Must-Have Sensory Bin Items for Your Little One

Published January 12, 2022
toddler girl playing with sensory bin objects

Sensory bins are excellent tools to aid children in sensory exploration. They allow kids to use most of their senses to manipulate multiple materials in a fun and creative manner. While adults can put just about anything into a sensory bin, the following items are excellent choices to consider if you are wondering where to start.

Sensory Bin Fillers That Inspire & Delight Kids

Most sensory bins require solid (or liquid) material fillers for objects to be set in. When deciding on a filler, consider the age of the children playing in the bin. If kids are very young, some fillers can pose a choking hazard or are objects that can find their way up tiny nostrils. Be mindful about bin contents and the developmental stages of kids. Never use sensory bin objects that can prove dangerous for kids. Common fillers for your bin include:

Rice, Peas or Beans

sensory bin with rice

Dry rice, peas, and beans are some of the most common sensory bin fillers. They are cheap and often readily available. Small hands easily move freely through the filler materials to find and play with objects and toys in the bins. You can dye the rice before adding it to the bin for a fun and colorful twist.

Kinetic Sand or Cloud Dough

You can make cloud dough or kinetic sand to add to your sensory bin. Both recipes are easy to follow, and kids will have a blast crumbling, molding, and building with the matter.

Dirt or Sand

There is nothing wrong with using straight-up sand or dirt in a sensory bin. Both earthy materials make excellent additions to outdoor sensory bins that can be filled with objects used in the natural environment, such as rocks, acorns, leaves, sticks, and pine cones.

Beads

You can fill a bin with run-of-the-mill crafting beads, or if you are creating a water-based sensory table, water beads! Both make interesting fillers for kids to explore with, and both types of beads can be found in most stores or on internet websites for purchase.

Birdseed

Birdseed is another common bin filler that is cheap and easy to find. Most objects will move through the seed with no problem. Consider mixing the birdseed to another filler with a similar texture, like rice or small beans.

Pasta

Small, hard pasta can also be added to a bin. Pasta is one of the cleaner materials to use (which may appeal to parents who dread picking grains of kinetic sand off the floor for the next two weeks), and you can buy it anywhere. For a fun twist, the pasta can be dyed, and you can use several differently shaped noodles for further sensory exploration.

Pebbles or Rocks

Fill a bin with small pebbles or colorful aquarium rocks. These fillers are easily manipulated with scoops and shovels and will make fun additions to a truck-themed bin where cars can zoom over pebble mountains and through rocky terrain.

Water

Kids love splashing about in the water, whether in a pool, in the bathtub, or in a water-based sensory table. Fill a water table or large bin with water and place it in a space where the flooring or ground can get wet. This is NOT the type of table you'll want to house in a bedroom or carpeted family room.

Corn, Oats or Wheat

Corn kernels, dry oats, and wheat can also be used as easy table fillers. Combine the three to create an exciting mixture packed with different textures for kids to explore. These ingredients are cheap and can usually be found in bulk, which is great for those creating large sensory tables.

Shaving Cream

This one might get messy, but kids will think it is so fun to dig into a bin of shaving cream. You can color the shaving cream or add glitter to it. This type of texture gives kids a new tactile sensory experience compared to common dry filler ingredients.

Oobleck

Oobleck is a simple two-ingredient substance that is so much fun to make. If you create enough of the gooey stuff, it can be put into a sensory table. This is a perfect filler for a small bin containing small hard objects and materials. Items will sink into the oobleck, and kids will have to scrounge around looking for the toys that mysteriously melted down into the oobleck.

Sensory Bin Scoops and Tools

Most sensory bins include scooping and dumping mechanisms for children to explore with. These tools aid in developing children's fine motor skills. Common ideas for sensory bin scoops include:

Measuring Cups, Measuring Spoons, or Stackable Cups

Use different sized measuring cups or stackable plastic cups as scooping and pouring tools. Most homes have measuring cups and spoons in the kitchen, so you won't need to go searching far and wide for tools that kids can dig with in their bins.

Funnels

Have some fun with funnels of different sizes. Let kids explore how the filler material moves through a large funnel mouth compared to a small one. Encourage kids to place their hands underneath the funnel and feel the filler material run over their fingers and hands.

Tupperware of Different Sizes

You can throw a few small Tupperware containers into the bin, and children can use those to fill and dump filler material. Small Tupperware containers are excellent additions to a bin that contains kinetic sand or cloud dough because the filler can be molded into the Tupperware to make small building blocks and shapes.

Shovels and Spoons

If you are creating a large sensory bin with solid filler material, you might add a few spoons and small shovels into your space. These are great additions to a beach or nature-themed bin full of sand, dirt, or dough.

Magnets

Why not toss a few magnets into a bin that contains small metal objects? Only consider offering magnets to kids who will use them safely and correctly. Explore magnetic properties with kids. What objects do the magnets pull? Can they pull some objects from underneath the filler's surface?

Tweezers

Talk about serious fine motor work! Toss tiny tweezers into a bin full of small objects and fillers and use them to grasp and pinch items. Can kids pick beads, peas, or noodles up with the tweezers and deposit them into a small box? Can they count the tweezed objects as they do it? So many skills, so much fun!

Inventive Sensory Bin Objects and Manipulatives

sensory bin with sand, scoop and toys

This is where the fun and creativity come into play. Add small objects into your bin so that children can incorporate them into usage with scoops and fillers. You can choose to place several random objects into the bin, so kids must consider ways to use them, or you can design a theme in your bin using the objects you choose to add to it. Kids love creating scenes with small dinosaurs, animals, and plastic bugs!

Additional ideas include:

Matchbox cars - Race them over sand hills or through rocky dirt piles. Sink a Tupperware container full of water into the dirt and have the cars splash through the mud.

Ice cubes - If you have a water table, toss in some ice cubes! For added fun, make ice cubes with small objects frozen into them. Kids can watch the ice melt in the water as the frozen objects are freed!

Gems - Make a sensory table that sparkles! Add glitter to the filler (if you are brave enough for glitter to fly about in your home), and add dazzling gemstones to your bin.

Small letters and numbers - Small letters and numbers can be added to bins for guided learning activities. Have kids dig around the bin and pull out a letter or number. Ask them what the letter or number is. Can they think of a word that starts with the letter? Can they count up to the number they pulled from the filler?

Seashells - Seashells, seashells by the sensory bin! Differently sized and shaped shells are great additions to a beachy bin full of sand, shovels, and small, plastic ocean animals.

Small blocks - Toss blocks into a bin and see what kids can create with them. Use blocks of different colors and shapes, or combine wooden and plastic blocks for varying tactile feels.

LEGO - LEGO bricks are great additions to a bin. Toss a bunch into a bin and let kids build away.

Creative Sensory Bin Themes

You might choose to create a theme using your sensory bin. Seasonal and educational themes are common ideas for sensory bins.

Winter Wonderland Theme

You can make fake snow for a filler or use water, glitter, and ice cubes in your bin. Toss in turned-over Tupperware containers and small Arctic animals so kids can explore a wintry scene.

Springtime/Easter Theme

Faux moss, crinkle grass, small eggs, and faux flowers all have a space in a springtime or Easter-themed bin. Hide eggs in the filler material and send kids on a little Easter egg hunt!

Beach Theme

Use sand, shovels, seashells, small marbles (to emulate beach balls), and a sunken bucket of water to make a beach-themed sensory bin for kids to hang ten in.

Jungle Theme

Dried peas make for a perfect jungle floor in your bin. Add plastic trees, faux boulders and moss, and jungle animals to set the scene.

Cars and Trucks Theme

Dirt, cars, and dump trucks will keep kids busy for hours. Race the small vehicles around, build fun tracks throughout the bin, and add gravel and other filler material for cars to move through.

Literacy/Math Learning Theme

Learning is so much more fun when it takes place inside a sensory bin. Use plastic numbers and letters to create math and literacy lessons as kids dig through the filler materials.

Setting Up Your Sensory Bin

Sensory bins are easy to create in your home, as long as you have some sort of large, leakproof container, plenty of patience for possible messes, and countless materials for kids to manipulate and experience with their hands.

First, decide where you want to keep your bin. If you are going to be adding liquids, foams, or items that involve food coloring, be sure to put the bin on a hard and easy to clean floor surface, on the back patio, or in the garage. You might also want to set out a tarp underneath your bin to better catch the items that fall from the bin to the floor.

Next, consider the bin itself. It is common to use a large shallow, clear Tupperware or plastic tub to house sensory bin items. The great thing about this type of sensory bin is once play is done for the day, you can pop a top on it and store it away for next time. You can also use water tables as sensory tables. Water tables are normally elevated off the floor, so children can stand at them and play. These make versatile sensory tables because you can fill them with water and objects that kids can play with, and later the table can be drained, dried out, and used as a dry sensory table, filled with a whole new load of bin objects to explore!

You will want to choose a sensory table that is not breakable or easily tipped over. (Imagine the contents of a sensory bin crashing onto the living room floor and spilling everywhere)! If you have several children who will want to play at the table, be sure to use a large enough bin for everyone to play in.

The great thing about a sensory bin is when it comes to the contents, anything goes! You can fill your bin with various materials that will stimulate children's senses, most of which can be easily found in or around the home.

The Importance of Sensory Play

ocean theme sensory bin with tweezers

There are ample benefits to engaging in sensory bin activities, including the following:

  • Multiple senses are engaged simultaneously. Children see, touch and smell items in the bin.
  • Improve fine motor skills - By using various scoops, grasping small items, and dragging objects through sand, beads, or rice, kids learn to better manipulate small objects and hone their fine motor function.
  • Can support socialization - If you have multiple children, sensory bins allow for interaction and sharing to occur.
  • Improve cognitive function - Work in literary skills like vocabulary, sorting, letter and number identification, and one-to-one object correspondence using the contents of the sensory bin.
  • Encourage comprehensive learning- When kids use multiple senses, they engage in comprehensive learning.
  • Fosters creative and imaginary play - Sensory bins are open-ended learning tools, meaning there is no structured way to experience the contents unless adults create a structured activity for kids. Left to their own devices, kids can imagine and create whatever game comes to mind using the bin and the bin's contents.

Sensory Bins Offer Kids Tiny New Worlds to Explore

Sensory bins are great fun for all children. Sensory bins enable kids to use their senses to explore objects around them, utilize their imagination and creativity, and fine tune their social skills and fine motor skills. Parents will never have to wonder what to add to the mix with these amazing ideas for sensory bins!

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Must-Have Sensory Bin Items for Your Little One