Inside: What is a sensory bin? Are there benefits to using sensory bins? What are they used for, and for what ages? Plus, we’re sharing over 50 easy-peasy and inexpensive sensory bin ideas.

If you have ever heard of a sensory bin, you probably associate it with young children practicing fine motor skills and language development. You aren’t wrong!

A sensory bin has many different purposes, some of which include helping children with their language skills and working on those small fine motor muscles. The idea behind a sensory bin is to provide kids with an opportunity to learn and explore through play.

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child playing in a sensory bin
Sensory bin ideas can be adapted for any age group or ability.

They use hands-on tactile play by exploring with their senses.

See the list: Crossing Midline Activities for Older Kids

What is a Sensory Bin?

A sensory bin is a plastic tub or container of any kind filled with an assortment of materials for children to play with. There aren’t any rules for playing; they are just given the materials and left alone.

A sensory bin is a great way to introduce new materials and different textures.

Are Sensory Bins just for Autism?

The short answer is no, sensory bins are for anyone interested in them. They are proving to be a crucial part of child development, but they are great for neurotypical children as well as kids with sensory processing disorders.

Children with autism benefit from using them because they are introduced to materials they can explore with. They create a safe space where children can calm themselves down if they are overwhelmed.

items in a sensory bin
Really, no matter what you put in a sensory bin, kids will love it.

Benefits of Sensory Bins for Autism

Sensory bin play has unlimited benefits. They touch on all of the senses, including sight, sound, touch, and smell. The only sense they don’t always account for is taste. The sensory materials invoke creative and imaginative play.

They provide kids with a tactile experience that helps them learn about their world. They are able to use new vocabulary as they describe the materials and take in the cause and effect of dumping, pouring, sifting, digging, and mixing.

There are no cons to using sensory bins, besides an occasional mess that needs to be cleaned up. I’d still rather clean up a sensory bin mess instead of kinetic sand.

Other benefits include:

  • tactile stimulation
  • language development
  • pre-math skills like sorting
  • colors
  • matching

How to Make a Sensory Bin

There is no wrong way to make a sensory bin; all you need are a few materials. Simply choose a container or sensory table and select filler material to place inside.

Popular items to place inside include pasta, pom poms, plastic animals, rice, dry beans, and water. Some people create sensory bin themes like a farm sensory bin, an ocean sensory bin, or a Halloween sensory bin, but there doesn’t have to be a theme.

A great sensory bin just includes a variety of materials and tools to manipulate those objects.

puzzle pieces to add to a sensory bin
Don’t toss that jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces! Throw them in a sensory bin.

How to Use Sensory Bins

There are endless opportunities with using sensory bins. While most kids will create their own play once offered a sensory bin, you can encourage kids to sort the objects inside by color, size, shape, or another attribute to give them purpose while they play.

Make the sensory bin into an I-spy game and have the kids find the objects hidden inside. They can also practice counting by finding and setting the items aside.

playing with a sensory bin
Yes, I have put LEGO and other toys in sensory bins for kids to find.

You can also do “centers” and have sensory bins be one of your centers. Mix it up with things like a slime station. I have a separate tutorial about How to make Slime with Glue.

Sensory Bin Ideas

For this list of items below, I don’t recommend buying brand-new things. If you mix toys with sand or rice, they likely will get dirty and dusty.

But, you can buy used games, like a used Scrabble game or a used set of dominoes, at thrift stores. Use those components instead. You can do this inexpensively by finding items around the house or buying at a thrift store.

child playing in a kinetic sand sensory bin
I have another post on “How to Make Kinetic Sand” if you want to create a kinetic sand sensory bin.

What to Put in a Sensory Bin

If you are going to put food items in your sensory bin, I recommend keeping them to dry rice and beans. Anything else may attract bugs or mice to your area. But, there are plenty of non-food sensory bin fillers to choose from.

If you are trying to create your own sensory bin but aren’t sure what to place inside, here’s a brief list of some popular items you can include for sensory play activities:

  1. sand
  2. cotton balls
  3. shredded paper
  4. pom poms
  5. dry rice
  6. dry beans
  7. chia seeds
  8. craft feathers
  9. popcorn kernels
  10. pasta
  11. crinkle grass or raffia
  12. pipe cleaners
  13. corn meal
  14. cereal
  15. moon sand
  16. corks
  17. fake snow
  18. aquarium rocks and accessories
  19. moon sand
  20. oats
  21. colored water
  22. corn
  23. bubbles
  24. birdseed
  25. ice cubes, real or plastic/reusable
  26. plastic animals, bugs, figurines
  27. wrapping materials
  28. chickpeas
  29. rainbow rice
  30. small toys
  31. kinetic sand
  32. shaving cream
  33. scrabble letters (buy a used game secondhand)
  34. foam letters
  35. dice
  36. dominoes
  37. puzzle pieces from a jigsaw puzzle
mixed lego pieces
LEGO pieces in a sensory bin? Sure! Why not?

Sensory Bin Tools to add:

  • kid tweezers
  • utensils
  • cookie cutters
  • scoops
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • sifters
  • bowls
  • wash and dry out used yogurt cups
  • silicone cupcake liners
  • sand toys that you’d use at the beach

The great thing about any sensory bin is that they are easy to prepare as long as you have the materials. If you head to your local craft store or big box store, you can find all sorts of items to have on hand for a quick and easy sensory bin.

Sensory Bin Themes

Many schools and therapists create new sensory bins to go with a season or holiday. Here are a few more ideas of sensory bin themes and what you could add.

  • Bee Sensory Bin: This is one of our favorites! You can click that link to see the many things you can put in a Bumble Bee Sensory Bin or Bee Sensory Tray.
  • Fall Sensory Bin: Add acorns, leaves, pumpkin seeds, small gourds, hay, and straw.
  • Summer Sensory Bin: Sand, water, shovel, pool toys, popsicle sticks, and ice cubes.
  • Winter Sensory Bin: Cold things, fake snow, pine cones, pine needles.
  • Spring Sensory Bin: Flower petals, seeds, grass, eggshell pieces, bunny tails, soft like a lamb.
  • Halloween Sensory Bin: scary things, ooey gooey slimy things; pumpkin-related stuff.
  • Christmas Sensory Bin: coal, snow, pine, wood, think Santa, reindeer, the 3 gifts to baby Jesus (add scented items), and so on.
  • Garden Sensory Bin: gardening tools, dirt/soil (keep this one outside!), seeds, water, planting cups

The benefits of sensory play are phenomenal. A child’s senses are piqued when they are exploring different objects and textures in the bin. It may hold their attention for a few minutes or for hours on end.

fake bugs in a sensory bin
Dollar Tree is a great place to find items for a sensory bin.

Where to Get Sensory Bins

While you can make your own sensory bin, there are companies that sell pre-made bins. These bins often have a seasonal theme, so a child’s sensory exploration is taken to a new level. You can find multiple on Amazon, at craft stores, or at grocery and home supply stores.

The hands-on play is unmatched, and kids love when the bins get pulled out from time to time. My advice is to tuck them away, so kids aren’t exposed to them every day. Either that or switch them up weekly, so they get to explore new and different materials often.

Kids will enjoy this tactile experience as they get a sense of the materials and the fun objects inside. There is no expectation of a finished product, it’s just the process that matters. Sensory bins are popular in the kindergarten classroom, preschool rooms, special education classrooms, and even in the home.

Kids of all ages love using a good sensory tub for the first time! There are so many benefits of sensory bins, so add them to your child’s independent play as much as possible.

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