton Balls
- Easter Grass
- Jelly Beans
- Popcorn Kernels
- Corn Husks
- Grass Clippings
- Craft Feathers
- Pom Poms
- Shredded Mylar
- Packing Peanuts
- Cornstarch puffs (in the arts and crafts aisle)
- Easter Eggs (last three are great for babies)
- Scraps of Fabric
- Koosh Balls
- Homemade Snow (baking soda and shaving cream)
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!
Did You Pin This?
More Sensory Ideas
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 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.
Hey can you please remove water beads and pictures from this article? Water beads are incredibly deadly and dangerous for babies
We have updated the post and all was removed!
can you make a post about small quit classroom fidgets I’m embarrassed about needing one
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!
thank you for responding I’m going o ask my mom for a pull and stretch stress ball for my birthday
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.
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.
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?
Yes, you can utilize decaf. However if there are concerns for child ingesting at a young age, you can utilize other options!
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Is there a printable list of sensory bin idea,I would love to have this handy
I’m sorry, I don’t have a printable made yet, but that’s a great idea!